Michigan State Basketball: Is Adreian Payne a Bust?

Adam Biggers@@AdamBiggers81Senior Analyst IIJanuary 15, 2013

It was just a successful three-point shot, his first of the season. 

But for those who have been on the fence about Michigan State Spartans junior forward Adreian Payne's performance—is he a bust or not?—that make should have erased a little doubt. 

The former 5-star recruit from Jefferson High (Dayton, Ohio) is just a late bloomer who's been experimented with by coach Tom Izzo.

One of the Big Ten's most athletic post men, Payne showcased a little flair in the second half of the Spartans' 66-56 home victory Sunday over Nebraska. He'll find his role within Izzo's offense.

But luckily for Michigan State, he's settled in nicely on the defensive side.

Payne was known for his rebounding before entering the collegiate ranks. He's improved upon those skills during the past two years.

Payne came with a reputation, one that suggested this his lanky, 6'10" frame would allow for him to create shots that others couldn't—he's certainly done so, but he hasn't been the overly dominating force that many have hoped for. 

This season is it for Payne. This is the make-or-break test of all tests for the No. 3-ranked center of the 2010 recruiting class (h/t Rivals.com).

Thus far, he's averaging 8.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game, career-best numbers. 

Despite the increases in production, it's still fair to ponder the question: "Has he lived up to his 5-star billing?"

That question has a two-part answer: No, he hasn't. But he will. 

Measuring Payne against the other two top centers of his class—former Ohio State phenom Jared Sullinger and former Syracuse star Fab Melo—is a logical way to accurately assess his progress. 

Sullinger quickly became a household name for Ohio State as a freshman. He averaged better than 17 points per game before entering the NBA draft after his sophomore year. He was runner-up in the 2012 Big Ten Player of the Year race, finishing behind Spartans (already) legend Draymond Green. 

Melo didn't hit the scene with such a statement.

Although he needed just two years with Syracuse before declaring for the draft, Melo didn't become a nationally recognized, household-name player until his sophomore season

That sounds a lot like Payne, doesn't it? 

Well, except the whole NBA thing (Payne is the 85th-ranked NBA prospect, according to CBS' Jeff Goodman).

And Payne is a junior. 

However, the national media has talked about Payne considerably more this year than in the past. He's no longer the Big Ten's not-so-secret secret. His increase in production warrants the praise, as was the case for Melo. 

Payne is, without a doubt, a presence that's counted on by those around him. If Michigan State is to compete for a national championship, Payne will have to be a consistent ace up Izzo's sleeve. 

That's what Payne was brought in for, right? Being a 5-star athlete brings about expectations. 

Comparing collegiate careers gets a little fuzzy.

Just because Sullinger and Melo made early jumps to the Association doesn't necessarily mean they were better college players than Payne—it just means that they were ready for the NBA sooner.

There is a difference.

Payne will be a great college player by time he's through in East Lansing. He just needed an extra season, and that bodes well for the Spartans' Big Ten and national title hopes. 

Melo could do what he wanted to do to just about any Division I stud last year. Sullinger was a once-a-generation talent for the Buckeyes. 

However, Payne may not get enough credit. His size forces opponents to alter shots and turn over the ball. In a game of possessions, Payne's true worth comes to the forefront through those abilities.

Calling him a "bust" isn't justifiable at this point, despite the fact that he's not the double-double guy most thought he'd be. 

Follow Bleacher Report's Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.


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