Before injuring his wrist in December, former Michigan State point guard Keith Appling was proving to the basketball world that he belongs in the NBA. Playing through the injury in mid January, Appling was shooting 50% from the field, averaging 15 points per game and nailing 48% of his threes.
And in Tom Izzo’s system, he had yet to be unleashed.
He selflessness played a major role in the success of the Spartans over the last four seasons. In spurts, he has shown that he can do everything that is needed from an NBA point guard.
Since missing time starting in February though, Keith Appling has struggled to find his groove on the court. Down the stretch, he struggled in the NCAA tournament.
The Spartans rolled through to the elite 8, when they met the eventual national champion Connecticut Huskies. While opposing point guard Shabazz Napier went off for 25 points, Appling accumulated more turnovers than field goal attempts.
Crushed was Tom Izzo’s 19 year streak of getting ever senior class to at least one final four. Demolished was the reputation Appling had built as a top collegiate point guard.
Now the 22 year old is starting to pick up the pieces. After missing the NBA Draft Combine, Appling has been working hard to get as many workouts as he can with NBA teams.
After a spending time showcasing his skills to his hometown team, it looks like he could be a possible target for the Pistons after the draft or with their 2nd round selection.
Height: 6′ 1″
Wingspan: 6′ 5″
School: Michigan State
Hometown: Detroit, Michigan
PPG: 11.2 | FG %: 45% | FT %: 64% | 2P %: 52% | 3P%: 36% | APG: 4.5 | Steals Per Game: 1.2
“I have a lot of people — a lot of people — telling me to shoot the ball more. But honestly, if I go out there and shoot the ball 20 times and we lose, what difference does that make? I could care less how many shots I get, as long as we win.” — Appling to Bob Wojnowski of The Detroit News before Sweet Sixteen play against Virginia.
He might of been held back in Tom Izzo’s system, but Keith Appling is a natural scorer. He is also a fantastic facilitator. Appling finished third in assists per game, right behind Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft and Penn State guard Tim Frazier.
He does a great job of establishing the pick and roll and finding his big that is rolling to the basket. His 2.1 assist to turnover ratio was the second best in the conference.
When it comes to scoring near the bucket, the former Spartan floor general is one of the most efficient in this class.
Appling isn’t the type of playmaker that takes plays off either. He is one of the better defending point guards in this class, and takes a hard-nosed approach to on the ball coverage.
It also has to be a positive for scouts that Appling might be a whole different type of game changer outside of the conservative system at Michigan State. The Detroit Pershing star has never really been given the opportunity to use his full offensive skills.
Michigan State point guards coached by Izzo have historically had a hard time transitioning to the NBA. We witnessed it in Detroit with Mateen Cleaves. Drew Neitzel went undrafted and never stuck on a roster. Kalin Lucas is still battling his way to the Association. Marcus Taylor played one season for the Timberwolves.
None of those guys though had the physical tools that Appling possesses. It’s that factor of potential that might draw teams to draft him in the 2nd round.
Keith Appling is a gamer that you want to have the ball at the end of games.
For being such a natural scorer, Appling never really developed a solid jump shoot while at Michigan State. It’s something that he will need to work on at the next level, seeing it wasn’t a major part of his role last season.
He was asked to be more of a facilitator with the likes of Gary Harris, Denzel Valentine and Adreian Payne around him. It has limited his scoring ability at times and he will need to focus on learning a new approach to running an offense.
One of Applings major weaknesses is his lack of experience running a half court offense. It seemed like every time the Spartans played in a half court set, instead of transition this year, that Izzo went with point forward Denzel Valentine to run the offense.
A lot of that might of been because of the wrist injury, but others think it’s because his skills don’t match up with being an everyday point guard. Those same experts believe that Appling can’t be trusted with a complex offense.
For as much as he gets to the glass, Appling really struggles to get to the free throw line and draw contact. He also struggles from the charity stripe.
Fitting the Pistons Glove
I firmly believe that Keith Appling has the potential to be a very solid backup point guard in this league. He has all the physical tools for the position, and a solid understanding of what it takes to win.
If he is willing to accept his role and get better at it, he could become a true asset to many teams.
Right now, the Pistons are putting a lot of faith in Peyton Siva to be that player for them. He made major strides last season but it could be interesting to see if the Detroit brass are looking for another player to push Siva in Summer league play.
If he doesn’t get drafted, there is a good possibility he would at least be invited to play in the Summer League.