With the departure of superstar and team leader, Draymond Green, everyone on the team must help fill the huge hole left by his absence. Not only was Green one of the best players in the country; he was also the undisputed team leader. A key communicator between Tom Izzo and the players, Green was essentially a coach on the floor. With him no longer in the locker room, someone has to step up and try to fill his role. That someone could be Keith Appling.
Keith Appling came to Michigan State as a freshman and immediately demanded respect. With his ability to score, his good defensive skills, and his composure, it’s fair to say Appling impressed. His three point shooting was key for the Spartans throughout the 2010-2011 season. Though the team struggled, Appling was a bright spot. His play as a freshman caused many to tout him as the next “floor general” at Michigan State. Michigan State’s history of great point guards is a huge cornerstone of the program. From Magic Johnson to Mateen Cleaves, almost every great Michigan State team has also had outstanding point guard play. Appling was expected to take the next step toward this sort of production in his sophomore season.
Appling’s sophomore season was not exactly what people were hoping for. Though he continued to score, other aspects of his game were not up to par. His mid and long range shooting in particular, declined considerably from his freshman year. His drop in three-point field goal percentage from 41.1 percent to 25 percent was particularly disheartening. Appling’s inability to shoot the three allowed defenses to play off him and clog up the passing lanes. He only averaged 3.9 assists, which is unacceptable in Tom Izzo’s offense. Appling looked uncomfortable at point guard, which is understandable because he rarely played there as a freshman. Still, his inability to create for others and demand defensive pressure hurt the Spartan’s offensive. He still attacked the basket extremely well and played outstanding defense. Understand, Appling was not so much a bad player, but he struggled to fulfill the needs required at the point guard position.
This coming season should be an exciting one for the Spartans. With only one senior, Derrick Nix, the Spartans are a young team. This season should give fans an idea of what the future will look like for the Michigan State basketball program. With so much inexperience and Draymond Green’s departure, a leader is needed. Keith Appling can be the leader this team needs. To truly inherit the role, he needs to improve his long-range shooting and his ability to get his teammates involved in the offense. Defensively and attacking the basket, Appling has proven he has immense talent and it should be expected he will continue to excel in those areas. If he can improve his play at the point guard position and become a true leader, Appling could have a breakout season and help the Spartans go deep into the NCAA tournament.