Michigan Wolverines’ center Hunter Dickinson is really good at basketball.
I don’t need to write 1,000+ words telling you that, as the All American big man burst onto the scene last year as a freshman.
The ceiling of the 2021-22 Michigan men’s basketball team is as high as Dickinson wants it to be. If he doesn’t show much improvement and handle double teams well, Michigan will still be a good Big Ten team, but may only win a few games in the NCAA Tournament.
On the flip side, if Dickinson continues on his upward trajectory and plays like a Player of the Year candidate, it exponentially increases Michigan’s chances as a title contender.
Let’s take a look back at his incredible freshman season and look into what he can improve upon in his sophomore campaign.
The story so far
It’s crazy to think a little more than a year ago, Dickinson was coming off the bench and playing for a few minutes at a time to give Austin Davis a breather.
Dickinson was steadily a double-digit scorer to start the year, but he started to garner national attention right around the Dec. 13 game against Penn State, when the big man put up 20 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in 27 minutes of a four-point victory.
Those weren’t just empty stats he was putting up against Penn State. He dictated the pace of the game, scored a few times in the post with more than one move, defended the rim well and made a few clutch buckets.
One key observation when looking back on that game is every single post move in the clip above comes from his left hand. He was able to dominate by getting good position with his size, but a savvy post defender would know to partially front him and force him to use his non-dominant hand when he gets the ball.
Dickinson knows he needs to be more versatile and finish with both hands, as he said at Big Ten Media Days that was one of the main things he worked on in the offseason, along with being more agile defensively.
“I definitely worked on that,” Dickinson said, on finishing with his right hand. “That’s something that me and Coach Howard work on a lot, you know, player development, using my right hand more. I’m trusting it more. I’m still not where I want to be with it in terms of trusting it, but I’ve definitely gotten a lot better...I feel like I’ve done a lot of work over the summer to put me in a position to be able to move a lot better on the floor and stuff like that...Just show that you can guard in the pick and roll, on switches especially.”
Among other things, Dickinson said he would also like to develop a solution for double teams and expand his range from deep, with the latter being a point of emphasis provided to him from NBA teams as to how he can improve his draft stock
As Brendan Quinn of The Athletic has been preaching for a while as great as Dickinson was last season, the majority of his baskets last season came on left-handed moves over his right shoulder, cuts and slips to the rim, easy put backs and free throws.
Dickinson is not going to have the luxury he did in the first half of last season of being a relative unknown and not a main focus on opposing game plans. Now, every team that faces Michigan will likely see the big man as their main point of emphasis, with double teams and aggressive game plans coming.
I don’t want to come across as too critical of Dickinson; I loved watching him last year, and he is a main reason why Michigan is towards the top of national previews presenting why fans should be excited for the season. He has the potential to be the best big man in college basketball, and I want to see him get there.
He was able to rack up buckets because of his offensive savvy and size, but if he can improve his offensive versatility and become less predictable offensively, he will insert himself into the National Player of the Year conversation.
Outlook for 2021-22
Last season, Dickinson was Michigan’s leading scorer, averaging 14.1 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game. He also made 59.8% of his shots and 73.9% of his free throws.
It’s reasonable to assume if that offseason work pays off, all the numbers above should see a slight uptick, with a possible exception being field goal percentage, considering he’ll likely being taking more shots in general and from outside the paint.
While Dickinson will likely spend a lot of time as Michigan’s only true post alongside Brandon Johns Jr., I’m excited to see how he looks playing with Moussa Diabate. Diabate will likely play the 5 when Dickinson is off the floor, but I want to see the Wolverines experiment in non-conference play with what the offense looks like with the two of them together.
We know Dickinson and Terrance Williams have good chemistry from their AAU days, but Diabate is a better athlete who can reliably knock down midrange and high post shots. He’s also quicker than Dickinson and can provide a great help-side presence while Dickinson uses his size to slow down opposing bigs like E.J. Liddell or Trevion Williams.
I want to also see the Wolverines use Dickinson more in the pick-and-roll, as well as off-ball action when Dickinson gets the ball in the post. Could Dickinson get a few buckets picking and popping while guys like Caleb Houstan are slashing to the rim? How quickly can he develop chemistry with DeVante’ Jones? Can he pass quickly out of double teams and find shooters like Eli Brooks or Kobe Bufkin?
Dickinson was named a consensus All-American because of his dominance last season, but if he can show more stamina, offensive versatility and quicker feet on defense, he can become the next Tyler Hansbrough of college basketball (without the annoying face and less than squeaky-clean reputation).