Evan Smotrycz isn’t the best player on the Michigan roster. He’s not replacing the best player on last year’s roster. He’s not even the best shooter or rebounder on the team. Despite all of that, Smotrycz just might be the most important piece of the puzzle for John Beilein’s squad.
Smotrycz had an up-and-down freshman campaign but when he played well, Michigan played well. The Wolverines were 7-2 when Smotrycz reached double figures and those two losses were to Duke by two points and Ohio State by four points. The Wolverines were capable of winning games without Smotrycz but when the combo forward was hitting shots he added that ever necessary peripheral scorer to supplement their more consistent primary options.
At 6-foot-9 with a deft shooting touch, Smotrycz has always been a perfect fit for Michigan’s perimeter oriented offense. He wasn’t an instant star but he started 24 games as a true freshman and appears to be the Wolverine most likely to break out this season.
Reasons to be Excited
- “36 pounds, all muscle”: Smotrycz’s comment was obviously somewhat in jest (it’s almost impossible to add that much muscle in one off season) but there’s no doubt that the off season was productive for him in the weight room. Smotrycz is listed at 235 pounds and has already been singled out by John Beilein for his improvement on the glass.
- Three Point Shooting: Smotrycz’s offensive game stems from his perimeter shot and as a freshman he did a good job from long range, making 38 percent of his attempts. Those numbers dipped in conference play (to 36 percent) but Evan was capable of getting perimeter shots off and making it at an efficient rate.
- Closing on a high note: Smotrycz struggled mightily throughout the middle portion of Big Ten play, losing his spot in the rotation, but he rebounded over Michigan’s final five games. He averaged 10 points per game with a 61% effective field goal percentage in that five game stretch which included some of Michigan’s most important games of the season. That final stretch should provide a solid building block of confidence for Evan to build off of heading into the 2011-12 season.
Reasons to Worry
- Rebounding: 6-foot-9 players have to make an impact on the glass. Smotrycz recorded one or fewer rebounds in 16 games. His offensive (4.5%) and defensive (11.4%) rebounding rates were extremely pedestrian, more similar to Matt Vogrich or Tim Hardaway Jr. than Jordan Morgan, Zack Novak or Jon Horford.
- Quickness: The four position is the most common mismatch in the college game. In the Big Ten alone you have to guard players as strong and athletic as Trevor Mbakwe, as versatile as Draymond Green, as quick as Deshaun Thomas and with as much shooting ability as John Shurna. Quicker four players abused Smotrycz last year and it’s unlikely that he’ll be much quicker carrying 36 more pounds but the added strength could help him compensate around the basket.
- Two point shooting: Evan made just 43 percent of his twos last season, the second worst mark on the team. He’ll need to improve on that figure as a sophomore by taking advantage of his size, learning to hit the pull-up jump shot and being more aggressive attacking the basket.
Early reports on Evan Smotrycz from practice have been glowing. He’s playing more consistently and at a higher level which is exactly what Michigan needs. In an ideal world Michigan would play Zack Novak primarily at the off guard which means Smotrycz will be provided ample opportunity at the four.
As has been discussed, Michigan needs to find a secondary scorer to supplement Tim Hardaway Jr. Jordan Morgan and Evan Smotrycz both used roughly 21 percent of Michigan’s possessions last season – fewer than Tim Hardaway Jr. but more than all other returnees. Stu Douglass and Zack Novak each used about 15% of the team’s possessions during their first three seasons, and are unlikely to see a large increase in their offensive roles as shooters.
Morgan should hold steady around 21 percent, with most of his opportunities stemming from the pick-and-roll, and true freshman point guard Trey Burke will pick up a chunk of the offensive workload. Because Smotrycz plays a prominent offensive role on the wing he is the most likely candidate to see the largest increase in offensive opportunities.
The signs of improvement – correctable problems, strength gain and opportunity – are there. Now it’s up to Smotrycz to make the most of them and produce on the floor. Combining the positive play that he demonstrated down the stretch last season with early results in practice, it doesn’t seem that far fetched to see his scoring output surge into double digits. On the other hand, if he continues to struggle on the glass and defensively then Michigan is likely to continue to utilize its small line-up with Novak at the four position more often than it would like.