The die seemed to be cast from the moment he committed to MSU…Tum was going to be a lightning rod, a dividing line among many MSU fans. There would be those who saw his strengths (defense, speed and not least of all leadership) as things his coach values more than most and this would ensure he would play a very large role for his entire stay in East Lansing. There were others who looked at the negatives (his struggles with the jumper, his lack of size) and wished for someone, ANYONE else to rise up and seize the available point guard minutes from him. I have a feeling this won’t stop anytime soon for some…but here’s the reality. The reality is that Tom Izzo *loves* this kid…not just his personality, though that’s definitely part of it, but the things he brings to the floor as well. There are a lot of coaches in college basketball for whom Tum would not likely play a large role, at least not in his current incarnation…the guy down the road in Ann Arbor would be one of them, for example. In East Lansing, though, Tum gives his coach more than enough of what he wants from a floor leader to earn major minutes and a very strong possibility at being a 3+ year starter. That’s how it is, so I’d suggest those who struggle with it to get on board, because I don’t see that train stopping.
For Tum, two things need to continue to improve for him to become a really effective two way player. The first and more important element IMO is that he develop greater consistency in finishing plays in traffic. His speed is so good that he will be able to get to the rim even if defenders sag on him…that’s what elite quickness can do for you. Developing greater consistency with a midlane floater will help. Being able to recognize lanes and exploiting them more quickly (which is a recognition thing more than it is a physical issue), getting to the rim before help can arrive, is also important. I think we saw him make some positive steps as last year went along in this area and I liked what I saw in the bits I witnessed from Italy as well. The other thing which will obviously help is if he can find more consistency with his jumper. Again, I think there are signs that is coming along but it’s going to be a process. For now, I expect him to be better than he was as a freshman. How much better? We’ll see. I don’t think he needs to be Shawn Respert to be effective, though…just being good enough to force defenses to play straight up will do fine.
Tum had a strong final outing on the Italian trip, scoring 10 points and dishing out 9 assists in the 1 point loss to Georgia. He was aggressive and effective in getting into the lane and finishing plays or kicking to shooters. More of that will be welcome. I expect the same stuff we saw last year from him on the defensive end, where he had some really strong efforts (no one played D’Angelo Russell better than did Tum), and in terms of running the offense, especially MSU’s transition game where his speed makes an outsized impact. The other thing which in my mind ensures his role is the intangible things, those elements the people who struggle with him in a big role want to dismiss. If you don’t think he played a significant role in MSU’s current recruiting success, you don’t know what you’re talking about…just ask anyone associated with the program. If you don’t believe he’s got a ton to do with MSU’s chemistry and thus the way this team plays unselfishly, a key to its success last year and going forward, again, you don’t know of what you speak. He *matters*. I believe that but far, far more importantly, Tom Izzo believes that. Everybody else ought to get on board with that train of thought too.