When we last checked in on Branden Dawson, he was in the early stages of recovery from a torn ACL he suffered at the end his freshman season. Dawson's recovery went smoothly and he was ready for the Spartans opener only 8 months after the injury and finished his sophomore season without further complications.
While the clean return from injury qualifies as a huge success for Dawson in and of itself, the improvements in his game were perhaps less than what might have been hoped for, at least from expectations before the injury. Those expectations likely had to be dialed back a bit, since the injury caused Dawson to spend the majority of his summer in a swimming pool rehabbing rather than on a basketball court improving his jump shot and perimeter skills.
Perhaps because of the injury, Dawson didn't take on a bigger offensive burden for the Spartans despite the departure of Draymond Green. Dawson saw his scoring average drop from 16.4 points per 40 minutes pace adjusted to 13.7 as he continued to fill a high energy, highly efficient, low-usage role in the Michigan State offense.
From an offensive standpoint, and when looking at his status as a prospect as a whole, much of his game is based around his absolutely superb physical characteristics. Standing 6'6" with good length, a strong frame and incredible explosive ability, there are few wing players at any level that can match his physical acumen.
Dawson is able to use his athletic prowess to take advantage of scoring opportunities in transition, off of cuts to the basket, and from offensive rebounds, where, despite a drop from 4.2 offensive rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted to 3.3, he remains the most prolific offensive rebounder among small forwards in our top 100. He has an incredibly quick and explosive second jump, allowing him to get attempts up frequently after he crashes the offensive glass.
As a finisher at the rim, Dawson's touch is at times questionable despite his athletic gifts, something which he exacerbates a bit by rushing his shots and taking out of control attempts. This especially presents itself in transition, where he can be forced into questionable shots and turnovers when pressured and forced to react to defensive attention. Still, his sheer speed and athleticism makes him a considerable threat in these situations.
In the half-court, Dawson's rudimentary ball handling skills present an even bigger problem, despite a good first step that could be a weapon if he were to further refine his perimeter skills. Dawson struggles to change direction with his dribble in either direction, and can become very turnover prone and out of control when defenders pressure him off the bounce.
The bigger problem for Dawson in the half-court, however, is his jump shot. After connecting on only 26.1% on his jump shots during his freshman season, per Synergy Sports, Dawson made very little progress during his sophomore season as he connected at a 28.3% clip, having not yet made a three pointer in either of his two collegiate seasons. Dawson is particularly ineffective in catch and shoot situations, which are typically fairly high percentage shots. He needs to do a better job in terms of positioning before receiving the pass, and he has a long release with a lot of extra motion, something that could impact the repeatability of his release. He was more effective off the dribble, and he gets excellent elevation and has a high release point, something that allows him to get shots off in these situations. That being said, his balance is once again questionable at times, and we're dealing with such a small sample size (28 total jump shots off the dribble) that trying to read into any of these statistics and using that to predict future performance is highly questionable.
One area where Dawson shows some potential is as a post scorer, where his size, strength, and length afford him some possibilities here. He has a high release point, and shows some touch over either shoulder, something that he could use when he has a smaller wing defending him. While not converting an incredibly high percentage of these chances, he has been able to offset that by drawing fouls fairly frequently on the block.
On the defensive side of the ball, Dawson's physical attributes once again present an incredibly intriguing package, and his impact is much more realized on this side of the court. He has the strength and lateral quickness to defend either wing spot, while also having incredible anticipation skills to add to his physical gifts. At 2.4 steals per 40 minutes pace adjusted, Dawson is third among any wing player in the top 100 of our database. When you combine that with his 1.4 blocks per 40 minutes pace adjusted (second among wing players) as well as his excellent ability to stop defenders on the dribble drive, Dawson has the physical tools, anticipation skills, and effort to be an impact defender at the next level.
Overall, Branden Dawson continues to be the same incomplete player as the one we profiled last time. A tantalizing defensive talent and physical specifmen, Dawson has much needed development of his perimeter game in order to utilize that talent at the next level. The development of a reliable catch and shoot game, in particular, would make it far easier for Dawson to fit into an offensive scheme at the next level. His injury in the spring of his freshman season and the resulting summer he lost due to rehab makes his lack of refinement in his perimeter game not all that unexpected, but it makes it increasingly important for him to show substantial growth in those aspects this season.