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Stu Douglass is the most polarizing player to discuss on the Michigan basketball team. Common perception of players like Tim Hardaway Jr., Zack Novak or Evan Smotrycz is relatively homogenous. Everyone agrees that Hardaway is great player, recognizes Novak’s leadership while accepting his limitations and understands that Evan Smotrycz can shoot but needs to improve his rebounding. When it comes to Stu Douglass, most fans seem to be completely focused on his positives or negatives, there’s no middle ground or understanding.
Now a senior, Douglass has been Michigan’s designated perimeter shooter for the last three seasons while averaging around 150 three point attempts per year. Despite holding that role, he’s a relatively pedestrian, 34 percent, three point shooter over the course of his career (Fr: 34%, So: 33%, Jr: 36%). Considering the top 16 three point shooters in the Big Ten last year made more than 38% of their threes, it’s tough to apply the “shooter” label at this point in Douglass’s career.
Douglass’s career statistics don’t pop off the page. He’s scored in double figures for less than one third of his career games, has never averaged more than seven points, three rebounds, two assists and never compiled an offensive rating over 100 in any single season. Despite his seemingly mediocre statistical resume, he’s on pace to rank near the top 5 in both minutes played and three pointers made in Michigan history.
He’s also had his fair share of program altering shots and memorable games. His NBA-range three point shot against UCLA and step-back jump shot in East Lansing are easily among the top five biggest shots during the John Beilein era in Ann Arbor. His two hand dunk versus Tennessee and 20-plus point outbursts at Connecticut or against Harvard weren’t bad either.
Now a senior, what should be expected from Douglass? How will his role adjust with a new mix of backcourt talent? And how will his career be remembered?
Reasons for Excitement
- Defense – Michigan’s mid-season turnaround last season was spearheaded by drastic defensive improvement and it’s no coincidence that Douglass started down the stretch and generally earned the assignment of defending the opposition’s best guard. He’s not the most gifted defender with length or athleticism but he’s easily the best off-ball defender on the team and continues to improve on the defensive end.
- Experience: Douglass’s leadership style is night-and-day compared to Zack Novak’s but he’s been through a lot and understands the Michigan offense. When the going gets tough and the game spirals slightly out of control, Douglass is someone who Michigan coaches (and players) will trust to bring a calming influence to the U-M backcourt.
- Moving off the ball: Douglass is more comfortable than other Michigan guards at moving without the basketball on the perimeter. He is effective at shooting the ball off of screens and his understanding of the Michigan offense allows him to get good open looks. It’s no coincidence that a large percentage of Michigan’s set plays for three point attempts are generally directed toward Douglass.
Causes for Concern
- Consistency: Douglass made one or fewer threes in 21 of 35 games last season and had five multiple game stretches in which he made one or fewer threes. He shot 18 percent during those slump games compared to 49 percent when he wasn’t slumping. Eliminating the 0-4, 1-6 type of shooting performances and avoiding three to four game droughts would elevate his shooting numbers significantly.
- Free Throws: This problem is two-fold. First off, Douglass only attempted 13 free throws last season – evidence of a lack of offensive aggression going toward the basket. Second, he made just three of those 13 attempts – 23 percent. He’s never going to be an attacking player, but he needs to do more to keep defenses honest.
- Role: There are varying opinions of how many minutes Douglass should play at each guard spot. And regardless of your opinion of whether Douglass should be the sixth man or start, play 25 or 35 minutes, or play on or off the ball, the greater problem is that there’s this much uncertainty about how he’ll be used in general. Serving as the team’s shooter, primary defender and point guard is spreading him a bit too thin. John Beilein will have to figure out not just what role serves Douglass best, but what helps the team.
The first storyline to watch is where Douglass plays and who he plays with early in the season. John Beilein’s offense enables flexibility in this situation because of the similarities between the one and the two positions. Douglass’s experience in the offense makes him a great backcourt mate for either of Michigan’s freshmen guards. His offensive game complements Brundidge’s offensive game extremely well and his defensive abilities would relieve some defensive pressure off both freshmen. Zack Novak, the presumable starter at the two guard, is not as nice of a complement. Both players are three point shooters first and don’t excel going toward the basket or creating for others. An ideal backcourt rotation would pair Douglass with a freshman guard as often as possible, perhaps looking something like this:
- Burke/Douglass (Novak slides to four)
The next question is what sort of statistical production can we expect from Douglass this season. Can he increase his assist rate, which has declined each year he’s been in Ann Arbor, or can he improve his three point shooting percentage toward 40 percent.
Bottom line: I’m confident that Douglass will build off last season (the best of his career) individually but he’ll need to carve out a niche. I expect him to start the season as the sixth man but, if he defends like he did down the stretch last season, he’ll be on the floor closing games. Look for his three point shooting numbers to increase another 2 percent up to around 38 percent and his assist rate to bounce up closer to 20 percent (from 10 a year ago).