Spartans' Branden Dawson switching positions in quest for NBA future


Spartans' Branden Dawson switching positions in quest for NBA future

The Big Ten’s leading rebounder is trying to create an NBA future as a small forward.

Michigan State’s Branden Dawson is fresh off a season that saw him, a 6-foot-7 power forward, beat out multiple seven-footers for the conference’s rebounding title. But that not-so-big size means he won’t be able to make it as an NBA big man. The big men in the NBA are just too big.

So he’s changing his position. And the question becomes, “Can he even play small forward?”

It’s a question Dawson said he’s been asked plenty of times.

[MORE NBA DRAFT: NBA Draft Profile: Michigan State F Branden Dawson]

“A lot of coaches and GMs are concerned about my position, me going from the 4 to the 3,” Dawson said at last month’s NBA Draft Combine. “But I played the 3 my freshman and sophomore season, and we had to make that adjustment of me going to the 4 because of the team. I’ve been working on things as far as my weaknesses, my ball handling, decision making, shooting. I just want to show people that I’m comfortable playing the 3. The 3, for me, is not something that I never did or played.”

The reason so many are questioning Dawson’s ability to switch to a different position is because he flourished as a power forward at the collegiate level.

Last season, Dawson averaged 9.1 rebounds per game, as well as 11.9 points per game, earning All-Big Ten Second Team honors. He came up big as the Spartans barnstormed to the Big Ten Tournament title game (a loss to eventual national runner up Wisconsin) and the Final Four (a loss to eventual national champion Duke). In addition to a ferocious rebounding ability, he displayed other terrific defensive skills, be it stripping the ball in the post or blocking shots on the perimeter. He scored big points inside on the receiving end of alley oops and on putbacks.

But as good as Dawson was, it’s pretty evident that a 6-foot-7, 230-pound guy isn’t going to be able to do that with as much success in a league of giants.

[MORE NBA DRAFT: Excitement builds over Sam Dekker's NBA potential]

So Dawson is going back to his roots as a small forward. He thinks being able to do all that stuff in a small forward’s body makes him an attractive candidate for a job in the NBA.

“I can use that to my advantage playing the 3,” he said, “I can guard similar guys, rebound it, get out running the floor and just doing things I can do.”

While everyone looks at the physical attributes, though, one thing that can’t be found on a stat sheet or a list of measurements is a history of winning. Dawson is the latest Spartan to try to make the jump from Tom Izzo’s program to the NBA. And though each player is different, Draymond Green’s week-old NBA title ought to make Izzo products even more attractive.

Dawson, along with a pair of last year’s first-round picks in Gary Harris and Adreian Payne, was a huge factor in a 2014 Big Ten Tournament championship. He won the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award. This past season, he helped lead Michigan State to its sixth Final Four of the Izzo Era.

[MORE NBA DRAFT: Will Frank Kaminsky turn college success into NBA greatness?]

If an NBA team wants a player who’s used to the bright lights, Dawson fits that bill.

“It helped me a lot, being on a big stage like that will carry over into playing huge, huge games,” Dawson said. “Atmospheres like (the Combine) with people all over watching you play. Some people, they’ve never really been in this position before, never been to a Final Four. So I think the atmosphere is definitely going to help me out a lot.”

And then there’s the toughness. You don’t establish a resume like Dawson’s easily in the Big Ten. Known as a rough-and-tumble league, guys who can crash the boards and have success on the defensive end in that conference earn their reputations.

“It prepares us a lot. Our league is competitive, it’s tough,” he said. “You have to be ready to play every night. It definitely gets me ready for the next level because of how physical our league is and just knowing how tough it is. If you’re not ready to play in our league, it’s definitely going to be a shocker.”

So it might be possible that Dawson isn’t offensively skilled enough to make it as an NBA small forward. It might be possible that his body just won’t allow him to play the position he’s best at. But you don’t win a Big Ten title and reach a Final Four for lack of trying. And trying is exactly what Dawson will do very well on his quest to become a pro in the NBA.

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

The door has officially been closed on the 2017-18 season for the Chicago Bulls, and the word that most comes to mind is “unfulfilling.”

Or maybe even “indistinguishable.”

