2010-2011 Season

Defining Positions

Drew Cannon wrote a great piece at BasketballProspectus put together a unique look at basketball positions and how to make use of players that don’t fit into traditional positional roles. Cannon spent most of his time examining how basketball coaches could benefit from understanding one thing: players can play different roles offensively and defensively.

Cannon breaks everything down into five defensive positions and three offensive roles:

On defense, you need to be able to guard your opponents. This means you have to be ready for speeds and heights of all kinds. You need to have a player capable of guarding each of the five traditional C-PF-SF-SG-PG positions. We’ll call the players capable of defending each position “D1” through “D5,” respectively, with speed/athleticism on the x-axis and height/strength on the y-axis:


And on offense what do you need to be successful? You need to be able to make shots (from the field or free throw line), avoid turnovers, and clean up the offensive glass–at the very least to the point where you aren’t handing over points by doing the opposite. This means that you need someone who can take care of the ball, someone who can put it in the basket, someone who can get the ball to that guy, and someone who can get the ball back when someone misses. We’ll call these four characters the Handler, the Scorer, the Creator, and the Rebounder.

As any good basketball blogger would do, I decided to apply Cannon’s work to Michigan’s roster. To make things a little clearer, I’m going to add one offensive label to the mix – shooter. I am going to refer to scorers as guys that should be able to create their own offense while shooters need some help.

  • Darius Morris: D1 – Handler/Creator
  • Stu Douglass: D2 – Shooter
  • Tim Hardaway: D2/3? – Scorer
  • Zack Novak: D2/3/4 – Shooter/Rebounder and maybe Scorer?
  • Matt Vogrich: D? – Shooter
  • Evan Smotrycz – D4 – Scorer
  • Colton Christian – D3/4 – Rebounder
  • Jordan Morgan – D5 – Rebounder
  • Jon Horford – D4 – Rebounder [Potential Redshirt?]
  • Blake McLimans – D5 – Shooter/Rebounder

With so many newcomers, many of these roles are predictions rather than absolutes but running down the list helps provide a broad view of the roster. Here are some observations:

  • Michigan played most of last year with a D4 (Sims) trying to guard opposing fives and a D3 (or even 2) in Novak trying to guard opposing fours. This year Michigan will have legitimate D5s to guard the five (Morgan/McLimans) and also a solid D4 with Evan Smotrycz at a legit 6-9. We don’t know how strong of defenders Morgan, McLimans, and Smotrycz are but we do know that they are the right size. Horford is also another able defender with size if he is thrown into the mix.
  • Michigan is going to have to rely on freshmen to do some scoring. Judging by their skill-sets both Smotrycz and Hardaway fit this role. The problem is that we just aren’t sure how ready they are to produce at the college level. When freshmen have to be scorers, they are usually extremely inefficient.
  • As the only true ball handler/creator on the roster, Darius Morris needs to be ready to go. Many expected Morris to find instant success in Ann Arbor but his freshman campaign could be fairly labeled as a disappointment. Morris needs to give Michigan 30 minutes of productive, turnover free, offense while defending opposing lead guards.
  • Many hypothesized that last year would be the year that Zack Novak moved away from playing the four — it didn’t happen. I think that this year, with Smotrycz and Christian being closer to true D4s, is the year we finally see Novak slide down the lineup. Even if Novak isn’t guarding 4s, the question is who does he guard? He could be either a D2 or a D3.  Novak will get minutes but he could play in a lot of different positions.

We’ll start to get some insight into how these positional dynamics will play out this season when we get a glimpse of the box scores in Belgium. If I had to predict a starting line-up today it would be: Morris, Douglass, Novak, Smotrycz, and McLimans with Hardaway as the first guy off the bench.

So while I certainly don’t have all the answers I think this is definitely a solid framework to base a conversation on. Where do you see people fitting in? How would you build your line-up out of this roster?

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