College Basketball is just over a week away and Michigan looks to have its most formidable team in years. This is the start of the preview series detailing the '12-'13 Wolverines, starting with those in the backcourt who will come off of the bench.
One of Michigan's earlier commits in the 2012 class, Nik Stauskas doesn't have the hype of Mitch McGary or Glenn Robinson III, but he has a valuable skill-set that figures to earn him some playing time. Stauskas was a consensus top-100 recruit, and at 6'6", he has ideal size for a shooting guard. His reputation is that of a lights-out three point shooter, and that sentiment is echoed by every scouting report on him:
Stauskas's commitment post from UMHoops:
Stauskas has terrific shooting range but is more than just a shooter. He does a great job attacking the basket and is an able finisher in the lane. He shows a very good feel for the game and appears to be a solid passer as well. He’s not a great athlete in terms of lateral quickness but he’s an above average leaper. His skill set and shooting ability combined with his 6-foot-5 (and growing) size make him a very intriguing prospect. One scouting website called him a "high major shooter deluxe" and that’s probably fitting; a shooter first and foremost that can do enough of the little things to elevate his game.
John Beilein during Michigan's media day:
On Nik Stauskas' three-point shooting ... "He's just got a natural ability to find the bottom of the basket. What separates Nik is, what we hope will make him a very difficult guard, that where some guys are just shooters, Nik, if you come out on Nik he can put the ball down on the floor and get to where he wants to go to. Some guys can do that and then can't throw drop-off passes and see the court. He has been able to do that thus far. With that being said, we see that, we like it, now we've got to defend. I sense he is embracing (defense), because he knows that is how he gets to do the other stuff. Like most shooters, they love shooting the ball. I would sense that if he continues doing what he has been doing so far, he among some others will have a pretty green light to let it ride."
Unlike McGary and Robinson, who are somewhat atypical players for John Beilein's system, Nik Stauskas seems to be a near-perfect fit for what Beilein's offenses have typically done in the past. He is a tremendous shooter, has decent ball-handling ability, and can put the ball on the floor a bit. Despite shooting an absurdly high percentage of three point shots, Michigan still hasn't had a truly elite shooter under John Beilein (after Tim Hardaway's freshman year, we hoped that one had arrived, but we all know how that worked out last year). Stauskas could very well be that guy; he has a quick, fluid release, has enough height to create some separation from the defense, and can pretty much shoot from anywhere on the floor. He could eventually develop into a more well-rounded player -- his handle could even earn him minutes at the point guard spot eventually -- but as for know, it looks like Stauskas wil play the role of three point specialist.
If Stauskas can shoot as well as advertised, Michigan will need him to play. The other variable (which Beilein alluded to above) is his defense; even though he played in a very competitive prep league, Stauskas will probably be a step behind on defense and need to take some time to adjust to the college game. He's probably won't ever be a lock-down defender with his somewhat limited athleticism, so Michigan just needs him to play at a level where he won't be an extreme liability. We won't know exactly how good of a shooter Stauskas is for a while, but if he can play defense decently enough, he'll definitely figure into the rotation at the two guard spot with Matt Vogrich and Tim Hardaway Jr. The best-case scenario is that Stauskas can play defense adequately enough to warrant major minutes and he shoots around 40-45% from three as a key member of the rotation. There's definitely a niche for Stauskas with Matt Vogrich's inconsistency behind the arc, so hopefully he'll be able to fill the role as Michigan's designated three point shooter.
Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert
These two freshman guards are grouped together because they are this year's "Zack Novak memorial late scholarship offer" award winners. Beilein has quite a reputation among Michigan fans for being able to identify and offer under-the-radar talent late in the recruiting process, so it will be interesting to see if these two late additions pan out, as neither is very well-regarded by the main recruiting services. Spike Albrecht is an unheralded point guard who played his prep career in the same tough conference as McGary and Stauskas, but didn't have an offer from anyone (except Appalachian State) until Beilein pulled the trigger. During Burke's "will he or won't he go to the NBA" saga, Michigan elected to take a point guard in the class and eventually settled on Albrecht over Amedeo Della Valle, who wound up committing to Ohio State. Albrecht is listed at 5'11" so he's undersized, but he will likely work in more of a facilitating role as a pass-first point guard. He does have the ability to hit an outside shot if he's open, but Michigan likely won't rely on him for much more than that at first.
Caris LeVert wound up decommitting from Ohio -- yes, the Bobcats -- after John Groce took the Illinois job, and quickly accepted the offer extended by Michigan shortly thereafter. If nothing else, Michigan is getting a highly successful high school player; LeVert averaged over 18 points per game as a senior and led Pickerington (OH) Central to a state title in Ohio's highest division. After being released from his Ohio LOI, LeVert reportedly received some attention from some Big Ten schools and Xavier, but wound up choosing Michigan. At this point, not much is known about LeVert -- he was a late bloomer and didn't receive much, if any, scouting attention until his senior season. He's extremely thin (listed at a probably generous 6'5", 170 lbs.), but Caris is supposedly a very versatile scorer and his numbers reflect that. As a bit of an unknown, there's some hype around LeVert -- some have even made the extremely tenuous comparison between him and a smaller Kevin Durant (which is ridiculous) -- but he has the traits of a late steal -- LeVert had a late growth spurt, he's very athletic, he shoots well, and he's a very solid ball-handler. Apparently Zack Novak thinks highly of him as well, which is great. If he can put on some muscle and fill out his frame a little bit, Beilein could look like a genius in a few years.
Overall, there's probably not much room for these guys.. at least this year. Albrecht will likely play a few minutes per game max behind Trey Burke, and with plenty of options at the two and three spots, it's unlikely that LeVert will be able to crack the rotation for significant time either. The only scenarios where these guys could play meaningful minutes would be if an injury to Burke put Albrecht as the de facto starter ahead of Eso Akunne or if LeVert was good enough to steal some minutes form Hardaway, Robinson, Stauskas, or Vogrich. Seeing how neither is likely, look for Albrecht to play a few minutes a game to give Burke some rest and look for LeVert to have occasional cameos against lesser non-conference foes (and if he plays well enough, he could warrant some playing time in the Big Ten, but he's probably not strong enough for that at this point).
Eso Akunne is a senior walk-on point guard who can play minutes as Trey's backup if need be. He struggled against the speed of higher-level foes last year, and is coming off of a serious foot injury, so it will be interesting to see if Akunne gets any meaningful minutes this year (he did last year, averaging a little under two points per game. He only played more than five minutes against a division one foe once however). Akunne is capable of running the offense and dishing out a few assists, but he's likely not quick enough to warrant many minutes. It basically boils down to if Spike Albrecht can stake a claim to the backup point guard spot; if so, Akunne will be relegated to the bench, but if not, Akunne will likely receive a few minutes a game to give Trey some rest. Either way, Michigan probably won't count on him to do too much this year.
These guys are valuable senior leaders but if they're in the game and Michigan isn't up by a lot late, something has probably gone wrong somewhere.
Up tomorrow: Matt Vogrich