Draft night was supposed to be a culmination of a painful seven-month stretch that only had occasional yet costly moments of light.

Death lineup? Meet Death March. And Death April, while we’re at it.

The Bulls brass sold everyone on a full rebuild after trading Jimmy Butler one year ago, with an unspoken promise that this draft would bear franchise-changing fruit—hence the general feeling of angst or even indifference with the solid selection of Wendell Carter Jr. and their not-so-secret affection of Chandler Hutchison.

It was why fans believe the Bulls got cold feet about trading to move up, and why they believe the Bulls weren’t being pragmatic in staying away from Michael Porter Jr.

Porter, some believe, has star written all over him given his prep ranking this time last year and the Bulls were in position to speed up this process without having to go into a painful Process.

They were desperate for a star, believing the tankathon had produced so much suffering it had to be something on the back end.

There was the fight (or the punch).

The aftermath.

The miserable 3-20 start.

The 14-7 streak that produced the audacity of hope.

The reality that 14-7 was damaging enough to the lottery chances that a 3-11 finish couldn’t rectify.

And finally, the coin flip that cost them five spots in the lottery one month ago.

So that empty feeling has less to do with Carter and Hutchison, who’ve done nothing to earn the “blah” reaction from the fan base and some media. It has everything to do with the unanswered questions over the last 82 games and lack of clarity over the three hauls from draft night last year.

It’s not that Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn underperformed individually last season, but the lack of cohesiveness due to injuries and circumstances has led to the varying thoughts.

LaVine is approaching restricted free agency and by all accounts is taking his continuing rehab in Washington very seriously.  Markkanen has added plenty of muscle since the offseason began, appearing as if he can play Michael B. Jordan’s in-ring foil in the next installation of “Creed” as Ivan Drago’s long lost son.

And despite the report about Dunn not working as hard on the floor this offseason, that would be more of a concern if this were late August, not June.

The last time they were seen together on the floor, they looked no closer to a pecking order than the day they arrived.

What we know is that they’re productive NBA players, capable of putting an individual tattoo on a game at a moment’s notice, skillful enough to take your breath away.

And for whatever reason, the expectations changed once the three displayed they could be dynamic on their own—a star needed to be anointed and groomed to go with the star they believed was coming their way after the season.

Management is fully behind Markkanen, but Paxson’s strong words about LaVine at the season-ending news conference illustrated how much it feels LaVine has to prove next season.

With his restricted free agency status looming, the Bulls’ initial offer will show how much they value him until and if he gets a better deal on the market.

And the fact the Bulls weren’t afraid to draft Trae Young while having a healthy debate about Collin Sexton on draft night has to show they have at least some skepticism about the future at point guard.

But stars—developing stars, acquired stars, drafted stars—have to do it on their own. No amount of promotion or prodding from management will validate their faith, if that’s the route the Bulls choose to go.

This has to be a meritocracy or it won’t work and, honestly, it’s time for a reality check.

All the worry about the Bulls getting back to title contention sooner rather than later seems like folks getting ahead of themselves.

The front office has taken its share of shots from media and fans, so some questioning is earned but they’re right about one thing. Rebuilds aren’t completed in a day or 12 months.

Expecting some magic potion to arrive in the form of a top draft pick isn’t going to cure what ills this roster, and it doesn’t seem likely all the cap space will result in a free agent choosing the Bulls over the usual suspects.

However, methodical building can look like complacency if not done with a sense of urgency.

And with urgency in mind, this past season was unsatisfying to say the least—heading into the next phase with two more young pieces to develop while the first three are still in the evaluation stage.

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Donte Ingram's 2018 keeps getting better and better.

The March Madness hero, who buried a game-winning 3-pointer in the first round of Loyola's win over Miami, will play on the Bulls' Summer League team.

Ingram, a Simeon Academy graduate, had himself an incredible senior season with the Ramblers, who advanced all the way to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed.

In five NCAA Tournament games Ingram averaged 7.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists for the Ramblers. He also had 18 points in the MVC Conference Championship Game to secure the Ramblers' March Madness berth.

He'll join first-round draft picks Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison on the Las Vegas Summer League team, which will begin play early next month.