Previously: Preview MGoPodcast with John Gasaway, Media Day Wrap, Bigs (Also, BUY HTTV BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE. There's more great preview content in there than I can possibly cover in a sequence of blog posts.)
Before I get into previewing the shooting guard and small forward types, here's some info on tonight's exhibition against Concordia since there won't be a full-blown game preview for reasons that should be self-evident.
Who: Michigan vs. Concordia
Where: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
When: 7 pm Eastern
TV/Radio: Streaming on MGoBlue (subscription required) and Big Ten Digital Network (game listed as free for now, but may require a subscription). Radio info here.
Alright. On to the wings, where the four players expected to rotate in at the two and three (and some point guard and power forward, too) all have star potential.
Glenn Robinson III
Measurables: 6'6", 220
Base Stats: 33.6 minutes, 11.0 points, 65/32/68 2P/3P/FT%, 5.4 rebounds
Key Advanced Metrics: 15.2% usage, 7.8 OR%, 10.0 TO%, 67% of FGs assisted
As the fourth or fifth offensive option last year (depending on Mitch McGary's ascension point), GRIII ended the season with a very small usage number and absolutely bananas efficiency—his 128.4 offensive rating ranked tenth in the country. The big question—and perhaps the key to Michigan's season—is whether Robinson can continue to be so efficient without the benefit of Trey Burke creating open dunk after open dunk. A full two-thirds of Robinson's field goals last year were assisted, and most of the ones that weren't were putbacks following offensive rebounds; if someone kept track of baskets per dribble ratio, Robinson likely would've led the country in that stat.
For Robinson to become the lead dog that his NBA lottery projections suggest he should be, he'll have to become much more effective and assertive as a creator off the dribble—if he can consistently get himself to the basket, his ridiculous vertical and excellent finishing will lead to plenty of points, especially if he develops his decent—but thus far inconsistent—outside shot. Reports from the summer have been mixed in this regard. Robinson attended several camps and wasn't mentioned as a standout nor as one of the more assertive players. ESPN's Jeff Goodman, however, took a tour of the country's top programs and named GRIII the most impressive player he saw over the likes of Marcus Smart, Andrew Wiggins, and Adreian Payne ($):
Michigan's Glenn Robinson III was the most impressive player of anyone I saw on the trip. GR3 will see more time at his natural position, small forward, this season. The 6-7 Robinson has added weight and become more athletic.
The questions regarding the son of the "Big Dog" were about his perimeter shot and ability to put the ball on the floor. Robinson buried deep jumper after deep jumper and appears far more comfortable at the 3-spot in John Beilein's offense. It's still yet to be determined whether this aspect of his skill set will translate in games, but it's a good sign with Robinson more assertive on the offensive end. If he can gain a consistent jumper to go with his athleticism, he'll almost certainly be a lottery pick.
If Mitch McGary is healthy and Michigan gets that GRIII, all bets are off regarding this team's ceiling. Another data point in favor of "eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee" comes from assistant coach Jeff Meyer, who noted that Robinson has made great strides as a ballhandler and distributor:
“He’s worked very diligently in July — we kind of shifted and allowed the best point guard coach in the country [LaVall Jordan] to work with Glenn, with his ball handling. Vall did a great job of putting him through a series of skill development drills,” Meyer said. “Glenn on his own has really worked hard at improving in that area, which is putting the ball on the floor. I think, in terms of the first 15 practices, his ability to take the ball end-to-end with the bounce has definitely improved, his ability to negotiate ball screens, reading the defense and then playing based on what the defense is giving has improved. Through our first 15 practices, I think he’s at 16 assists to three turnovers, so he’s really improved in that area and I know he’s taken a lot of pride in improving in that area.”
This leads to another major question about Robinson, and that's where he'll play the majority of his minutes this year. With McGary dinged up to start the season and John Beilein's preference to bring along freshmen slowly if possible (see: McGary, Mitch), Robinson should reprise his role as a stretch four, especially early in the season. The coaches are very serious about incorporating more two-post lineups—including the starting lineup—and when McGary is healthy that means Robinson could slide down to the three, a much more natural defensive position for him (in Beilein's offense, the three and the four essentially mirror each other).
A move down to the three could greatly benefit GRIII defensively, where he struggled as a freshman last year, especially when trying to defend larger players. A lot of that was due to the usual freshman issues: Robinson got caught ball-watching regularly and often looked unsure of his assignment. A year of experience will help, as will the 10-15 pounds of muscle he added during the offseason—when he does play the four, that'll really come into play.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]
Golden Age Rap Song That Describes His Game/Impact: "Intro: A Million And One Questions/Rhyme No More" — Jay-Z
Jay-Z's first album, Reasonable Doubt, received rave reviews but didn't make major waves on the Billboard charts. To open his second album, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1, Hova didn't wait long to address the increased skepticism that came with his new-found fame; his opening lines are "A lot of speculation/On the monies I've made, honeys I've slayed/How is he for real? Is that n**** really paid?"
