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Hunter Dickinson is about to be Michigan’s best player again. How much better can he get?

Dickinson was recently named to the Abdul-Jabbar Award Watch List.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round Indianapolis- Michigan at Tennessee Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last few years, no Michigan men’s basketball player has earned as many accolades and preseason awards as Hunter Dickinson. The All-American is entering his junior season and was just named to the 20-player watch list for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, given to the best center.

When it comes to previewing the 2022-23 season for the Michigan Wolverines, which we’ll be doing a lot of in the next week, the conversation starts and ends with Dickinson. Recently named to the preseason All-Big Ten team, the big man is coming off a dominant sophomore season where he averaged 18.6 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. He also went 56.3% overall from the field and 80.2% from the free throw line.

Dickinson led the Wolverines in points per game and rebounds per game, and if he stays healthy, he should easily be the leader in those statistics again. With key scorers like Eli Brooks, Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate no longer with the program, Dickinson will be asked to do even more in his third season of college basketball.

Per sports reference, Dickinson’s usage rate has stayed just above 27 % his first two seasons. His 27.4 usage rate last season was towards the top of the Big Ten, with Purdue’s Zach Edey (34.4%) and Trevion Williams (32.5%) leading the conference in that stat.

While incoming players like Jaelin Llewellyn and Jett Howard should have the ball in their hands a lot, Dickinson will likely be the fulcrum of this offensive attack. And with that, I’d guess his usage rate jumps much closer to 30% this season.

With that increased usage rate will likely come even more points and rebounds, especially if Dickinson can improve his three-point stroke. After almost never attempting threes his freshman season, Dickinson let it fly from deep about two times per game last year, making 32.8% of those shots, slightly below the average for Division 1 men’s basketball.

Michigan fans know too well that the 2021-22 squad was rather stagnant on offense, but when Dickinson was making threes, they could beat any team in the country.

If Dickinson can improve his three-point shot by a couple percentage points and stay dominant in the paint, it’s not crazy to project him scoring 22 points per game. If he can continue to develop his mid-range and become a big man whose also a three-level scorer, he could be in contention for the John R. Wooden Award given to the most outstanding player in all of college basketball (he’s currently listed at +2,000, the best odds of any Big Ten player).

NBA teams told Dickinson after his freshman he needed to be more versatile on offense and quicker on defense to improve his draft stock. While he did increase his range on offense, he wasn’t that much better on defense his sophomore season: he couldn’t really be trusted when switched onto guards and Diabate’s excellent instincts as the backside help defender helped cover up a lot of Dickinson’s miscues.

Dickinson is pretty good at protecting the rim, but still needs to improve his foot speed to be more consistent as the team’s defensive anchor. Dickinson will also be asked to be a leader this season, and it seems like he is up to the challenge.

If Dickinson can get quicker on defense, make more threes and finish more consistently in the mid-range, he’d be a top contender for the Big Ten Player of the Year. If he proves to be one of the best players in the conference, it should help propel this young team to a higher seed in the NCAA Tournament than last season, and maybe even a deeper run.