Branden Dawson turned in an enviable freshman year for Michigan State, but it ended in painful fashion. An ACL injury knocked Dawson out for the 2012 postseason, leaving the promising small forward to watch from the sidelines as his team got bounced in the Sweet 16.
Dawson has wowed Tom Izzo with the speed of his rehab, and he’s expected to be back for the season opener against UConn. That’s good news for the Spartans, who will be a decidedly better team with Dawson back in the starting lineup.
Dawson’s biggest value to this team is in preserving MSU’s greatest strength: a stifling defense that allowed the second-lowest field-goal percentage in the country (.379). Dawson gives the Spartans a small forward with the agility to guard opposing wings and the size (6’6”, 230 lbs) of a post player.
Dawson’s importance as a perimeter defender will be magnified this season, as freshman Gary Harris steps into the starting shooting guard job vacated by the graduated Brandon Wood. Harris is a fine defender in his own right, but the bigger, more experienced Dawson will provide a valuable safety net.
Offensively, Dawson isn’t a world-beater (8.4 points per game a season ago), but he’s certainly got enough scoring punch to pick up some of the considerable slack left by Draymond Green’s departure. Even without a viable three-point shot, Dawson's finishing ability at the rim makes him a valuable weapon, especially in transition.
Of course, this being Izzo’s team, no assessment of a player's value would be complete without talking about his rebounding ability. Dawson’s size gives him a major advantage in that department, and he grabbed 4.5 boards a night last year despite playing on the perimeter—not to mention playing alongside the redoubtable Green and his conference-leading 10.4 rebounds per contest.
As a freshman, Dawson was largely overlooked in a lineup dominated by Green’s star power. As a sophomore on a team that will need a more balanced approach, he’ll be a vital part of Michigan State’s success in 2012-13.