Hopefully nobody here is too concerned with GRIII's personal life; "how is he for real?" is, however, a very legitimate question. Jay-Z proved his realness with a great sophomore album. Can GRIII do the same? If he lives up to the blockquoted hype above, the team's transition to this season will be as smooth as DJ Premier's beat-flip midway through this song.
The Bottom Line: We know we'll get at least a couple things from GRIII: finishing around the rim and offensive rebounding. His ability at those two things alone, along with expected improvement on the defensive end, could be enough for this year if McGary, Stauskas, and the supporting cast can create enough offensively.
If Robinson becomes a true threat off the dribble, however, it takes this team to a completely different level—how are teams supposed to account for Stauskas and McGary (plus solid outside shooting from the point guards and hopefully Caris LeVert) if GRIII can get into the paint with regularity? If not for McGary's back, GRIII is the biggest X-factor on this team: at the very least, he'll be quite good, and if he takes his game to the next level this becomes a totally different team.
Measurables: 6'6", 205
Base Stats: 30.5 minutes, 11.0 points, 50/44/85 2P/3P/FT%, 1.3 assists
Key Advanced Metrics: 7.6 assist rate, 14.2 TO%, 0.9 fouls committed/40 mins
No, he's not just a shooter, but holy hell is Stauskas a good shooter: even with a slump that stretched across a decent chunk of conference play, he connected on 44% of his threes last season, proving especially deadly from the left corner—just ask Florida.
Stauskas was quietly deadly, however, as the ballhandler on the pick and roll. UMHoops first pointed this out in January and it held up over the course of the season—Stauskas was the Big Ten's most efficienct player on pick and rolls, and while his number of possessions paled in comparison to Trey Burke, he came close to the same number as the next two guys on the list: Indiana's Victor Oladipo and Jordan Hulls. There's good reason for this—with his shooting ability, guards can't afford to go under the screen, and Stauskas has the size to finish strong at the rim or see over a hedging big man to find an open teammate.
Like Robinson, Stauskas added a good deal of muscle over the offseason, which should add to his effectiveness off the dribble; while he provided plenty of "Game ... Blouses" dunks last year, his layup attempts were often an adventure, largely as a product of a skinny freshman realizing too late that he was heading smack into a much bigger defender. The additional bulk should also help Stauskas defensively, where he really struggled last season—while he almost never fouled, finishing second in the nation in that regard, he had difficulty guarding quicker players on the perimeter.
With the combination of a pass-first point guard, the potential emergence of GRIII as a distributor, and McGary's excellent passing from the post, I expect Stauskas to get plenty of three-point opportunities even though opponents will be better able to focus on that with Burke and Hardaway are gone. Add in his ability to create off the dribble and I'd wager that Stauskas leads this team in scoring and improves his assist rate, as well.
Golden Age Rap Song That Describes His Game/Impact: "Don't Sweat The Technique" — Eric B & Rakim
I made my debut in '86/With a melody and a president's mix
And now I stay on target and refuse to miss/And I still make hits
Rakim is regarded as one of rap's greatest lyricists, a pioneer with his multi-syllabic rhyming style—he bridged the gap from the simple, repetitive styles of the likes of LL Cool J and Run-DMC to the next generation that featured the much more intricate styles of such luminaries as 2Pac, Biggie, and Nas. In this song, he discusses his evolution—and also warns other rappers that they shouldn't try to imitate his still-evolving style. His brashness, rapid-fire delivery, and developing versatility all fit Stauskas to a 'T'.
The Bottom Line: Stauskas should be this team's most reliable scoring option, especially early in the season, and if he can continue to pick apart defenses off of ball screens he could very well be one of team's top distributors. The biggest question with Stauskas is whether he can continue shooting as such a high level without Burke and Hardaway taking attention away from him, though if GRIII and McGary are playing at full force, we may never know the answer.
Measurables: 6'6", 185
Base Stats: 10.8 minutes, 2.3 points, 33/30/50 2P/3P/FT%,
Key Advanced Metrics: 11.4 assist rate, 11.5 TO%, 4.4 fouls/40
LeVert went from sure-fire redshirt to NCAA tournament contributor after impressing the coaches and fellow players so much in practice that he forced his way onto the court despite having to brace himself against a light breeze. Being rail-thin very much affected his ability to produce—while LeVert showed an ability to get to the right spots on the court, he couldn't finish, connecting on just 33% of his two-pointers (and a woeful 47% of his shots at the rim, per hoop-math).
