I started out writing a breakdown of the shooting guard position but I realized that there was going to be a problem with these positional breakdowns: Zack Novak.
Zack is the wildcard. It’s hard to quantify lots of the things he does on the court and he doesn’t even have a true position. There has been talk in the comments here that Novak will be the odd man out in this year’s rotation. To those questioning Novak’s role next year I offer you one simple statistic: Zack Novak led Michigan in minutes throughout the Big Ten slate, not Manny Harris or DeShawn Sims but the freshman forward from Chesterton.
Zack Novak will play this year, and play a lot, the only question is where.
Depending on the point guard situation there is limited time available at the two guard. Stu and Laval will get a lot of minutes at some combination of the guard positions. Darius Morris will get a big chunk of minutes at the point guard. I also expect Matt Vogrich will get a decent amount of playing time this year as well.
With 80 minutes to go around between the two backcourt positions and four players already on the depth chart there, I don’t see enough playing time for Zack to become a serious option at the two. If someone goes down to injury (something Michigan conveniently avoided last year) there is definitely the possibility that Zack could slide over.
I expect Novak to play the three when Manny Harris rests. Manny has averaged around 33 mpg his freshman and sophomore years, so that leaves around 7 minutes for someone. CJ Lee filled this role last year so the minutes are available. The three is also very similar in terms of its offensive and defensive roles to the four in Beilein’s offense so this should be an easy transition.
Zack is undersized to play the four and that certainly has its disadvantages (pictured, right). Teams with big front courts like Illinois, Ohio State, or Oklahoma can exploit Novak’s size on defense but the hope is that he can create mismatches on the offensive end.
It’s important to remember that the four position in Beilein’s offense is more of a perimeter position on offense and the term power forward really doesn’t do it justice. DeShawn Sims sophomore year he played the four and 38% of his field goal attempts were from three point range, last year he moved to the five and only 19% were three point attempts.
Last year it was clear that Beilein wanted to get his best players on the floor even if it meant playing a 6-foot-5 power forward. There weren’t a lot of options in the front court and he had a guy who did all of the little things that needed playing time.
This year there are more options in the front court with Ben Cronin, Blake McLimans, and Jordan Morgan. Beilein has acknowledged that there are more options, but isn’t sure of what effect they will have:
And to see how big can we play? One of the reasons we were good last year is we were small, and one of the reasons we lost some games is we were small. Where is that balance? Can you go either way effectively?”
Cronin and Morgan should play the five and McLimans is a prototypical Beilein-four. I just don’t think Zack Gibson, Ben Cronin, Jordan Morgan, or Blake McLimans will provide enough to slides Sims to the four position or knock Zack out of the lineup.
Novak is the perfect utility man. He can play three positions and he’s too good to keep off the court. I still see him playing the bulk of his minutes at the power forward this year. He will play the three behind Manny, which will allow the coaching staff to experiment with some different combinations in the front court, but as crazy as it sounds he is still a power forward first and foremost.