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From The Courts

Breaking down Michigan State’s ‘NBA 2K17’ all-time team

Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire

With the release of NBA 2K17, NBA fans and gamers across the globe are having fun scanning their faces into the game, simulating seasons, and turning their favorite franchises into a dynasty. On top of the game’s usual features, an interesting new wrinkle this season is the inclusion of all-time rosters for 10 college teams.

While this isn’t quite the return to college hoops some fans are hoping for after NCAA games were removed from the marketplace a few years back, it does offer an interesting topic for discussion. Namely, what players were rightfully included and who was snubbed from each team’s roster? We at Today’s Fastbreak are here to answer those questions; I took an in-depth look at the Michigan State Spartans.

Since it’s a college team, how each player performed on campus has to be taken into account. But with the feature being utilized on a NBA platform, I feel the pro career of each guy also has to be a large factor.

First, here were the no-brainers which were already placed on the team by the game developers.

Magic Johnson – Almost universally proclaimed the best point guard of all-time and on many folks’ NBA Mount Rushmore, Magic is a lock to be the floor general for Michigan State’s all-time team. He was the Most Outstanding Player of the 1979 NCAA Final Four in leading the school to its first-ever national championship, and still maintains an active role in recruiting prospects today, only cementing his status as the face of the Spartans program.

Jason Richardson – Richardson took the floor for 13 NBA seasons, finishing 18th all-time in made three-pointers while shooting 37.0 percent from behind the arc. Much more than just a shooter, J-Rich was also a two-time NBA dunk contest champion, and you can make the argument he’s among the best players to never make an NBA All-Star team. Richardson was a reserve for the 2000 Michigan State title team, and went on to be a 2nd-team All-American later in his collegiate career.

Steve Smith – Smith graduated as the all-time leading scorer in Michigan State school history in scoring and is now second behind Shawn Respert. After making first-team All-American as both a junior and senior, Smith went on to play 14 seasons in the NBA, making one All-Star team as a member of the Hawks.

Draymond Green – The 2012 Big Ten Player of the Year and the school’s all-time leading rebounder, Green has vastly exceeded expectations in the pros, blossoming into a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate and a 2nd-team All-NBA performer. While his Snapchat skills may need some fine-tuning, there’s no question Draymond belongs among the finest players to have passed through East Lansing.

Zach Randolph – It didn’t look like the makings of a success story when Z-Bo punched Ruben Patterson in practice during the Jail Blazers years, but Randolph straightened out his act and blossomed into one of the league’s most consistent big men. Entering his 16th NBA season, Randolph has appeared in two All-Stars games and is a beloved figure in Memphis as part of the Grit-n-Grind-era Grizzlies. He only played one season at East Lansing, but averaged close to 11 points in helping the Spartans reach the Final Four.

Kevin Willis – Selected to his lone All-Star appearance in 1992, Kevin Willis won’t often get mentioned among the best big men to ever play the game. However, thanks to his incredible longevity (Willis played 21 NBA seasons), the 7-footer is one of only 15 players in NBA history to top 16,000 career points and 11,000 career rebounds. Having played pro ball for over two decades, Willis is literally an “All-Time” kind of guy, and a worthy inclusion among his fellow former Spartans.

Denzel Valentine – About to enter his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls, Valentine doesn’t have the professional resume yet, but his college credentials alone are enough to get him on this team. Valentine was a 1st-team All-American last season as a senior, winning the AP Player of the Year award, the first Spartan ever to receive that honor.

Eric Snow – A Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and a three-year starter who led the conference in assists as both a junior and senior, Snow went on to play 13 NBA seasons. He most notably was a starter on the Philadelphia 76ers team that reached the 2001 Finals, taking the tougher defensive assignments in the backcourt alongside Allen Iverson. Just don’t ask him to always stay awake while calling a game.

11 March 2003: Head coach Lenny Wilkens and Morris Peterson of the Toronto Raptors during the Raptors 95-87 loss to the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center in Denver, CO. Mandatory Credit: Icon Sports Media

Mandatory Credit: Icon Sports Media

My Biggest Gripe

Now that the things I agreed with are out of the way, WHERE ARE THE FLINTSTONES?

