Throughout the spring and summer, Hoops Rumors will be talking with some of the most intriguing prospects in the 2015 NBA Draft. Today, the Hoops Rumors Draft Prospect Q&A series continues with Michigan State forward Branden Dawson, whom Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress ranks No. 87 in this year’s class (Chad Ford of ESPN.com does not have him ranked in his top 100 list).
No. 7 seed Michigan State upset a number of teams this spring on its way to a Final Four appearance thanks in large part to the play of forward Branden Dawson. Throughout his career at Michigan State, Dawson has been a key cog on the team, ascending from a ~20 minute per night player to a starring role. Now, after earning his degree, Dawson is turning his attention to the NBA. Dawson spoke with Hoops Rumors last week about his collegiate career and how his skill set will translate at the next level.
Zach Links: At 6’7″ with a 6’11” wingspan, you have size that could translate to either playing small forward or something of an undersized power forward. What position do you think suits you best in the NBA?
Branden Dawson: I would say the small forward position is my best position. I can play either the 3 or the 4, but I think I do better at the 3. I played small forward for the first three years at Michigan State and I find that I can use my strength and my size as an advantage there. Still, if you put me at the 4, I’m going to be faster than most other power forwards.
ZL: Between your athleticism and your wingspan, do you feel like you’re equipped to guard multiple positions at the next level?
BD: Yeah. I have the length and the mobility to do that. I can be strong and physical but also speedy enough to stay in front of smaller guys. I feel like I’m pretty versatile in that regard.
ZL: With serious leaping ability and speed, do you feel like you can out-rebound taller opponents pretty regularly?
BD: That’s something I was able to do in college a lot, but that’s not how it’s going to be in the NBA because you’re going against other elite athletes. I’m not going to be able to rebound how I did in college every single night, but I can definitely do quality work on the glass.
ZL: This year you helped lead Michigan State, a seven seed, all the way to the Final Four. What was it like to go out on such a high note?
BD: It meant a lot to me. Just to make it to a Final Four, it meant so much. Last year we had Adreian [Payne] leading the way and we still came up short of the Final Four, so we wanted to accomplish that. At the same time, a lot of people questioned whether we’d even make it to the tournament. There was a lot of pressure on us and a lot of adversity and to do it the way we did was amazing.
ZL: Back in April, Magic Johnson tweeted out that he’s looking forward to seeing you in the NBA. What did it mean to get that kind of endorsement and support from one of the game’s all-time legends?
BD: It was huge. He’s just a great guy. Magic always comes around when we’re in the tournament and he comes back and talks to us. It gives me a lot of confidence and really motivates me to succeed. If he sees great potential in me then other people will see it, too.
ZL: How often do you speak with him?
BD: Every so often, usually around tournament time. This year he checked in on us before the Sweet 16 and [again before] the Final Four. He gave us some great Dodgers hats and gear. … Just him coming back and showing his support, that means a lot to us.
ZL: How has playing under Tom Izzo prepared you for the challenges of the NBA?
BD: It has prepared me very well, I think. He’s the type of guy that just wants to see you succeed. We have a million plays and we run an NBA-type offense, so i think that’ll help my transition. When I went to the NBA combine and had my first workout with the Suns, we ran a lot of plays and drills that were exactly like what we do at Michigan State. I was like, “This is not new to me,” and I think that helped me out a ton.
ZL: How long did it take for your to rehab from your freshman year left ACL tear?
BD: It was about six months from when I tore it to when I got back on the court. I came back faster than I thought I would. Everyone was calling me Superman and the doctor said that I healed really fast, I had a quick recovery.
ZL: Did you ever consider declaring for the draft as an underclassman?
BD: No, I don’t think I ever seriously considered that. In my junior season I asked around about what I should do, but I always told my mom I’d get my degree. I’m the first in my family to graduate college and that was important to me. No one around me ever pressured me to go pro early.
ZL: Any individual team workouts coming up?
BD: I have about seven more to go. I [worked out] for the Celtics on June 1st and I have the Timberwolves coming up.
ZL: What teams have shown interest in you so far?
BD: My agent mentioned that the Lakers really like me. The Pelicans and the Clippers like me, too. I interviewed with a lot of different teams at the combine, so we’re gonna see what happens.
ZL: What led you to choose Jim Tanner and the folks at Tandem to represent you?
BD: Just the kind of people that they are. They’re great people and my mom liked them and it just made sense for me. I had that same feeling as when I committed to Michigan State. … I met with other agencies too, but they stood out to me the most. I think I made the right decision.
ZL: Defense is what you’re known for but it looked like your jump shot improved in your senior season. Was that the case? What changes did you make to improve your shot?
BD: Over the summer I was putting in more reps. People have been surprised by my progress. It all comes from repetition and building confidence, I think.
ZL: You mentioned wanting to play the small forward position and to do that, you have to have a bit of range. Are you working to develop an outside shot?
BD: If I’m gonna play the small forward position, it’s something I’m going to have to do. I see a guy like Tony Allen; he’s the type of guy who is not the best shooter, but he works hard and does everything else for his team. He goes around and just gets it done on both ends. I look at guys like him and they motivate me a lot.
ZL: In the DraftExpress recap of the combine, they noted that you displayed some ball-handling ability, which we didn’t see much of at Michigan State. Do you feel like you’re a better ball handler than most people realize?
BD: Yeah, definitely. At Michigan State our offense didn’t call for me to handle the ball a whole lot. Now I get to show that off a little bit and I think that’ll be important in the NBA.