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How Kobe Bufkin can earn more playing time, make the sophomore leap

He could be a breakout scorer for the Wolverines next year.

Michigan v Ohio State Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

There are many question marks surrounding the 2022-23 season with the Michigan Wolverines basketball team. With a good portion of last year’s playing rotation graduating, transferring or testing the NBA waters, the team will likely look a lot different next season.

With all the turnover on Michigan’s roster, Kobe Bufkin will likely have a much bigger role and has the chance to make the sophomore leap and be a breakout player. A player’s sophomore year is the time when they improve drastically, as they have adjusted to pace of college basketball and have had a whole offseason to get better.

In a recent interview with The Michigan Insider, Hunter Dickinson predicted Bufkin will make the sophomore leap.

“I think one guy that I think everybody on the team and the coaching staff is definitely expecting to make a big leap, is Kobe,” Dickinson said to Sam Webb and Tim McCormick. “Obviously, you can see the potential that he has, the skill set, everything like that. He’s got it all. I think it’s just a matter of him putting it together, and I think another year in the Big Ten, I think you’ll see him get a lot more comfortable in his own game. I think the game will really slow down for him, like it did for me. Even as a freshman going into my sophomore year, I could just tell the game was a little bit different with speed. It just all slowed down and made it a lot easier for me. And so, I think the same thing will happen for him and I’m expecting a big sophomore campaign for him.”

Bufkin had high expectations going into his freshman year. He was one of three McDonald’s All-Americans coming to Ann Arbor, along with Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate. While he flashed the potential to be a great scorer for a few minutes at a time, he was in and out of the rotation and struggled to find his footing.

Appearing in 28 games, Bufkin averaged 3.0 points and 1.1 rebounds in more than 10 minutes per game. He only scored double-digit points twice (11 in a win over Southern Utah and 10 in a win over Iowa). After that Southern Utah game, he saw his minutes go up, partially due to the team’s COVID outbreak.

Around February, Bufkin saw his minutes go down again. With Michigan needing to win a lot of games down the stretch to even make the tournament, Juwan Howard relied heavily on his senior guards, and Bufkin had a fairly short leash the rest of the year.

With that limited playing time, it seemed as if Bufkin struggled to really get a rhythm going offensively. He has room to grow defensively and was a little late on some rotations last season, but he proved to a capable shooter and was able to create his own shot more than a few times. He also did well in transition.

Bufkin’s best game of his freshman campaign came against Iowa, when he had 10 points off the bench in a crucial February road win that greatly helped improve Michigan’s tournament resume. In that game, he earned a few tough buckets in the first half and had a steal leading to a dunk to put the Wolverines up 10 with four minutes to play.

While Diabate’s career-high 28 points was the main catalyst towards the win, Bufkin was an X-factor for a team that was in dire need of another scorer to take pressure off Dickinson and Eli Brooks. If he can consistently earn points like he did in that game, his playing time should skyrocket.

In order for Bufkin to thrive in a bigger role, he needs to play with a little more confidence. Getting the ball in his hands early and earning easy buckets in transition can help with that, and he has the capability of being a go-to scorer if he can establish a rhythm. Once he earns more respect from defenses on the perimeter, there should be more of an opportunity for drives and finishes through traffic like this.

He can excel as a slasher alongside transfer point guard Jaelin Llewellyn if they can develop some chemistry in the backcourt. Should that happen, they should share the floor quite a bit moving forward.

Bufkin can also earn more playing time if he improves defensively. As assistant coach Phil Martelli told MLive recently, Michigan is still looking for it’s best perimeter defender with Brooks gone. Bufkin has all the tools to be that guy if he commits to getting better on that side of the floor.

There’s plenty of playing time to be had in Michigan’s backcourt, and the way the roster shakes out right now, the starting 2 is Bufkin’s to lose. Jett Howard and Isaiah Barnes will likely compete to play off the ball a bit, but if Bufkin can make the sophomore leap, he should see his minutes more than double from last season.