The Wolverine

June-July 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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JUNE/JULY 2020 THE WOLVERINE 57 A fter a frenetic flurry of roster news the past two months, Michigan basketball is set to have six newcomers next season. In April, Juwan Howard signed a top-15 recruiting class consisting of center Hunter Dickinson, guard Zeb Jackson, forward Terrance Williams and wing Jace Howard. In May, the Wolverines won the sweepstakes for Wake Forest rising senior transfer Chaundee Brown, who averaged 11.9 and 12.1 points per game as a sopho- more and as a junior, respectively. However, even if Brown is granted a waiver to be eligible im- mediately, the most important new- comer to Michigan's success next season will be Columbia graduate transfer Mike Smith, who pledged to the program April 10. With the graduation of point guard Zavier Simpson, Michigan has a crater it needs to fill at its play- making position. Simpson was one of the best or- chestrators in the country the last two years. His assist rate as a senior (43.4 percent) ranked fifth overall and was the best among high-major players by a large amount. Michigan relied heavily on him to get into its offensive sets, shine in the pick and roll, and use his pinpoint passes to set up teammates for buckets. With the ball in Simpson's hands so much, no other Wolverine dem- onstrated much of an ability to run an efficient offense and dish out as- sists. The highest assist rate among returning Wolverines is 10.9 percent by rising senior guard Eli Brooks, who has had a higher turnover than assist rate each of year of his career. The next highest assist rates are 6.4 percent by senior wing Isaiah Livers — if he withdraws from the NBA Draft — and 5.9 percent by sopho- more wing Franz Wagner. Someone else most likely will need to step up to fill that role for Michigan. That someone will need to be Smith, who was the playmaker at Columbia. In his last two full sea- sons (he missed all but eight games in 2018-19), his assist rate more than doubled his turnover rate. Last year, Smith was the best ver- sion of himself with a top-100 assist rate (30.2 percent) that dwarfed his turnover rate (13.5 percent). He was one of only seven players nationally with an assist rate above 30 percent and turnover rate below 15 percent. Additionally, not only did he set up teammates, Smith averaged 22.8 points per game last season, setting up points for himself off the dribble. Despite being only 5-11, nearly one- third (32.8 percent) of his shots were at the rim and only 8.9 percent of his makes there were assisted. He also created space for himself at the arc as just 46.8 percent of his three- pointers were assisted. None of the likely returning Wol- verines have shown much of a pro- pensity for scoring off the bounce. Brooks and Livers took less than a quarter of their shots at the rim, and at least 60 percent of their makes were assisted. Wagner was more willing to take it to the rack — 38.8 percent of his shots were at the rim and only 41.5 percent of his makes there were assisted, but it still was not near Simpson's level (47.3 per- cent of shots at the rim; 9.5 percent assisted at rim). Plus, Brooks, Livers and Wagner are all catch-and-shoot snipers as at least 87.8 percent of their threes were assisted. None of the other newcomers should be expected to be this type of playmaker either. The only two that are guards are Brown and Jack- son. Brown's assist rate was 10.8 percent and less than his turnover rate (14.7 percent), and he settled for more mid-range jumpers rather than taking it to the tin. Although Jackson was a four-star recruit, he is expected to be the type that blos- soms later. And Michigan does not have holes at any other position like it has at point guard. The Wolverines should be stacked on the wings with Livers, Wagner and junior Brandon Johns, while fifth-year senior center Austin Davis is capable enough to take pressure off Dickinson. Smith is the only newcomer whom Michigan needs to thrive and needs him to do it immediately. It is not a guarantee that it happens either. Three years ago, Michigan recruited a graduate transfer point guard to replace its multi-year starter and leader. The graduate transfer averaged at least 15.5 points and 6.5 assists per game, and registered top- 20 assist rates nationally his last two seasons at a lower-level conference. He was expected to come in and make an immediate impact. It was Jaaron Simmons from Ohio, and he didn't. Instead, he played just 15.7 percent of Michigan's avail- able minutes because his game did not translate from the Mid-Ameri- can Conference to the Big Ten. This time, Michigan needs Smith's game to carry over from the Ivy League to the Big Ten, which is a larger leap. U-M does not have a sophomore Simpson waiting if he cannot do it, like it did with Simmons. That is why Smith's success as a newcomer is so critical to Michi- gan's team success next season. ❑ INSIDE THE NUMBERS   DREW HALLETT U-M's Most Important Newcomer Staff writer Drew Hallett has covered Michigan athletics since 2013. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @DrewCHallett. Graduate transfer Mike Smith was one of only seven players nationally with an assist rate above 30 percent and turnover rate below 15 percent in 2019-20, which makes him a prime candidate to help fill the void at point guard created by Zavier Simpson's departure. PHOTO COURTESY COLUMBIA

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