Magic Johnson is on the team to represent the 1979 National Champions, but the game left out the heart and soul of the school’s other title team, the 2000 champs. Sure, Jason Richardson made the list, but he was a freshman who averaged just 5.1 ppg that season. No, that team was led by the Flintstones, lifelong friends who grew up in Flint, Michigan and played ball together all their lives – Morris Peterson, Mateen Cleaves, and Charlie Bell (plus Antonio Smith, but he graduated the year before they won the title).

Charlie Bell appeared in seven NBA seasons, but I think he falls just short of an all-time list. However, Peterson and Cleaves have to be included. Mo Pete was the team’s leading scorer that season and a 2nd-team All-American; when Cleaves hurt his ankle, it was Peterson who won the title game for them. He went on to have a successful 11-year NBA career. Meanwhile, Cleaves named was named Tournament MVP during that 2000 run, and leads the school in assists all-time. He’s also the school’s only three-time All-American. Cleaves was mainly a deep reserve in his six NBA seasons, but what he accomplished under Tom Izzo’s watch should be more than enough to warrant his selection here.

Other Notable Snubs

Since we now have three members of the 1999-2000 team on the list, it’s only fair to add another from the 1978-79 team as well. Greg Kelser is still Michigan State’s all-time leading rebounder, and was a 1st-team All-American as a senior when the Spartans won the title. He went on to play six NBA seasons.

Johnny Green – The former New York Knicks star made four All-Star teams in the 60’s and early-70’s as part of an illustrious 14-year career. Back at East Lansing, Jumpin’ Johnny averaged a ridiculous 18 rebounds per game in both his junior and senior seasons, and was a 2nd-team All-American as a senior.

Scott Skiles – People might primarily think of him in his more recent role as a no-nonsense, disciplinarian coach, but Skiles could ball in his day. With the Spartans, Skiles averaged an absurd 27.4 points on 55.4 percent shooting and 6.5 assists as a senior. He played 10 NBA seasons and still holds the record of 30 assists in a game.

My Omissions

Sam Vincent – Leaving Vincent off the list seems criminal for a guy who averaged 23 points on 54.4 percent shooting and 4 assists as a senior All-American; I would understand if people decided to blame the millennials (i.e. me) for screwing something else up. Yet, the Spartans only made the NCAA Tournament once in Vincent’s four seasons in East Lansing, losing in the first round during his senior season. Vincent then spent seven good, not great, seasons in the NBA as a part-time starter. He has the stats, but not the marquee moment to keep him on the list for me personally.

Branden Dawson – Dawson left school as the Spartans’ all-time leader in blocked shots, but I need to see more than a couple years in the D-League to put him on an all-time team.

Alan Anderson – Anderson has carved out a nice career for himself after bouncing around for a few years between the D-League and Europe. Still, a few seasons as a rotational player, plus a senior season where he averaged 13.2 points and helped the Spartans to a Final Four don’t feel like quite enough to make the cut here.

Gary Harris – Harris was a tough exclusion for me, as you could see the beginning of a breakout last season in Denver, where he shot 35.4 percent from three and averaged 12.3 points in his second season. A Wooden Award finalist before leaving Michigan State following his sophomore year, Harris simply doesn’t have a long enough track record to merit his inclusion.

Adreian Payne – A four-year player at Michigan State, Payne broke out as a senior, averaging 16.4 ppg and 7.3 rpg, while showing potential as a stretch big man by hitting 42 percent of his threes. In just two NBA seasons, though, Payne has already been traded and now finds himself fighting for playing time scraps in a crowded Minnesota frontcourt.

Final Team

Magic Johnson

Jason Richardson

Steve Smith

Draymond Green

Zach Randolph

Kevin Willis

Denzel Valentine

Eric Snow

Alan Anderson Morris Peterson

Gary Harris Mateen Cleaves

Branden Dawson Greg Kelser

Adreian Payne Johnny Green

Sam Vincent Scott Skiles

Breaking down Michigan State’s ‘NBA 2K17’ all-time team

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