Another year and another increased role for Adreian Payne. The rising-junior figures to play power forward for head coach Tom Izzo in the upcoming season. Payne and Derrick Nix will form what could be one of the best frontcourt duos in college basketball in 2012-13.
Size is something you just can't teach. Payne is 6'10", 240 pounds. Add some athleticism that Deshaun Thomas has seen firsthand, and you get an athlete that was made for basketball. You won't find many big men in college basketball that can boast his elite intangibles.
The only thing that can slow down Payne is himself. His lung capacity issue might prevent him from playing 30-plus minutes per game, but somewhere around 25 minutes per game is not out of the question.
Another area of Payne's game that could use improvement is intensity. Ohio State seems to garner the brunt of the "intense" Payne: in three games against the Buckeyes last season, Payne averaged nearly 10 points, five rebounds and three blocks per game—all in just 19 minutes per contest.
Maybe it is Jared Sullinger that brings out the best in Payne, but if he can display that dominance in more games and more minutes, Payne will have a huge season.
But that's not the only reason Payne is poised to breakout.
Payne was a top 20 recruit in the 2010 class, according to Rivals—ahead of guys like Deshaun Thomas, Patric Young and Meyers Leonard. And while he hasn't quite lived up to that ranking, he has improved in his time in East Lansing.
This season, Payne should benefit more than any other Spartan with the departure of do-it-all Draymond Green. Green has left 33 minutes, 16 points and 10 rebounds per game to be had. Payne's numbers from last year: 18 minutes, seven points, four rebounds per game.
Payne won't absorb the majority of Green's minutes or points. Chances are, Payne will still play less than 30 minutes per night. Moreover, the scoring duties will likely fall to Keith Appling and Branden Dawson. But Payne's numbers will improve.
Rebounding is where Payne should make a living. If he raises his minutes per night to somewhere near 25, a double-double average isn't out of the question. Throw in two or three blocks per game, and Payne suddenly becomes an elite college basketball player.
Of course, Payne's conditioning will be at the forefront of his improvement for next year. He's up to 242 pounds, and Izzo hopes he'll have a playing weight of 245 pounds. If he can keep that weight and play 25 minutes per game, the Spartans could have the best power forward in the Big Ten.