Draymond Green was the only Spartan on last year's roster who was a four-year player at Michigan State, after Delvon Roe had to retire due to injury and Korie Lucious transferred to Iowa State. Green was the heart and soul of Michigan State's program and helped the Spartans reach the Final Four during his first two seasons in East Lansing.
He also gathered up plenty of individual awards later in his career, highlighted by becoming the Big Ten Player of the Year as a senior, as well as becoming a First Team All-American along with Ohio State's Jared Sullinger.
Like Green, Nix will be the only four-year player on this year's Michigan State roster. He will, however, be joined by plenty of talented youngsters hoping to get MSU back to the Final Four after a two-year absence.
While Green and Nix have some small similarities in their game, they are very different in other aspects which are not in Nix's favor. While the Spartans will be NCAA Tournament-bound in 2013, I see them finishing in fifth place in the Big Ten, which shows how important Green really was to their team.
At the conclusion of the 2012 season, Nix got himself into a little trouble off the court when he was arrested for "operating a vehicle with the presence of drugs and marijuana possession" (h/t USA Today). Nix was suspended from the team for an indefinite amount of time by coach Tom Izzo, although I expect to see him on the court a couple weeks into the season.
This arrest occurred just days after Izzo praised Nix for being the player who "sacrificed the most" (per MLive.com). This is not the first time that Nix has made headlines off the court. Nix nearly quit the team back in 2010 as a sophomore, and did not accompany the team to the Maui Invitational because he was not pleased with his playing time.
Nix begged for his spot back on the team, which he eventually got, but it's unknown whether that will be the case again this time. One more strike and Nix is certainly out.
Green's leadership ability is something few players have, and certainly something that you cannot teach. Nix is not alone in lacking the leadership that Green had, but as a senior he may be called on to play that role. Otherwise, who will the Spartans' on-court vocal leader be?
Izzo does his best coaching when he has special senior leaders like Green and Mateen Cleaves, who led MSU to becoming the 2000 National Champions. Two years ago, former Big Ten Player of the Year Kalin Lucas was a senior, yet the Spartans finished 9-9 in the Big Ten and barely snuck into the NCAA tournament.
While that 2010-11 State team had plenty of talent, as this year's team also has, the lack of senior leadership may be even more important than having the best coach in the business. Izzo and Green had a special relationship, as evidenced by the above picture of Green with his arm around Izzo. Izzo and Nix do not share that same bond at the moment.
Following his sophomore season, Nix lost over 35 pounds and came back to East Lansing in much better shape than he had been in. His playing time went up from 8.2 minutes as a sophomore to 18.9 as a junior, thanks in large part to this weight loss.
Assuming Nix does not come back to East Lansing this fall having lost another huge chunk of weight, I don't see his minutes increasing very much this year. While Nix could slide into the starting center role, playing alongside Adreian Payne as opposed to subbing in for him, don't expect Nix to play much more than half of any game.
Despite lacking a star player, Michigan State will be deep this upcoming year and will have two freshmen forwards looking to steal minutes away from the veterans. While Nix's weight loss was quite an accomplishment, he still weighs 270 pounds, so his time on the court before getting subbed is still limited.
I also believe that if Izzo overexerts Nix and plays him more than he is used to, Nix will not be as efficient and will wear down by season's end.
Although Nix is a good low-post scorer, that part of his game has not translated on the defensive end of the court. Despite standing 6'9", Nix has only blocked 27 shots over the course of three seasons. During Green's final three seasons as a Spartan, he averaged 36 blocks per year.
Nix has also tallied 43 steals in his career, while Green averaged 53 steals per season during his final three years in East Lansing. On top of the defensive aspects of the game, Green is also a much better rebounder than Nix.
Nix averaged a modest 3.8 rebounds in just under half a game of playing time as a junior. Green, on the other hand, was a rebounding machine who averaged 7.7 as a sophomore, 8.6 as a junior and 10.6 as a senior.
Green stands two inches shorter and weighs 40 pounds less than Nix, and Green is no small man himself. While Nix's offensive post game is fairly polished, his defense could use some work. Getting a few pointers from fellow big man Adreian Payne might not be a bad idea.
Through three seasons, Nix has only managed to assist on 55 baskets to his MSU teammates. While big men are typically not great passers with gaudy assist numbers, Green was the exception. The "Dancing Bear" was the Spartans' lead assist man in 2011 and fell just 0.1 assists behind Keith Appling as this year's top passer.
For a collegiate player, Green was as well-rounded as they come. He tallied 141 assists in each of his final two seasons at Michigan State and was the primary facilitator on offense this past season.
On offense, everything ran through Green. He operated very well out of the low post, either posting up defenders and scoring himself or finding open teammates when the double-team came. Nix doesn't have that same court vision, and in fact not many post players do.
Nix and Green are not the same player, either by position or skill level. Nix is a true post presence, while Green has the ability to play on both the inside and outside. Michigan State doesn't need Nix to turn into Green to be successful in 2012-13, although that would help. Rather, they need Nix to be a good teammate and leader, as well as play consistently on the court.
If he can do that, it should be another successful season for Michigan State—although another Final Four appearance looks like it will have to wait at least one more year.