Canada has been good to Michigan.
First, there was Nik Stauskas. Five years later, 5-star wing Ignas Brazdeikis pledged allegiance to the John Beilein Player Development Pipeline (trademark pending).
The former thrived as a three-point specialist (44 percent on 180 attempts) for the 2012-13 NCAA finalists, but offered little else in his first year.
Brazdeikis has proven to be a different animal in just one month in Ann Arbor. Compared to other freshmen in the Beilein era, he might statistically be the best of the bunch. Early season caveats apply.
IGNAS BRAZDEIKIS, 2018-19
- He drives the lane, connecting on just under 60 percent of his two-point attempts. He also among the nation’s best at drawing fouls, averaging six per 40 minutes.
He also converts from the charity stripe, sinking just under 80 percent of his free throws.
- He shoots the rock, currently draining 43 percent of his 21 three-pointers. He excels as a spot-up shooter, but he knows how to create his own look.
Ignas Brazdeikis everyone... He's shown he can do all kinds of things. Nice off-ball movement with backdoors. He's a nice shooter and can also finished around the basket with both hands. Had a nice possessions defending the perimeter a few minutes before this also. pic.twitter.com/KK5zryJ2My— Zach Milner (@ZachMilner13) December 3, 2018
- He avoids mistakes, ranking near the top-100 nationally in turnover rate at 8.9 percent.
- He leads the Wolverines with 16.3 points a game. Over eight games, he’s reached double-digits in seven of them, including a 24-point outburst in the rout over North Carolina.
On top of all this, he’s already a solid defender. Only one other frosh approaches this versatility.
TREY BURKE, 2011-12
- He was the focal point of the offense from day one, reaching nearly 27 percent usage compared to Brazdeikis’ 24 percent. This likely accounted for his 17 points a game.
- His shooting percentages suffered from the heavy workload. His effective field goal percentage of 50 percent is dwarfed by Brazdeikis’ 61 percent. This is fueled by a higher percentages on twos (59 to 49) and threes (43 to 35).
- As a point guard, Burke naturally distributed the ball better. He averaged 5.7 dimes a game, while Brazdeikis has managed just 10 in eight contests.
- He pick pocketed opposing guards, nabbing 31 steals on the year.
While this clip is from his sophomore year, it demonstrates his defensive strengths. Plus, it clinched a win over Michigan State.
- The nail in the coffin for Burke in this discussion? He was a far less efficient player offensively. His offensive rating — how many points he averaged per 100 possessions — was just 105. Brazdeikis is at 128, near the top-100 in the country.
It’s a small sample size, to be sure.
However, power programs littered the early portion of this year’s schedule. Brazdeikis isn’t doing this against the Norfolk States of the world. He’s totaled 54 points in three ranked games against Villanova, North Carolina and Purdue.
It’s not a fluke. This is the closest any of the Beilein freshmen have come to be a legitimate one-and-done threat.
Other first-year players have shown promise, but usually in only one or two aspects. Glenn Robinson III was a alley-pop artist and shot blocker. Mitch McGary only formed into a force by March Madness. Stauskas, as already mentioned, was strictly a gunner from deep.
Another option was 2013-14 Derrick Walton, but he abdicated the scoring load to Stauskas and Caris Lavert. Brazdeikis, on the other hand, is a top dog alongside Charles Matthews.
Should the early production hold, it’s a slam dunk choice. Brazdeikis is Beilein’s best ever freshman.