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Who stays, who goes for Michigan hoops’ top players

Are Howard, Bufkin and Dickinson ready to make a jump?

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament Second Round - Michigan vs Rutgers Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Daniel Plocher Dan Plocher contributes to Maize n’ Brew in several areas including podcasts, game previews/recaps, and various YouTube videos.

The offseason is officially upon us for the Michigan Wolverines basketball program and it is that time when we start to see players head to the NBA Draft. There are three players in particular that seem to be getting some buzz from the next level.

Who should stay and who should go? Let’s take a look into what could be next.

Jett Howard: NBA Draft

As unpolished as his defensive game is, I see little to no odds that Jett Howard does not go pro this offseason. He’s coming off a freshman season where he scored 14.2 points per game on 36.8 percentage shooting from deep.

Howard comes from an NBA lineage, which teams absolutely love. On top of that, he showed next-level ability all season long on offense. His ability to drain a three with a hand in his face or create his own shot off the dribble is extremely difficult to teach.

This has felt like a one-and-done season all year long. Some may say that he isn’t ready, but those are the same folks that said the same thing about Jordan Poole, Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate. I would be shocked to see him back in Ann Arbor next year.

Kobe Bufkin: Test the waters, and go

Sophomore Kobe Bufkin almost singlehandedly brought Michigan back into the NCAA Tournament conversation at the end of the year. The jump he made from the first half of the season to the second was significant, and NBA pundits took notice.

Several now have the combo guard as a mid-to-late first-round pick because of how well he performed. Bufkin has extremely active hands on the defensive end and averaged 1.3 steals per game because of it. His length as a 6-foot-4 two-guard is impressive, and I think his effort on the defensive end will translate really well to the next level.

His offensive game came along quite nicely by the end of the year. In his last 16 games, Bufkin shot 38.7 percent from deep, a massive jump from the 31.1 percent he hit in his first 18 games. In the same stretch, his numbers jumped to 16.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and three assists per contest.

Bufkin is likely at a crossroads of betting on himself or returning for another season and trusting he will continue to improve in Ann Arbor.

I think he is going to see what his options are at the NBA level. If he can strike while the iron is hot and have a few strong workouts, I could see Bufkin getting a commitment from a team. I’d say it’s about a 60-40 chance that happens. If it doesn’t, he is going to be one of the best returning players in the Big Ten.

Hunter Dickinson: Return to Ann Arbor

This might be unorthodox, but I’m not sure Hunter Dickinson wants to risk his current business ventures with the mystery of what he is as an NBA player. He’s Barstool’s biggest college athlete, has several other NIL deals, is known as one of the biggest villains in college basketball and is the face of the program. Everyone that wants to work with Michigan basketball wants to work with Dickinson.

All of that leads to his fame, and, albeit limited, fortune. However, it can all go away if he attempts a transition to the NBA. I’m not sure what else Dickinson can do to have a role on an NBA roster. Teams are going to criticize his speed and athleticism, tell him they haven’t seen enough growth out of his right hand, and say that he needs to show that he can shoot the ball with more consistency from deep and the free throw line.

I’m not pretending to be an NBA talent evaluator, but that is exactly what Dickinson told me himself last season. In 2022-23, Dickinson shot even fewer three-pointers than the season before (although he did hit them at a 42.8 percent rate) and was just a 72.7 percent shooter from the free throw line, down from his 80.2 percent clip a year before.

It’s unfair because Dickinson is one of the best big men in all of college basketball, but his game just does not translate to the NBA level. Teams are no longer looking for players that are of his mold. No matter how hard he tries, I just don’t see that changing. If he goes to the NBA, gets drafted in the second-round, and then never sees the court and gets cut or sent to the G-League, everything that he has going for him now at Michigan would be gone.

Look at Luka Garza, a similar player in terms of program prowess to Dickinson, and a more traditional big man. He missed the NIL days at Iowa and got drafted in the second round by the Pistons just to be sent to the G-League and eventually cut. In 16 games last year in the G-League, Garza averaged just 20 and nine.

This year, Garza was signed by the Timberwolves, was sent down to the G-League again, won the MVP of the G-League’s “Next-Up game” at the all-star weekend, and now plays fewer than 10 minutes a game for Minnesota. I can see something really similar happening for Dickinson down the line.

The difference is, Dickinson can and will take advantage of the NCAA’s NIL rules. He has a brand already built in Ann Arbor, will probably have a bunch of commitments for 2023-24 if he returns, and can continue to build his legacy at Michigan for the long term. I just don’t see him risking that when he can continue to work on his game and be the face of a program like Michigan, which is always in the spotlight.