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Hoops Talk: Zach and Fouad Discuss Who Is Coming Back And Who Could Break Out Next Year

With this season in the books, Fouad and I decided to take a look ahead at what Michigan could look like next year, and what players will have a bigger role.

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Zach:  I doubt you would find a Michigan fan out there that would consider this past season anything but a rousing success. A Big Ten Title (by three games!), a deep BTT run, and a Burke-ian last second three pointer away from a return trip to the Final Four. While it is too early to know for sure what Michigan will look like next year because of the potential early NBA deadlines, that does bring up an interesting question. Nik Stauskas is almost certainly gone to the NBA, but the fates of GRIII and Mitch McGary are less known. If you had to pick one of the two to stick around for one more year, which one would you choose and why?

Fouad: This is a difficult question, as McGary cemented himself in Michigan lore simply by virtue of a tremendous tournament run last season. Glenn Robinson III, on the other hand, has had his ups and downs, to be sure, but that is largely due to the expectations that his raw athleticism brings to the table (and yes, the fact that he is the Big Dog's son). McGary is the obvious choice--assuming he's back and healthy all year next season--simply because any sort of post production outside of the patented wide open Morgan/Horford dunk is an added bonus to an offense that is already infrastructurally superb.

However, GRIII staying would be an unbelievable stroke of luck for the Wolverines. Even if all three guys leave, Michigan will have a pretty good team next year, but, if he stays, expectations for the season would surely bump up a notch or two. His athleticism cannot be understated, and for anyone who watched the tail end of this season, he clearly took heed of all the criticism levied against him vis-a-vis his aggressiveness (or, at times, seeming lack thereof).

I don't know if he will ever be a consistent break-you-down kind of guy unless one side of the floor is relatively cleared out for him to spin and slash, but with Caris LeVert and an improving Derrick Walton on the roster, Michigan doesn't need him to be that kind of player all the time. The question is: will another year of college ball improve his game more than a jump to the NBA would? What do you think--what can we expect from him next season? Will he generally show more of what we've seen during his freshman and sophomore seasons, or will his three-point percentage bump back up to respectability and will his off-the-dribble game improve at all?

Zach: I used to be one of the people who clung to the line of reasoning that of course one more year of college is valuable to improve one's game and grow as a basketball player. It seemed like a no-brainer. I don't feel that way as much. Yes, an extra year of college can be great for a first/second round tweener who wants to play his way into the lottery, but I think that has worked out for the best fewer times than it has gone the other way.

And therein lies the problem with GRIII. At this point he seems like the player he is. I was astounded a few days ago when I looked at his father's NBA stats and saw just how good of a three point shooter Glenn Sr was. Even in his freshman year when he was set up for a lot of wide open kick out threes thanks to Trey Burke, GRIII shot just 32% from outside (on 71 attempts). This season his outside shooting was abysmal before a late season run pushed it up to just plain bad (30% on 108 attempts). We now have two years of outside shooting data on Glenn and the results aren't pretty. Can he significantly turn that around? I don't know, but it doesn't seem likely. Even Tim Hardaway Jr., who suffered through a sophomore slump from outside, was a much better outside shooter in year one than year two, and the noticeable drop off reversed in year three to put him back in the 36-37% range. Glenn's bounce back to freshman year form isn't enough to change minds. He would have to reinvent himself as a shooter while putting up 1.5 to 2 times the attempts (remember, he has taken roughly as many attempts in two years as THJ took in any one season he was at Michigan). I think the same can be said of GRIII's ability as a slasher. He wouldn't be re-establishing his ability to beat players off the dribble, he would be showing off that skill for the first time in college.

The kinds of large jumps in production that would see the GRIII we know play his way into the lottery are not the kind that you normally see from returning juniors. The biggest leap a player will make is likely going to happen between year one and year two. That isn't to say that GRIII's development has stagnated completely. I think we did eventually see that leap as his late season performance was strong, he flashed a consistent pull-up jumper throughout the year, and he was generally effective even has his usage rate went way up from the previous year. However, the GRIII we saw this year is likely the same GRIII we will see next year - be it in Ann Arbor or NBA cities across the country. He may have a few more tricks up his sleeve, but expecting the light to go on and Glenn to become the kind of scorer/shooter/driver that Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert are is wishful thinking.

That being said, I think you are right that GRIII - even with his iffy outside shot and tendency to disappear in certain games - pushes Michigan to another level next year. But even if he leaves Michigan has options at the four. Speaking of the first-to-second year leap, which player are you more excited to see next year: Zak Irvin with an offseason to become more of an offensive threat with the ball in his hands or Mark Donnal, John Beilein's first true Pittsnogle type player?

