Last year, Juwan Howard and the Michigan basketball coaching staff struck gold when they landed former Columbia guard Mike Smith from the graduate transfer market.
This year, they’ll look to do the same.
On Saturday afternoon, the Wolverines’ staff landed a commitment from Coastal Carolina graduate transfer DeVante’ Jones. The reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year averaged 19.3 points on 49% shooting, 7.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists last season. He chose Michigan over Memphis, Texas and Texas Tech.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound New Orleans native plays almost exclusively below the rim. His 2.8 steals per game last season allowed him to show off crafty finishing moves in transition, where his strength and stocky stature made a big difference around the rim. While the Big Ten is a major upgrade over Sun Belt competition, Jones’ defensive instincts and physicality could make an immediate impact on Michigan’s backcourt.
With Jones, it’s important to understand he took on different roles during his last two seasons at Coastal Carolina. He averaged a career-best 5.7 assists as a junior after stepping into a primary facilitator role, though he turned the ball over 3.4 times per game. But when he was asked to become a dominant scorer rather than a passer as a senior, his assists average plummeted to 2.9 per game as his scoring totals rose to career-high marks.
From the Wolverines’ perspective, the return of senior guard Eli Brooks makes it a bit easier to see how Jones factors into the 2021-22 roster. Brooks has consistently shown he’s at his best while playing off the ball, allowing him to catch and shoot or take advantage of drive opportunities. It’s a safe bet Brooks will log about 30 minutes per game next season, and the majority of those will likely come at the 2. Behind him, incoming freshman Kobe Bufkin and sophomore Zeb Jackson should compete for the remaining minutes.
That leaves Jones competing with incoming freshman Frankie Collins for primary point guard duties. Jones’ junior year form at Coastal Carolina, when he averaged nearly six assists, best fits the Wolverines’ personnel next season. With Brooks, Hunter Dickinson and Caleb Houstan around him, there will be significantly less pressure on Jones to score. Look for Jones to work out of ball screens and other half-court sets to create open looks for teammates.
Another aspect to keep an eye on is Jones’ 3-point shooting. He’s never shot above 37% from beyond the arc during a single season in his career, but he’s always been the center of attention for opposing defenses. But judging by his career 85% clip at the free-throw line, there’s some upside to Jones’ jump shot. With less pressure on him as a scorer at Michigan, he should see more open looks, setting him up to potentially eclipse the 40% mark from deep.
Like Smith this past season, there will be an opportunity in Ann Arbor to transform his game from dominant scorer to high-major facilitator. Jones’ addition immediately raises the Wolverines’ floor, but it’s his evolution that could do the same to Michigan’s ceiling.