The Wolverine

December 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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DECEMBER 2020 THE WOLVERINE 73 O ne of the most notable lines from the 2011 film "Money- ball" is when Oakland Ath- letics general manager Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, remarks that they cannot replace first baseman Ja- son Giambi but "what [they] might be able to do is recreate him, recre- ate him in the aggregate." That is the challenge facing Michi- gan head coach Juwan Howard this season. Michigan will not be able to replace former point guard Za- vier Simpson or center Jon Teske. Simpson and Teske were the face and foundation of the Michigan program for the past three seasons. They spearheaded the Wolverines' stylistic shift from finesse offensive juggernaut to dominant defensive force, and they helped guide the Wolverines to three straight Sweet Sixteens. They set the tone for what the program would be, even during an unexpected coaching transition. And they each served a special func- tion on the floor for the Wolverines. Although Simpson first made his mark as a tenacious perimeter de- fender, by the end of his career he be- came more known for his playmaking ability. Last season, Simpson averaged 7.9 assists per game and posted a 43.4 percent assist rate. It ranked fifth nationally and first among players at high-major programs by a sizable margin — Virginia's Kihei Clark was second with a 37.7 rate. Michigan's offense flowed through Simpson. He brought the ball up the court. He got Michigan into its offen- sive sets. He smoothly executed pick- and-rolls and pick-and-pops to set up open looks for his teammates. He also knew how to create space off the dribble — with and without screens — to generate points for himself in the paint. Nearly half (47.3 percent) of his field goal attempts were at the rim, and he made 63.3 percent even though more than 90 percent were unassisted. Teske was the anchor of Michi- gan's defense. When planted in the paint, he made life miserable for opponents taking it to the rack. He posted a 6.1 percent block rate, which was in the top 100 nationally. This disruption bolstered Michigan's two-point defense (60th nationally) and adjusted defensive efficiency (28th). Then, after Teske had altered the shot near the rim, he put himself in position to clean up the glass and limit put backs with his 18.9 defen- sive rebounding rate (330th). However, Michigan does not seem to have one player who can serve these roles by themselves. No other Wolverine has demon- strated they can be the playmaker at this level that Simpson was. None have shown that they can special- ize in dishing assists. Nobody else on U-M's roster last season had an assist rate higher than 12.7 percent, and incoming Wake Forest transfer Chaundee Brown's assist rate was 10.8 percent. Although incoming Columbia graduate transfer Mike Smith recorded an assist rate of 30.2 percent, it remains to be seen if that can translate to the Big Ten. Similarly, none have shown that they can anchor the back of a defense. Junior forward Brandon Johns Jr. is listed as five inches shorter than the 7-1 Teske and is a slender stretch five. Fifth-year senior forward Austin Davis had strong spurts in spot duty toward the end of last season, but he has never played more than 20.4 percent of Michigan's available minutes in a season. Rookie center Hunter Dick- inson was a consensus top-50 pros- pect but is still a freshman. As a result, Howard will not be able to replace Simpson or Teske with one player. However, like Beane, Howard may be able to rec- reate them in the aggregate. Despite the fact that Michigan has question marks at point guard and center, the Wolverines have multiple options at both spots due to the strength of their wings and posi- tional flexibility. At point guard, Howard can start with Smith, who has experience car- rying an offense by himself, albeit at a lower level. Sophomore guard Franz Wagner may be primed to have a leap like Nik Stauskas did in 2013-14 when Stauskas transformed from just a shooter (7.6 assist rate) to Michi- gan's primary playmaker (18.8 assist rate). Wagner also has exhibited that he is more than just a shooter by con- verting 61 percent of his twos with many unassisted. Plus, senior guard Eli Brooks can be serviceable at times at point guard for Michigan. At center, Johns, Davis and Dickin- son all bring something different to the table. Johns can be the stretch five that can contest shots at the rim (3.3 block rate) and stick with deep-threat big men. Davis can be the experi- enced, traditional center that bangs with the bruisers on the block. And at 7-1, Dickinson has the size to repli- cate Teske's presence down low. Howard will need to experiment with his lineups to find the best rota- tional variations that make up for the losses Michigan has suffered at point guard and center. If he succeeds in doing so, he will be able to replace Simpson and Teske in the aggregate and complement his star wings. ❑ INSIDE THE NUMBERS   DREW HALLETT Michigan's 'Moneyball' Question Staff writer Drew Hallett has covered Michigan athletics since 2013. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @DrewCHallett. Replacing the leadership, defense and pro- duction of graduated center Jon Teske (left) and point guard classmate Zavier Simpson — the winningest players in program his- tory — is a monumental task for Juwan Howard's Wolverines this winter. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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