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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Appling, Johnson Handed Their First Major Test

As I was profiling point guards this summer, Appling and Johnson were two guys that were tough to get a read on. Appling was technically the point guard for MSU's team last year, but heeded playmaking duties to senior Draymond Green who is now on the Warriors. Elijah Johnson also took a back seat to a current NBA player, the Nets' Tyshawn Taylor, and Johnson was forced to play mostly shooting guard up until this season.

This was the year for both of them to step up and take the keys to their respective offenses. Neither had shown much playmaking ability up until this point and I wondered just how much they had in them. For the first half of this game, the question went unanswered. Appling was quiet while Johnson showed physical dominance and scored, although he failed to get into the lane. This was much like last year's Johnson who settled in as a spot up shooter and a havoc in transition. Johnson was looking like the better player if only for his greater physical gifts, while Appling looked rather pedestrian.

When the second half rolled along though, Appling was in the drivers seat. He went coast to coast on a lay-up that seemed to fire him and and after that him and backcourt mate Gary Harris went on a run where the scored 14 of their teams 16 points. Appling followed that lay-up with another one which he beat Withey and Johnson off a pick and roll. He also connected on a few rainbow threes, showing much better arc on his shots than his linedrive shot he featured last season. Appling wanted the ball at the end of the game and was taking over and hit a particularly clutch three in which he displayed an ankle breaking crossover move. Up by one with a minute left, Appling pulled up for a mid-range jumper where it seemed he was fouled by Johnson, but no call was made. Next possession, he got a one on one matchup with Withey where he showed a saavy hesitation move before weaseling his way between defenders to get the layup off. Picture perfect.

Michigan State got the win 67-64 and Appling had 19 while only missing three shots. His nemesis Johnson had 16 points while shooting a much worse 6-15 from the field. He struggled making plays much of the game and had 2 assists compared to 4 turnovers. Johnson doesn't capitalize on his physical tools as much as he should. He picks up his dribble too much at the first sign of defensive pressure and is always looking to pass before he has even created any kind of open look for a teammate. With the game ending though, Johnson was thrusted into the position of go-to-guy and he actually did get into the lane to draw a foul and sink the free throws. The next possession he attacked the rim against and nearly hit a floater. Those might have been his only two halfcourt drives all game.

I say he needs to be more aggressive, but a better alternative may be allocating the ball more to redshirt freshman Ben McLemore. McLemore had more assists than Johnson and just two less points even though he took 8 less shots. He didn't do much ball handling, but that should slowly change to the point where McLemore and Johnson are interchangeable. McLemore was the best pro prospect on the floor.

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