Last year’s Michigan team looked like it had the chops to reach the Final Four. That run came up short, but all indications say the future is bright. Juwan Howard is entering Year 3 of a tenure that few could’ve imagined going any better than it has gone. So, entering 2021-22 … Some thoughts:
• There may no offseason storyline more interesting than how Hunter Dickinson expands his game as a sophomore. He was remarkable as a freshman and will be among the candidates for Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year alongside Trayce Jackson-Davis at Indiana and, if they bypass the draft, E.J. Liddell of Ohio State and Trevion Williams of Purdue. What’s most exciting about Dickinson, though, is how much better he can be.
As a freshman, nearly the entirety of Dickinson’s scoring came from 1) post-up moves leading to left-handed hooks or layups over his right shoulder, 2) cuts and slips leading to left-handed finishes and dunks, 3) put-backs or 4) free throws. Over the course of the year, opponents caught on, realizing Dickinson never finished with his left shoulder/right hand. They game-planned accordingly.
The summer will be spent expanding Dickinson’s options.
First, the development of a right-hand baby hook is crucial. Even the possibility of an off-shoulder finish could keep defenses more honest and change things dramatically.
Second, Dickinson can, in fact, shoot the ball. It’s just a matter of dialing those looks up and building confidence.
“He really hasn’t shown off his ability to shoot the ball yet,” said Ben Dickinson, Hunter’s older brother, who served as an assistant coach when Hunter starred at DeMatha Catholic High School. “He really can shoot it. In high school, he’d have games where he’d hit three or four 3s, and they’d be huge 3s. Plus, he can face up, give you a jab, hit the short jump shot. Those are things he has, but he just hasn’t really brought it out because he doesn’t need to yet. He’s trying to be efficient and do what’s best for the team. But he has a lot more tools that he’s gonna roll out.”
Adding some variety on the offensive end will make Dickinson that much better. But that’s not where his development ends. Offseason conditioning should improve his ability to run the floor. As a freshman, Dickinson could get up and down the court, but he wasn’t exactly beating anyone to his spot. Beyond that, even though he’s strong, Dickinson can probably add some more muscle. Improving his speed, agility and strength should, in turn, improve Dickinson’s defense (where he sometimes found himself vulnerable guarding away from the basket) and conditioning.
• It should be said that Michigan is one of the ultimate outliers in college basketball. At a time of mass change, the program is oddly stable.
As of Wednesday, 1,578 Division I players had entered the transfer portal in the ongoing 2020-21 cycle. With 357 schools playing DI basketball, that’s roughly an average of 4.4 transfers per school. From the Big Ten, the number of outgoing transfers (including walk-ons) is 59. Every conference team has had at least two. That is, except Michigan. It’s the lone Big Ten school without a player in the transfer portal.