[Photo: Marc-Gregor Campredon]
Conventional wisdom in many basketball circles is that the old-school center is a dying breed. Gone are the days in which teams are willing to spend any significant amount of time dumping the ball in the paint and allowing players to maneuver their way into low-percentage looks.
Today, spacing is king.
The notion that a more traditional big man cannot provide significant value, however, is unfounded. One need only look at the NBA level to see the value in non-shooters like Rudy Gobert and Clint Capela. A reliable three-point shot is a valuable asset for anyone, but centers can help elevate their teams’ offenses in a number ways that can positively impact spacing.
For Michigan, Jon Teske is going to have to find ways to help the offense without a three-point ball. The trick for Teske is that he doesn’t have the athleticism of the rim runners that benefit an offense without a perimeter game.
Previously, we looked at maximizing Zavier Simpson in next year’s offense, focusing primarily on how he operated within the pick-and-roll game. As the screener, Teske is a critical component to what could be the primary schematic theme for the team in the fall.
As the season progressed, Teske showed that he can benefit his teammates offensively, particularly in the screen game. Understanding angles and where to move to promote optimal spacing is a skill, and it’s one that Teske developed nicely this past year. There was clear inflection point as February came about where the game slowed down for the sophomore center. Michigan’s numbers with Teske on the court reflected that improvement (on/off stats vs. KenPom top-100 via Hoop Lens):
Despite lacking both ideal athleticism and a deep ball, Teske found a way to be a productive part of Michigan’s run to the Championship Game. Perhaps more importantly, John Beilein and the coaching staff took advantage of Teske’s size, screening ability, and generally intelligent play to benefit not just Teske but his teammates as well.
In typical Beilein fashion, Michigan ran a successful offense even when they had three relative non-shooters on the floor at once:
Per Hooplens, Michigan’s offense was actually better with the trio of Teske, Simpson, and Charles Matthews, despite the fact that none could be confused for a sharp shooter. That success over a decently-sized sample is a good reminder that there isn’t just one way to score efficiently, even in today’s game.
With that entire trio returning next season, we can look to what Jon Teske did well to gain some insight into what next year’s offense may look like.
[Hit THE JUMP for an extensive breakdown of Teske's offensive growth and potential.]
The seal. [Campredon]
When we discussed Zavier, I highlighted a play where Teske expertly cleared a path to the basket for his point guard by sealing his man towards the middle:
That play became somewhat of a staple for Michigan late in the year, regardless of handled the ball.
Against Iowa, MAAR led Matthews into a Teske screen via a simple dribble hand-off. Like in the previous play, Matthews crossed the ball back over towards where he came from originally. Teske recognized that, spun to seal his man, and created a wide-open lane that led to a dunk:
MAAR took advantage of a great screen for himself on a similar play against Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament:
In the dramatic second round win over Houston, Jordan Poole was the beneficiary of Teske sealing a driving lane. After he slipped a screen, the big man used his strength to push Houston’s one good rim protector, Fabian White, out of the paint. With White unable to go under Teske, there was no help defense when Poole got to the rim for his layup:
When you watch Teske carefully, his activity level on the block immediately jumps out. Whether he gets the ball or is even a threat to receive it, he’s constantly and aggressively fighting his counterpart for position. When things play out differently than expected, he doesn’t panic – rather, he adapts seamlessly.
Facing a zone against Iowa, Teske immediately opened himself up for a pass near the rim once the ball got to the middle of the court. When Livers switched it to the corner instead, Teske makes a slight spin to impede his defender who had responsibility for the corner:
Subtilties like these may seem inconsequential, but the little things add up to promote spacing amongst lineups that don’t necessarily stretch the court in the conventional sense. Simply occupying the corner defender gave MAAR the time and space to knock down an open shot.
Spatial understanding is critical for a guy like Teske and that knowledge was often on display when the ball moved swiftly for Michigan.
In Iowa City, Teske makes himself available multiple times by occupying open space when MAAR drives the baseline and the Hawkeyes blitz the Simpson pick-and-roll. After he completes his roll near the rim, Teske sealed the baseline in case of a drive in that direction. When Livers drove the opposite direction, the big man recognized it, shifted outside, and nailed a mid-range jumper:
Later in the game, Teske recognized another teammate being double teamed – this time, it was Matthews in the high pick-and-roll. Because of the double, he shortened his roll and turned into an easy outlet for his teammate. He then saw Livers cut along the baseline, made the pass, and caused the Iowa defense to scramble:
The timing on this play was a bit off, but the process was correct. Repetition breeds success and this shortened pick-and-roll could prove useful as teams attempt to trap ball handlers to eliminate driving lanes for a team who may not shoot the ball especially well from deep.
Teske’s constant awareness also proved useful against Ohio State in Michigan’s win in Ann Arbor. When Andrew Dakich called out the direction of the impending screen, Teske changed courses and slipped inside of the free throw line for an easy, open look that he knocked down:
Teske’s aptitude for the pick-and-roll quickly caught the eye of opponents and resulted in easier opportunities for both himself and his teammates.
With Michigan’s lead dwindling against Ohio State, Beilein called on Teske to calm the team’s nerves. That move paid dividends immediately on three offensive possessions.
The combination of a strong screen and quick roll forced Ohio State into a switch where MAAR used Teske’s large body as a pseudo-screen to get to the rim:
On the following possession, Teske did nearly the exact same thing except he consciously sealed his counterpart. MAAR could have used the opportunity to drive to the hoop, but he instead rewarded the center who showed off a bit of athleticism in adding two points to the scoreboard:
After setting a high screen, Teske occupied two Buckeyes as the roll man, forcing the corner defender to help cut off the Matthews drive. The result was a crucial open corner three to stabilize Michigan’s edge:
Jon Teske doesn’t jump off the screen when you watch a Michigan basketball team. Because of some of his relative limitations, that might not ever be the case. It is important to note, however, that he’s only two years into a program that completely transformed the body type and functional athleticism of Jordan Morgan. Regardless, Teske’s play makes it quite clear that he understands the subtleties of an offense predicated on screens and motion. He will never be the pick-and-pop option that Moe Wagner was, but his high basketball IQ and large presence provides John Beilein and company with numerous options to create space in ways that are more atypical in today’s game.