It hasn’t been a great start to the 2022-23 season for the Michigan Wolverines, as they’ve started the year 5-3 with no signature win, have fallen out of the top 25 and now have lost starting point guard Jaelin Llewellyn for the rest of the season.
While Llewellyn’s on-court numbers with Michigan didn’t exactly jump off the page — 7.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in eight games over 26.5 minutes per game — he was expected to command the offense and be a leader on this young team this season, and those intangibles will be hard to place.
Michigan has to find a solution sooner rather than later. The schedule doesn’t get any easier, as Big Ten play kicks off tonight with a road test against Minnesota. If the Wolverines can’t find a consistent solution at point guard, it’s going to be a long season.
Here are some potential solutions for the Wolverines with Llewellyn sidelined.
Stats through 8 games: 31.3 minutes per game, 9.6 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.9 APG, 37% from field, 20.7% from three, 89.5% from free throw line
In terms of a short-term solution, Bufkin makes the most logical sense. He has the most collegiate experience compared to the other options, has proven himself to be a good on-ball defender against guards and has experience running an offense from his time at Grand Rapids Christian in high school.
Assistant coach Saddi Washington told media on Wednesday that both Bufkin and Jett Howard will be running more ball screens now that Llewellyn is out.
“I think we’ll be pretty confident with that,” Washington said. “Throughout the season, throughout the summer, both have been in that role. Both continue to grow in their ability to play with the ball in their hands and play out of ball screens. Will it be a different look for us? A little bit from a game perspective.
“In terms of their ability to read the game and see the game and make decisions, I think there’s a comfortability with them individually, and then with us collectively as a group.”
Over the last few games, Bufkin has stepped quite a bit on both ends of the floor and could be that coveted third scorer behind Hunter Dickinson and Howard that Michigan still desperately needs. Hopefully he can continue to be that contributor while adopting more point guard duties.
Stats through 8 games: 14.6 minutes per game, 4.1 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 2.1 APG, 34.1%/27.3%/66.7% shooting splits
McDaniel is the only other pure point guard on the roster and is almost a guarantee to earn more minutes with Llewellyn out for the year. He’s looked good in spurts, but going from playing 15 minutes off the bench to being a starting point guard is a tough transition for most freshmen to handle.
“Dug has come along pretty well, he’s been a great spark plug for us off the bench,” Washington said. “He’s been tremendous in terms of his willingness to learn, he’s a great competitive kid, able to change the pace of the game with his speed and his quickness. We’re confident that if his role needs to increase, we’ll bring him along like any other guy.”
When expanding on McDaniel’s growth, Washington is clearly encouraged with the progress he has made since high school and is hoping McDaniel can learn a lot from the older players on the roster.
“You got to focus on the detail, and he’s tried hard to focus on the details on both ends,” Washington said. “He’s had a great opportunity to watch Jaelin and others do it, and do it right. You just hope that the kid takes all that in so when his moment comes, now he can be his authentic self. With Dug, the talent is dynamic, and we’re going to need him to continue to take steps forward whether Jaelin’s around or not.”
Stats through 8 games of 2022: 30.4 minutes per game, 15.3 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 2.3 APG, 49.4%/42.6%/70.8% shooting splits
This is a bit more of an outside-the-box idea, but Michigan has to at least try playing Howard at the 1, considering his talents as a shot creator.
I know it might be a nightmare from a defensive standpoint; Howard has struggled guarding guys his size already this season, so guarding even quicker guards is a tall task. I’d like to think Michigan would him put on the floor with guys like Bufkin and Jace Howard to cover up for any potential miscues, but the fit is not ideal defensively to say the least.
That said, Howard has been one of the few players keeping the Michigan offense afloat. At the scoring rate he’s currently at, it’s going to get to the point in conference play where some teams will double him down the stretch in tight games. What he does when doubled will say a lot about him as a creator for this team.
I’m not saying he should get 30 minutes a game at the 1, but I’d like the Wolverines to experiment with trying different rotations and letting him running the second unit at times — at least until the new year — just to see what it looks like.
Howard has had a tendency to be a shoot-first player, but he has excellent court vision and all the talent in the world when it comes to getting to his spot. He is a smart basketball player, so giving him more reps at the position combined a little bit of training from the coaching staff could pay dividends at crucial points later on in the season.
Hopefully that court vision and talent can eventually translate into finding more opportunities for his teammates and helping the Wolverines in the long run.