Michigan State Basketball: Ideal NBA Landing Spots for Former Spartans Stars

Adam Biggers@@AdamBiggers81Senior Analyst IIMay 23, 2014

Gary Harris, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling are Association-bound.
Gary Harris, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling are Association-bound.Paul Sancya/Associated Press

Gary Harris, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling are NBA-bound. With the draft lottery set and mocks in place, a clearer picture of where the former Michigan State stars could land in the 2014 NBA draft is forming each day. 

Or depending on how you look at the situation, it's getting cloudier during each passing moment—just have to love those revised mocks, huh? 

Had he skipped his sophomore year with the Spartans, Harris probably would have been an early first-rounder in the 2013 selection process. However, staying for another year didn't put much of a dent in the 6'4" marksman's stock; for the most part, he's projected as a top-15er across the board. 

Payne had a slow-starting but magnificent career under coach Tom Izzo. As a junior and senior, the 6'10" gentle giant was one of the game's premier threats. In 2013-14, he redefined his game by showcasing his new-again shooting from the perimeter. 

Some mocks have him as a lottery pick, while others project him at No. 20 or later. 

As for Appling, well, he's not exactly a high-profiler in this guard-heavy draft. The 6'1" point man will either be a late second-rounder, or he'll take the undrafted route and find a role with team that way. Don't discount him, though. Appling has a lot to offer—he just has to convince the right team that he's the one. 

And on that note, which teams fit that description? What about for Harris and Payne? 

Using logic (maybe), team needs and a few existing projections, we'll analyze ideal destinations for Izzo's former trio. 

Mock/projection roll call: SI.com (Chris Mannix's collection), DraftExpress, Nothin' But Net (Jim Brighters) and Bleacher Report (Bryan Mazique's sensible picks).


Great Fit for Gary?

Basically, any team looking for a consistent long-range threat who can also switch it up and drive to the basket would be a fine destination for Harris, who was the 2012-13 Big Ten Freshman of the Year and finalist for B1G Player of the Year consideration as a sophomore. 

At the college level, Harris demonstrated the ability to rattle off strings of jumpers with relative ease. He won't break into the NBA as a 20-point scorer, but he could achieve that status given the proper circumstances. At the very least, he'll be a rotation guy who contributes. He's not exactly an ideal-sized 2-guard by pro standards, but he'll work out for his next team. 

SI.com projects Harris at No. 11 to Denver, which, on paper, seems like a good fit. This past season, the Nuggets ranked No. 15 in three-point shooting and No. 19 in field-goal percentage. During his two years with the Spartans, Harris averaged 35.2 and 41.1 percent from three-point range and turned in cool marks of 42.9 and 45.6 from the field. 

DraftExpress has Harris at No. 14 to Phoenix. What's not to like about the dry heat of Arizona? At one time, the Suns were a power in the Western Conference. With Harris, they could rekindle that fire. 

B/R's Bryan Mazique sees a fit for Harris at No. 22 to Memphis, which isn't too far from Harris' home state of Indiana. Maybe his presence would strengthen the Grizzlies' influence to the Hoosier State. Marion native Zach Randolph, Izzo's only one-and-doner, plays for the Grizz. There's your fit. 


Perfection for Payne

One SI.com mock has Payne going No. 13 to Minnesota. And considering that the Timberwolves may lose Kevin Love, who is also a versatile big who can shoot from anywhere, the addition of Michigan State's former power forward makes the ultimate sense. 

If only Shawn Respert was still director of player development...Imagine one Spartans legend mentoring another. It'd be classic. Respert is no longer with the team, but the potential to be Minnesota's next K-Love could interest Payne. 

Sure, they're struggling and they're probably a few years from true playoff contention. But Payne's a guy who can grow with a team, and with the right pieces, he'd mesh well in the Twin Cities. 

Now flip the scenario. There is perennial power out there that would probably jump at the chance to get Payne, and Mazique hit the nail on the head with his sensible projection of Payne at No. 21 to Oklahoma City, a team known for long and lean athletes. 

At 6'10" and 245 pounds, Payne is similar in stature to Serge Ibaka, the Thunder's multi-skilled 4. Ibaka's four years into his pro career, and Payne would benefit by coming up behind one of the league's top youngsters. 

Ideal for development; ideal for winning. OKC is a winner. 

Then again, Brighters makes a compelling argument for Payne at No. 9 to Charlotte, which is in the midst of a rebranding, dumping "Bobcats" for the original name of "Hornets," which was used by New Orleans—a team that now uses "Pelicans" as its nickname. 

Got all of that? Good. 

Back to business: Remember the Hornets in the 1990s? They were a fun bunch and had a solid frontcourt with Alonzo Mourning, a player comparable to Payne. Or the other way around: Payne is comparable to 'Zo, who had some range and a reliable baseline jumper. 

And he dunked a lot. That'd work for Payne, right? Plus he'd look good in turquoise and bees. 


Applications for Appling

Unfortunately, not one of the mocks used in this piece had Appling involved. He's a tweener, kind of like Kalin Lucas was. Maybe the D-League would be the wise choice? Appling has the skill to play at the next level, but his size limitations may be too much to overcome. 

Essentially, DraftExpress views Appling as an NBA long shot. Fair enough. The site put together a valid argument, highlighted by an untimely right (shooting) wrist injury, as to why Appling ranks low among point guards:

He doesn't draw much contact, as his 5.2 free throw attempts per 40 minutes pace adjusted were the second lowest among point guards in our top 100. His average size and strength hampers him in this area.

Realistically, anywhere would be ideal for Appling, who should eventually earn some minutes on a pro floor. He has "underdog story" written all over him. 


Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81 


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