Mike Smith, formerly of Columbia, made it official on Friday afternoon when he announced that he has committed to head coach Juwan Howard and the Michigan Wolverines. Howard had been hot on the trail of grad transfer help at the guard position, which came even more into focus with the transfer of David DeJulius earlier this week.
Smith, an Oak Park, Illinois native and Fenwick HS alum, was unranked as a prospect heading into college. In addition to Columbia, he had interest from DePaul, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Xavier, so what he brought to the table was not entirely off of people’s radar. He started every single game he played in at Columbia, though is eligible for a fifth year due to a meniscus injury that limited him to eight games played his junior season.
Smith averaged 22.8 points, 4.5 assists and 4.1 rebounds a game this past season while shooting around 34 percent from three.
Something also interesting to note is that he is friends with Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler and given Howard’s ties to the franchise both as a former player and assistant coach, it appears that relationship played a big part in Smith’s decision to come to Michigan.
As far as the outlook for Michigan at point guard, one would have to think that the battle starts with Eli Brooks and Smith. Brooks primarily played off the ball this past season for the Wolverines, but started games at the point as a true freshman and is more than capable of handling the basketball.
Defense feels like it might be the key here, as the 5-foot-11 Smith will be dealing with a serious increase in talent coming from the Ivy League to the Big Ten. Perimeter defense was one of the things that make Brooks one of Michigan’s better all-around players by season’s end. The offensive firepower Brooks is able to show in camp compared to what Smith is able to show from a defensive standpoint might determine the pecking order here.
As far as the other pieces go, Michigan has a true freshman coming in with four-star signee Zeb Jackson. It is possible that he is able to crack the lineup next season, but this takes a heck of a lot of pressure off of him to do so. Jackson has been Michigan’s longest-tenured 2020 recruit having committed under John Beilein, so to not be rushed into early duty in a system he did not necessarily originally pledge to might not be the worst thing for his development.
If five-star 2020 guard Josh Christopher winds up coming to Ann Arbor, he is probably somewhat safely locked in as the starter at the two-guard spot, but he also has the ability to bring the ball up the court. It would not be much of a surprise if there were a handful of lineups that saw him as the primary ball-handler. Howard emphasizes a modern NBA thought of “positionless basketball,” meaning he wants as many guys on the court at a time that can carry the ball up the floor and switch between positional duties.
I think at worst what Michigan has here in Smith is a point guard who is able to come off the bench and fill it up offensively and get you a bucket. At best, you added a scoring point guard who is also able to distribute and fill up a stat sheet, adding even more offensive firepower to next year’s team.
The numbers look great from a four-year starter coming in, but it is important to cite the step up in competition. He could come and not skip a beat, or he could come in and be more of a role player like Jaaron Simmons was a few seasons ago. It is way too early to tell, but there is a lot to like here.
The battle to start at point guard will come down to Brooks and Smith and the guy who does not win the job probably winds up as the sixth or seventh man off the bench anyways. The designation of starter is a somewhat artificial construct these days anyways, as your sixth man may often times play more minutes.
In a scenario where the dust clears and Michigan walks out of this offseason with the recruiting class they are projected to have — including Christopher and Isaiah Todd — and a veteran bucket-getter in Smith as a grad transfer, you might be looking at a real contender next season if everything fits together well.