While he's still skinny, LeVert added much-needed size over the summer, and he continues to earn rave reviews from the coaches. Even with GRIII, Stauskas, and blue-chip freshman Zak Irvin looking to command major minutes, the coaches are looking for ways to get LeVert on the court—that includes playing him at the point, something the assistants discussed at length last week on WTKA. LeVert was used occasionally as a press-breaker last year and played plenty of point in high school, so his ballhandling ability should be up to snuff, and despite playing off the ball last year he posted a respectable 11.4 assist rate while keeping turnovers to a relative minimum.
If LeVert can finish at the rim and improve his outside shot (30% from three last year), he may very well command upwards of 25 minutes a game at three different positions. Helping him reach that point is his defensive prowess—though he sometimes forgot to put his hands up in critical moments last year (DEATH TO BACKBOARDS), his length and quickness made him one of the team's best perimeter defenders, and he should only improve with more experience and size. When asked at media day about which player (besides Jordan Morgan) had stepped up as the proverbial quarterback of the defense, John Beilein said it was LeVert, who's reputedly a great communicator on that end. When Michigan needs a stop, he'll be on the floor.
Golden Age Rap Song That Describes His Game/Impact: "Chonkyfire" — Outkast
The very last track of arguably the greatest rap album ever*, Aquemini, was a tantalizing preview of Outkast's next effort, Stankonia. With LeVert, I'm not sure whether this song best applies to last season, when we saw brief flashes of sky-high potential, or this year, when it may be more of the same or he could break out with full-blown Stankonia-style, "Bombs Over Baghdad" impact.
Also, this line from Andre 3000 seems relevant:
It's just a poem until y'all learn right from wrong
Know when to bless a situation, when to grab the chrome
If LeVert can pick his spots, he could have a breakout year as a dangerous third offensive option. If he presses like he did last year—or fails to finish at an acceptable rate—he could recede into the background until the team needs him out there on defense.
The Bottom Line: Shoot, I already called GRIII an X-factor. LeVert has the highest variance in terms of potential performance among anybody on the team—if he lives up to the practice hype, he could be a breakout star; if he can't handle the physicality of the Big Ten, he could see his minutes absorbed by Robinson, Stauskas, and Irvin. At the very least, he should be a solid situational defender; there's potential here for a lot more than that if things click on the offensive end.
Measurables: 6'6", 200
Recruiting Rankings: 247Composite #7 SG, #29 overall
Indiana's Mr. Basketball ranked as high as five stars and #22 overall on ESPN, and even relative skeptic Scout had to move the late riser (yup, Beilein recruit) up to #51 overall by the end of the cycle. Michigan's official site hasn't updated heights/weights since June—based on scouting reports and seeing him at media day, Irvin is probably closer to 6'7" than 6'6", and his broad-shouldered frame means he projects anywhere from the two to the four in Beilein's system.
The consensus on Irvin is that he's got a sweet shot, effective from outside the arc with a developing pull-up game, as well. He's also ahead of where GRIII was as a freshman in terms of being able to put the ball on the floor and get to the basket. He's also ahead of the game as a defender, earning rave reviews from scouts, as well as his head coach ($):
"That's where you'll also see him take his game to another level," [Southeastern coach Brian] Satterfield continued. "We're asking him to guard a variety of positions, sometimes bigs inside, maybe the point guard. The other day we mixed it up - things weren't going well so we tried to get fired up, and he guarded the point guard. The other team couldn't get anything going. He was very disruptive.
247, meanwhile, listed him as the Big Ten recruit who's both "best in the clutch" and "most versatile," though they also misspelled his last name, so take that for what it's worth. They did manage to spell his name right when naming him the best incoming shooting guard in the conference.
Irvin has a very college-ready game; combined with his versatility, he should see plenty of minutes, especially if Michigan's can't get consistent production from their two-post lineups. He may play the GRIII role for a year—mostly spotting up or cutting to the hoop while the team's stars create—but he's capable of doing more.
Golden Age Rap Song That Describes His Game/Impact: "I Remain Calm" — The Roots
I remain calm, lyrically I got the bomb
When you put me on, I remain calm
One of the best songs off The Roots' major-label debut, Do You Want More?, featured a confident Black Thought stating his readiness to perform when called upon. Irvin won't be the go-to guy this year; he should still be ready to produce when he's needed, and depending on McGary's health and the development of Robinson and LeVert he could be asked to contribute for 30 minutes a game.
The Bottom Line: It's obviously difficult to project any freshman, so I'll just say that Irvin is a natural fit for Beilein's system; if his game is as developed as the scouting reports suggest, he could force his way into playing a major role on this team. The good news is there isn't an overwhelming amount of pressure for him to perform; the three guys above can handle most of the minutes if Irvin proves to be a year away, though that seems unlikely.
*Opinion Police, please report immediately to the comments section.