Fouad: While I am excited to see what Irvin can do in his second year in the program, I think most people would go with Donnal. As you mentioned, Beilein hasn't really had that sort of guy in Ann Arbor--Evan Smotrycz was the closest thing to the Pittsnogle mold, and even he wasn't really that close to it (and obviously his time in Ann Arbor didn't exactly work out for him or Michigan).

Just look at Michigan State. Adreian Payne is definitely not a Pittsnogle-esque player, but his ability to step out and hit a three with surprising efficiency was a great book for the Spartans. If Donnal can come in and hit outside shots, the floor gets spaced even more than it ordinarily is. Michigan already has guys who can space the floor with their outside shoot--LeVert, Albrecht, Walton, and of course Irvin--but add a true stretch four to the mix and real estate inside the arc is never-ending, to the point that you might see some tumbleweeds passing on through the painted area from time to time.

Going back to the last question, this will especially help a guy like Glenn Robinson III; the more space for him to work, the better, especially if his handle in fact doesn't get tighter. Of course, we already know about LeVert's ability to slash and wiggle his way into the lane. With that extra space, maybe he can cut down on some of the turnovers on those at times seemingly reckless slashes to the rim.

Now, to go back to the point guards. Walton cemented himself as The Guy at the 1 as the season went on, save for certain situations in which Beilein might have just felt more comfortable with Spike. Now, entering Year 2, what do you think is in store for Walton? Nobody is asking for him to become Burke, but given the improvement already talented guys like Darius Morris and Burke showed in their second year (moreso with Burke), what can we expect for Walton in 2014-15?

Zach: I don't think Walton's role is going to change much in terms of what he does, he will just take on more of a central role in the offense. He will remain the starter, the primary ball handler bringing the ball up the court, and a dangerous weapon igniting the fast break. However, last season Walton was solidly behind Michigan's three primary offensive weapons in terms of possession and shot percentage.

My guess is that with Stauskas gone, Walton takes on most of his role as an offensive catalyst. After a promising freshman season in which he led the team in assist rate this should turn out well. Yes, he had a bit of a turnover problem relative to the rest of Michigan's offense (19.9 TO% isn't great, but for a point guard it isn't awful), but that is excusable for a freshman point guard thrust into the starting lineup almost immediately. He will get smarter, and with the assists already there, the improvement in both areas that is expected with his first off season in the program should put him in the upper tier of Big Ten point guards.

Thankfully he still won't have to be Trey Burke. Burke, remember, was one of those usage monsters, using almost 30% of Michigan's possessions. Yes he was extremely effective doing so. He was also Trey Burke. Walton hasn't shown that ability yet, but he has flashed a nice three point jump shot - a real asset on a team where so many wing players can challenge the defense by attacking the paint and forcing help - and an ability to finish through contact at the rim.

Michigan may have been better in 2012-13 with Trey Burke, but statistically its offense was better in 2013-14. In my non-expert opinion this has a lot to do with Michigan having so many more options to rely on. Last year Burke was the creator working with a bunch of scorers. This year Michigan could put the ball in four different players' hands and expect good results. That kind of diversity is even harder to consistently stop than a once in a generation player like Burke.

Most importantly, I think next year is the year we finally see Walton put it all together on the defensive end. He has the tools to be a really good defender, and he won't have to deal with the albatross that was Burke's offensive responsibilities. There is no reason that Walton can't be one of the better back court defenders in the Big Ten next year.

Now, moving inside, what do you think happens with Jon Horford? There has always been plenty of practice buzz, and the skill/athleticism/bloodline is there for him to be a really good interior player. However, it seems like Horford just gets caught up in his own head sometimes. What do you think his role on next year's team is?

Fouad: Assuming McGary comes back (an assumption based on nothing but my gut) and Donnal is a player, I don't know that Horford's role really needs to expand much at all. Like Jordan Morgan, he's gotten better, although his improvements have been more modest and less noticeable than Morgan's were.

Michigan has its stars, and it certainly doesn't need Horford to be one. It's a boring answer, but Michigan will just need him to contribute tough post defense, block a shot here and there and finish strong on those 2006 Mario Manningham against Notre Dame-esque wide open rolls to the bucket.

Everyone will want him to be Jordan Morgan--he is not that. However, he's got the sort of experience that is pretty rare these days, not to mention pretty good size (even if he isn't the brick wall of pure muscle that Morgan seemed to be on the block).

It kind of reminds me of the incessant "Michigan doesn't need Walton to be Trey Burke" talk. Michigan doesn't need Horford to be Jordan Morgan...but it sure would be nice. With Morgan's departure, the Wolverines lost possibly the toughest guy I've seen put on the maize and blue for a Michigan basketball team. You can't replace that overnight. But, at the very least, Michigan knows what it's bringing back in Horford. Any improvement to his post game this offseason--he's flashed that little fadeaway jumper to some success--would be gravy.