Will Branden Dawson bounce back from his ACL tear?
The better question might be, "how high?"
It takes a special talent to succeed in Tom Izzo's system as a freshman. Dawson was clearly successful, even with an injury-shortened season. He started every game for Izzo up until his fateful collision with William Buford of Ohio State.
In those 31 games, Dawson averaged just over 20 minutes, eight points and four rebounds per game. His living came inside the arc, as his shooting percentage of 57 percent suggests. Dawson was a beast on the offensive glass, evident in his Big Ten-best offensive rebounding percentage.
That part of Dawson's game is sure to return as he bounces back from his ACL injury. He'll instantly be a force on the offensive glass, and it is hard to lose your short game in basketball.
However, post-injury, Dawson's glaring flaw is shooting. He shot three three-point shots last season. He made 59.4 percent of his free throws—not exactly strong numbers. With his NBA frame and aggressiveness on the glass, getting to the foul line is a cinch. Converting those free throws is a must for next season.
With all of that being said, can Dawson be the steady wing scorer that Coach Izzo needs?
Keith Appling and Gary Harris figure to take the go-to scoring duties in the backcourt. Dawson will likely play some power forward beside either Adreian Payne or Derrick Nix, but the starting small forward position is his, and his alone.
Let's suppose Dawson comes back at full health at the beginning of the season. A double-digit scoring average should be a given. His size gives him the advantage of playing in multiple lineups, something Izzo will be sure to tinker with in the regular season.
With that versatility, Dawson's minutes per game should increase. He may not reach 30 minutes per game, but 25 minutes per game seems likely.
A corresponding increase in points per game and an improved shot—from the field and the line—means Dawson could be the leading scorer for Michigan State next year. Doubling his point total from last season (8.4 to 16.8) is a stretch, but it isn't out of the question.
That's quite a bit of assuming, but with a player/coach combination like Dawson and Izzo, improvement is a given. If he is healthy, Dawson will take a huge step up in 2012-13.