Previously: Stu Douglass (B-)
Zack can definitely shoot the three and he hit enough big shots this year to prove it. Zack shot the ball well at the beginning of the year and then hit a wall through the middle of January. The Big Ten season clearly wore him down but he bounced back well down the stretch. Zack loves the corner three and when he’s open he’s a good bet to knock it down. I don’t think he is quite as good at creating a good look for himself as someone like Stu Douglass but he did shoot a higher percentage than Stu.
- Hustle Plays
It’s hard to quantify something like this but there is no denying that Zack has a nose for the basketball. It seemed like Zack was always the first one to a 50-50 ball or would manage to tip out a rebound despite giving up half a foot to the opponent. These hustle plays are the reason that Zack led the team in minutes per game during conference play (13th in the conference, 2nd highest average for a freshman) and continues to see the floor despite match-up problems.
- Mental Toughness
This is a bit hard to distinguish from the hustle plays but Zack was tough. He had the attitude that he wasn’t going to take crap from anyone and he was going to leave it all on the floor. He begged to go back in the game after Alex Legion bloodied him and he was a key cog in both of Michigan’s miracle comebacks. Not to mention the fact that most 6-foot-4 freshmen don’t play 30+ minutes per game in the most physical conference in the country at the power forward spot. Zack has the attitude that the coaching staff loves and I have no doubt that he will become a leader on this team.
Similar to Stu Douglass, Zack needs to add a few more elements to his game. Right now on the offensive end he isn’t much more than a spot up shooter. Zack showed flashes of a little bit of mid-range game here and there but it really isn’t in his repertoire. He doesn’t need to be Manny Harris but if he can do just a little more he will be much more dangerous.
- Physical Ability
It’s hard to point to negatives on the production side when you look at Zack. He basically did about everything that you could expect. The bottom line is that his ceiling is limited by his height and athleticism. If he was a little taller, faster, or quicker you would have a completely different player. Instead he is stuck at 6-foot-5 — hopefully with some work in the S&C program he can continue to improve athletically.
Zack can probably play the 2, 3, or 4 on this team but he probably isn’t a good fit for any of them. The mantra goes: you are what you can guard. Right now I’m not sure Zack can guard any of those positions that well. He’s too short to guard the four and probably too slow to guard the two or three. This is going to be the biggest problem for Zack going forward — where does he play?
- vs. Duke – 14 points, 26 minutes, 4-7 3pt FG
This was Zack’s coming out party with four three point makes on the biggest stage. The most important shots were the back-to-back threes that turned a three point deficit into a lead that Michigan would never relinquish. DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris carried the team that day but Zack Novak gave them the lift that pushed them over the top.
- vs. Minnesota – 36 minutes, 18 points, 6 rebounds, 6-10 3pt fg, and 2 assists
Michigan was in a familiar position, their backs were up against the wall and Minnesota was headed to Ann Arbor. A loss would have ended likely Michigan’s NCAA tournament chances and Minnesota was no slouch. Zack came to play and knocked down a season high six three point shots for a game high 18 points in a smooth Michigan win.
Where does Zack play down the line? I would assume that he will get some minutes backing up Manny next year at the three, 5-10 minutes per game. I would also assume that he still plays some four, especially against smaller teams, maybe 15 minutes per game. There is also the chance that Zack could play the two-guard where he played for the first half of last year. Essentially his versatility in terms of position is his greatest strength as well as his greatest weakness.
Zack seems unlikely to play 30+ minutes per game next year but I just have a hard time picturing the coaches keeping him off the floor. I don’t care what influx of talent Beilein brings in, it will be hard to knock Zack out of the starting line up and at least the rotation. It seems like there is always a spot for hustle, heart, and shooting in the John Beilein system.
Some people were a little surprised that I only gave Stu a B- but I think when everything plays out it will make sense. I don’t want to be accused of grade inflation and while I mentioned expectations in the first post but it’s more or less a comprehensive measure and expectations are just one part.
Final Grade: B. Even though he didn’t produce in the scoring column every night I don’t think this team wins nearly as many games without him in the lineup. Zack essentially was expected to be a spot contributor at best and by the end of the year you couldn’t pull him off the court.