Juwan Howard and his staff have to be head-over-heels with Isaiah Livers announcing he will return to the Michigan Wolverines over the weekend. It wasn’t much of a shock, as many NBA Draft pundits projected Livers to be outside of their top-60 prospects.
The soon-to-be senior was injured for large portions of last season but showed just how instrumental he is when on the court and fully healthy. Upon his return, Livers will be immediately placed back into the starting lineup and has the opportunity to be the star of the team going forward.
With the one spot down, here is what the rest of the starting lineup may look like.
Point Guard: Grad Transfer Mike Smith
The point guard slot is going to be one of the most intriguing position battles to follow this offseason. With the most experience and the truest point guard on the team, we project Smith edges out senior Eli Brooks and true freshman Zeb Jackson for the starting role.
In the 2019-20 season, the drop-off from Zavier Simpson, who averaged 33.7 minutes per game last year, from everyone else was notable. That didn’t leave much time for Brooks nor the recently transferred point guard David DeJulius to have their shot at being the floor general.
Since training will have to go in for anyone at the head of the offense, I think the trust will go into Smith’s hands.
Shooting Guard: Sophomore Franz Wagner
The only other non-graduating Wolverine to consider the NBA route at the end of last season was Wagner. Offseason feedback and tips from his his older brother, Moritz Wagner, will certainly help his development as well. When Wagner gets hot, he is one of the best shooters in the Big Ten and could easily become one of its best players if everything pans out as expected.
Small Forward: Senior Isaiah Livers
Livers can do it all, as evidenced by his film from last season and improvements that were made from sophomore to junior year. He has the size at 6-foot-7 to hold his own in the paint while also having the athleticism to guard the perimeter. Livers excels from the three-point range, hitting over 40-percent of his shots from deep last season. He does a great job of running the floor, especially on the fast break, and has the handles to get by defenders for easy drives to the basket.
Fans all know how special Livers could truly be, he just needs to stay healthy so we can watch him fully develop into the player that we have seen flashes of each of the last two seasons.
Power Forward: Junior Brandon Johns Jr.
Johns turned it on toward the end of the season before the year was cut short due to the pandemic, but has a lot of people excited for the future as he continues to come into his own.
Johns was the filled in when Livers was out due to injuries and there were a few games where he shined. A two-game stretch stood out when he dropped 16 points and seven rebounds against Nebraska followed by a 20-point, seven-rebound performance in a win over Rutgers. That kind of production makes him a tantalizing prospect for the starting role at the four spot.
Center: True-Freshman Hunter Dickinson
Dickinson is one to get excited about. The Wolverines will move from the 7-foot-1 Jon Teske to the 7-foot-2 Dickinson as the potential starting center. He is a gifted rebounder and averaged 10.3 per game as a high school senior last year. Dickinson is exactly the kind of center that Juwan Howard is going to love to work with. He is hard-working, dedicated, and is a strong player that already looks the part of a college center before even stepping foot on campus.
The left-hander will need to work on his offensive post game a bit, but we saw how much guys like Austin Davis, who was labeled an outcast by Michigan fans before the Howard era, become a fan-favorite because of his impressive post moves and footwork offensively last year. If Dickinson wants to make a push to the NBA, he will also need the polish to his game.
The great news about this team is Juwan Howard will have options. He has the size to go big with the lineup listed above as four starters will be taller than 6-foot-7. A small ball option will also be available adding Brooks to the bunch at shooting guard and bumping up everyone else in the lineup one spot (Wagner at small forward, Livers power forward, and Dickinson/Davis/Johns at center).
The addition of Chaundee Brown could surprise some people and freshman Zeb Jackson and Terrance Williams with the potential of seeing some playing time. Howard also favored Adrien Nunez early last year because of his shooting ability, so he is one to watch for. Options will be a-plenty for Michigan heading into year two of Juwan Howard’s tenure.