Now with video:
Kudos to our resident video guru, Josh Houchin, who did an amazing job with these videos. We’ll have more videos in the coming days and weeks.
There are plenty of players that talk about how badly they want to win games but a much smaller group consistently demonstrates their will to win on the court. Zack Novak falls into the second category. He says things like “I hate losing more than I like winning” because he’s brutally honest and not because it makes for a good sound bite. Anyone that has seen him in the locker room after a loss understands his honesty.
Novak posted career bests in almost every statistical measure during his junior season including points, rebounds, three point shooting, effective field goal percentage, offensive rating, free throw percentage, free throw rate and turnover rate. His improvement wasn’t as dramatic as Darius Morris or Jordan Morgan but, quietly, Novak turned himself into a better player during the offseason. More importantly, he took ownership of the team and provided the direction and leadership that was so sorely lacking a year before.
- Three point shooting: Since he arrived on campus, Novak has been considered one of Michigan’s designated shooters. He attempted over 140 3’s during his first two seasons, and hit quite a few important shots, but he was never a very reliable or consistent three point shooter. Novak connected on just 32.5% of his three point attempts during his first two seasons. This season started in a similar fashion, with Novak shooting under 30% from three point range in non-conference play, but he finished the season at 38.5% when all was said and done. His three point shooting in Big Ten games was very good as he made 34 of 82 for a 42% average.
- Rebounding: Despite battling significantly bigger players almost every night, Zack Novak was Michigan’s best defensive rebounder.Novak grabbed 17.4% of opponents’ misses while he was on the floor, over 6% better than his sophomore numbers. Michigan finished the season ranked 63rd nationally in defensive rebounding percentage and Novak played a key role on the glass.
- Free throws: Novak was a career 68% free throw shooter before this season but connected on 83% of his freebies this season. He also got to the free throw line more often, with a free throw rate of 32%. He’s not getting to the line as often as a true slasher by any means but it was good to see Novak at least spend a reasonable amount of time at the charity stripe.
Room for Improvement
- Two point shooting: Novak took a similar proportion of two point shots (around 30% of his FGAs) this season but he connected on just 21 of his 71 two point field goals. Novak’s three point shooting percentage was actually a couple hundredths higher than his two point numbers and that’s not necessarily a good thing.
- Position: This might not necessarily be Novak’s fault but he’s still a bit of a man without a position. Novak began the season at the off guard while playing a handful of minutes at the power forward. As the season progressed, he started at the four and played a majority of his minutes there. He’s not a perfect fit for either spot, he’s probably a bit slow to play the two and obviously too small to play the four, but he just seems to make plays whenever he’s on the floor.
Shining Moment: 19 points on 6 of 9 (6-8 3pt) shooting with six rebounds and two assists at Michigan State. It wasn’t just the desperate nature of the game, the fact that it broke a lengthy drought versus an in-state rival, or Novak’s sideline freak-out during the first half. It was also Novak’s best game of the season. Video.
At this point Novak is what he is. There are clear limitations to his game but he is the heart and soul of this team. He’s improved steadily over the course of his career and while he’s not going to transform into a 15 point scorer during his senior year, he should flirt with 10 points per game during his senior season.
Novak’s three point shooting will continue to be the most important aspect of his game. He made 42% of his threes in Big Ten games and that demands more defensive attention on the wing, opening up the rest of hte offense. 2012 has to be the season where Novak goes from “good” shooter, 34.6% for his career, to “great” shooter and break the 40% plateau consistently for the entire season.
The more interesting storyline will be if there are any changes to Novak’s role. I don’t expect him to play the 35 minutes per game that he averaged this season (top ten in the conference) but he will still play major minutes. The question is where. He can play the two or the four but he really isn’t a perfect fit for either position. The flexibility means that Novak’s role will depend on the pieces around him. If Evan Smotrycz makes a big leap you might see Novak play more minutes at the two. If Stu Douglass, Carlton Brundidge, or Trey Burke are producing you will probably see Novak at the four. Michigan will also be able to juggle lineups a bit more to force mismatches depending on the opponent.
Zack Novak meant far more to this team than the nine points and six rebounds per game that show up in the statsheet. Taking charges, winning 50-50 balls and grabbing tough rebounds are all staples of Novak’s game which don’t show up in the box score but can provide infectious spurts of energy that help define the entire team. The leadership factor is nearly impossible to quantify but is also the difference between winning and losing games.