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Michigan State basketball: Making NBA comparisons for starting 5

Who do these Spartans compare to?



Michigan State basketball
© Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Of the expected starting five for next season, who is each Michigan State basketball player’s NBA comparison?

While it’s yet to be seen who the starting five for Tom Izzo this upcoming season will be, three out of the five are locks. AJ Hoggard, Tyson Walker, and Jaden Akins all tested draft waters, before returning to Michigan State basketball.

All three will no doubt start for Izzo next season. The four and five positions are more up in the air, though, depending on which direction the staff chooses to go. 

My personal opinion is that the Spartans will roll with a lineup featuring Hoggard, Walker, Akins, Booker, and Sissoko.

So, with that being said, let’s take a look at NBA comparisons for each starting player for the Spartans.

PG: A.J. Hoggard, 6-foot-4, Senior

NBA Comparison: Kyle Lowry, 6-foot-0, Miami Heat

Hoggard is a unique type of point guard. Standing at 6-foot-4 and weighing in at 210, he has good size to defend positions one through three, as well as take advantage of smaller point guards on the offensive end. He may have his ups and downs for the Spartans, but at the end of the day, Hoggard has improved exponentially each season.

Shooting just 16 percent from three to go along with 2.5 points and 2.0 rebounds per game during his freshman year, Hoggard has drastically improved on all levels. Last season, he finished shooting 33 percent from deep, with 13 points per game, almost four rebounds and six assists. Having a full understanding of the offense puts him in control perfectly for Izzo and the Spartans. 

While Hoggard is a full four inches taller than Lowry, they are similar in that they will both lull you to sleep with their lack of athleticism, before burning you in the lane or from deep. Both guys can hold their own in the paint and have a great understanding of the game.

Kyle shoots the three ball better, which Hoggard would have to do if he is to catch on at the next level. Still, when I watch Lowry, I see Hoggard. 

G: Tyson Walker, 6-foot-1, RS Senior

NBA Comparison: Tyrese Maxey, 6-foot-2, Philadelphia 76ers

Walker transferred to Michigan State from the very small Northeastern University. During his two seasons with the Huskies, Walker played above the competition on both offense and defense, catching the eye of many different top tier programs. Eventually choosing MSU, Walker took the first year to get comfortable with the Spartans gameplay but once he did, he was a walking bucket. While he would often get red hot from three, he also had an incredible talent of slashing to the basket and finishing with an acrobatic layup. 

Walker could have a few different comparisons at the next level based on his talent level. However, because of his slightly undersized frame, I think he best projects as Tyrese Maxey with the 76ers.

Maxey fell in the 2020 NBA Draft, eventually being selected by Philadelphia at 21 and has done nothing but reinforce their confidence in him. He has elite speed and quickness, allowing for constant blow-bys and finishing at the rim. If he isn’t driving through the lane, he can absolutely fill it up from three as well, something we’ve seen from Walker time and time again. 

A Maxey comp may not be sexy or ground breaking. But, based on the trajectory Maxey’s career thus far, following in his footsteps would set Walker up for success at the NBA level. 

G: Jaden Akins, 6-foot-4, Junior 

NBA Comparison: Zach LaVine 6-foot-5, Chicago Bulls

Of all the players who are returning from last year’s Sweet 16 squad, Akins is the most likely to catch on at the next level. The 6-foot-4 guard is a true scoring threat from all three levels. The eye test will tell you how insanely athletic Akins is, just look up his high flying dunking highlight reel.

But his numbers back up his ability as well.

Shooting a scorching 43 percent from three, Akins was one of the best in the Big Ten from deep. Adding four rebounds and 1.2 steals to his long range shooting and ability to explode towards the basket, and it’s no surprise Akins will likely be selected in next year’s draft. 

Akins’ comp is that of NBA dunk champion and one of the top scoring threats in the league, Zach LaVine who has electrified NBA stadiums for years, but he’s also known for single-handedly taking over a game, if needed.

While having to split time being the go-to scorer with Walker, I believe Akins has that very same ability. He can, and will, run the floor for a monstrous dunk, or pull up from three in the half court. Akins has shown he is ready for the offense to run through him, exactly how the bulls utilize LaVine.

LaVine may have a slight edge on height/reach, but if Akins can continue to progress, the sky’s the limit for him. 

PF: Xavier Booker, 6-foot-10, Freshman

NBA Comparison: Jaren Jackson Jr., 6-foot-11, Memphis Grizzles

Admittedly, this is an extremely optimistic comparison. Booker has a ton to work on before he can be compared to the reigning defensive player of the year. But the tangibles are there. He has the size to play the five, but the offensive ability to play a stretch four.

Booker has a great feel for the game, whether he is running the floor, or even bringing the ball up the court on occasion. When playing in the half court, Booker can stretch away from the basket and provide needed shooting to for a power forward. On defense, his length and shot blocking abilities would play well against other centers, or greatly disrupt power forwards at the next level. 

Jaren Jackson Jr. is an absolute star in the NBA. His ability to slide between positions without giving up leverage categorizes him as a unicorn of sorts. While Booker will need to add muscle to his frame, he has a similar build to Jackson Jr. Getting him on a college meal plan should do the trick for the 18-year-old.

Jaren can step out and shoot the three ball better than Booker, 35 percent compared to 25 percent, but I expect Booker to come along in this area. His handles are just as smooth as Jaren’s, and his defensive abilities has Jaren Jackson Jr. written all over it. 

C: Mady Sissoko, 6-foot-9, Senior

NBA Comparison: Robert Williams III, 6-foot-9, Boston Celtics

Sissoko is a difficult player to give an NBA comparison. Barring a meteoric improvement this season, Sissoko will not likely play at the next level. Only averaging five points and six rebounds, he has yet to make the needed jump offensively to provide any value to an NBA team.

With that being said, he still has the athleticism and motor that emulates some players at the next level. One in particular that comes to mind for me is Robert Williams III with the Boston Celtics. 

Before Celtics’ fans get up in arms, these two are similar, but Williams is still far better than Sissoko (obviously, he’s in the NBA). There is a very small chance Sissoko can elevate his game to the level of Williams who is an unsung hero for the Celtics, often doing the dirty work that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. He is an absolute motor guy who does his best work rebounding and defending based off his athleticism.

Both these guys stand at 6-foot-9, 240 pounds, giving them a frame to push people around down low and sky for alley-oops and rebounds.

The major difference between Sissoko and Williams is that the latter has a much higher field goal percentage. Williams is converting on 75 percent of his field goals, while Mady only finishes at a clip of 61 percent. That’s a big difference when your main talent is hustle and athleticism. Additionally, Williams has the edge when it comes to finding others, granted I still wouldn’t call it a plus. He averages 1.5 assists per game while Sissoko has just 0.4.

If Sissoko can work on finishing around the rim and his field goal percentage greatly, maybe, just maybe, he will have a future at the next level.