By BEN BASKIN
Special to ZAGSBLOG
NEW YORK — It was a successful weekend in Brooklyn for No. 1 Michigan State, as they not only took home the championship in the Coaches vs Cancer Classic but their two top players also impressed NBA executives with their strong play.
Throughout the weekend Spartans 6-10 forward Adreian Payne and 6-4 guard Gary Harris displayed why many have them both pegged as first-round picks in the upcoming NBA draft.
Payne had an off-night on Saturday in Michigan State’s 87-76 victory over Oklahoma, as he was limited by early foul trouble and had only four points on 1-of-6 shooting. Yet the forward was still able to have an impact on the game as he pulled down seven boards, blocked two shots, and constantly forced double-teams that allowed some other Spartans to get involved in the action.
“Payne is such a good player,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “Obviously, the two fouls early helped reduce his minutes a bit…He’s a guy that even if he doesn’t score, he attracts attention that creates some opportunities for other guys to score. Thats what good players do.”
Despite his low-scoring output against the Sooners, Payne was awarded a spot on the all-tournament team, helped in large part by his monster game against Virginia Tech on Friday night when he totaled 29 points, including 4-for-6 from three, and 10 rebounds.
The up-and-down performances are one of the only knocks against Payne’s NBA stock at this point.
“He’s talented but he’s always been a tease up to this point,” one NBA GM in attendance told SNY.tv. “Great size and athleticism, a serviceable jump shooter and good shot blocking instincts but his motor and ability to sustain consistent effort/production have been the issue.”
While Payne will likely go in the first round, it will be behind the “Big 4″ freshmen group of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon — the group that has gotten more shine than many older players, which Payne told SNY.tv on Friday “pisses us off.”
After struggling through an off-night of his own on Friday, Harris had a strong performance against Oklahoma, hitting 7-of-15 from the field for a total of 21 points. The sophomore guard, who was picked as the Preseason Player of the Year in the Big Ten, had a big first half with 14 points, which helped the Spartans overcome a slow start that saw them trailing by 11 with 10:51 to go. However, Harris suffered leg cramps that hampered him slightly in the second, although he fought through them and was still effective.
“I was really happy for Gary,” coach Tom Izzo said. “He struggled the night before and he came out with some fire. He just cramped up, theres nothing you can do about it. He sucked it up as much as he could.”
Harris is generally regarded as the better prospect and is a possible lottery pick come June. DraftExpress.com has Harris listed as the No. 12 pick, while Payne is slotted at No. 16.
“I think Harris is the best off-guard in the country,” TNT analyst Greg Anthony said. “He’s as complete and as polished at that position that I’ve seen…at this stage of his career…in a long time.”
Fellow TNT analyst Steve Smith lauded Harris for his “basketball I.Q.” and said he is a “student of the game” who can “play within the framework of an offense.”
“Sometimes players at the wing have a hard time playing without the basketball,” Smith said. “He [Harris] does an excellent job of moving without the ball. He also gets after it on the defensive end.”
“Key reserve on a good team. Starter on a lottery team,” the NBA GM said to SNY.tv regarding Harris. “Goes late teens- early 20’s.”
The two Spartan stars will look to continue improving their draft stock as Michigan State takes on Mount Saint Mary’s on Nov. 29th followed by an intriguing matchup against No. 24 North Carolina Dec. 4th.