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Q&A: Rocky Top Talk’s Terry Lambert discusses what Michigan fans can expect from Olivier Nkamhoua

There’s a lot to like about the Tennessee forward.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament East Regional-Florida Atlantic vs Tennessee Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan Wolverines have officially announced three players will be transferring to Ann Arbor: Nimari Burnett from Alabama, Tray Jackson from Seton Hall and Olivier Nkamhoua from Tennessee.

After it was initially reported Nkamhoua was not coming to Michigan, he committed earlier this week. Webroke down his game in depth, but we wanted to hear from someone who has watched him play extensively.

We spoke to Terry Lambert, the site manager and lead writer with SB Nation’s Rocky Top Talk, to learn more about Nkamhoua and what Michigan fans can expect from him.

Kellen Voss: What will you miss the most about watching Nkamhoua play at Tennessee?

Terry Lambert: Olivier was pretty easily Tennessee’s most potent offensive threat in the post. For a team that struggled to score, Nkamhoua pretty much represented the only chance for post points during his final season for Tennessee. The big-game ability certainly is there, and when he truly locks in, there aren’t many who can stop him. His 27-point performance against Duke in the NCAA Tournament is the latest example of that. Nkamhoua shot 10-of-13 from the field to carry the Vols to the Sweet 16, when most (including me) had them already buried. His scoring ability is special, even if you don’t see it night in and night out. If only he could find some consistent confidence...

KV: After watching him play for four years, what have been some of the biggest things he’s improved on? Is there anything you think he still needs to improve on?

TL: Most notably, he’s developed an outside shot. That was not part of his game when he arrived in Knoxville, but it certainly has given him a boost late in his career. Considering his 6-foot-9 size, that would be something he’s going to have to have for a pro career. Nkamhoua shot 33.3 percent from deep as a senior in Knoxville.

As for what he can improve upon? Consistency. We all saw the flashes — 27 against Duke, 16 against Arizona, 27 against Texas. We also saw six points against FAU in the Sweet 16, seven in a loss to Auburn to end the regular season, and six against Kentucky at Rupp Arena in February. Frustrating.

We can’t totally blame Nkamhoua for these up and downs — that’s what the Tennessee offense did all year long. But we couldn’t rely on him to go get that 12-15-point game every outing either.

KV: Nkamhoua is listed at 6-foot-9 on Tennessee’s website. The Big Ten is known as a conference with plenty dominant big men, such as Zach Edey and Cliff Omoruyi. Do you think Nkamhoua could hold his own if he’s asked to play the 5, or do you think he should strictly play the 4?

TL: Nkamhoua was asked to play plenty of the 5 spot for Tennessee, although that was more out of necessity. His more natural fit is the power forward role, especially with his newfound three-point stroke.

If asked to play a center role, Nkamhoua has proven he’s physical enough to do so. He famously helped bring Duke “into the mud” in the NCAA Tournament, which is the perfect phrase for Tennessee basketball under Rick Barnes. He lacks length, sure, but he can make up for it in toughness and experience. You won’t be lacking physicality with him.

KV: Watching highlights of him, I’ve noticed Nkamhoua seems to be an excellent passer, cutter and overall a pretty smart player. Would you say he can relied upon to create shots for others if he shared the floor with another big, like in a high-low post situation?

TL: Way back in 2016, Nkamhoua was a 6-foot-4 point guard playing for the Finland national team. That’s part of what caught Rick Barnes’ eye when he began recruiting him. Those guard instincts certainly translate to the post, where he has four years worth of experience in Tennessee’s system. That knowledge and trust of the coaching staff is likely what you’re seeing on tape. I’ll be interested to see if that translates to Michigan, considering how long it took Nkamhoua to settle in as a legitimate piece to Tennessee’s puzzle.

KV: Nkamhoua averaged nearly 11 points per game last season. Is it reasonable for Michigan fans to expect that kind of scoring production again next season?

TL: Building off the last question, Nkamhoua took time to get comfortable in Knoxville. Some of that was purely development as a player, but another aspect was confidence within the lineup. He showed his best stuff in the biggest spots as a senior — I’m just interested to see if that can immediately translate to a new program with new voices coaching him.

KV: Late in games, what did you notice about Nkamhoua? Did he shy away from the moment, or try to create offense in those closing seconds? Could he be counted on to get a stop in a big moment?

TL: Late in games, frankly, was a big issue for Tennessee. The team lacked that one dude with a killer instinct, and it plagued them throughout the year. Maybe outside of that Duke game in the tourney, Tennessee didn’t really operate through the post in late game situations. For better or worse, they let their guards handle things.

That’s not really a knock on Nkamhoua, just more saying Tennessee didn’t turn to him when things mattered the most, due to other options on the roster.

KV: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

TL: Nkamhoua has great touch around the rim. He had a nice feel for the game, playing for so many years in the Tennessee system. He just wasn’t really ever the guy for Tennessee, if that makes sense. We’ve seen Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield have that trait in years past, but Nkamhoua was just a notch or two below them. He’s going to give you a few big performances throughout the year, but he’ll also leave you wanting more after you see those games happen.