Aubrey Dawkins was the final member of Michigan’s 2014-15 recruiting class, but the Wolverines benefited greatly from the forward’s contributions this winter. The Palo Alto, California native didn’t make his first start until Jan. 20, but he proceeded to play 30-plus minutes on 10 occasions as he quickly became an integral member of the frontcourt.
During workouts last summer, John Beilein claimed Dawkins was the team’s most athletic player, even comparing him to Tim Hardaway Jr., and Dawkins certainly proved it this year. He capped off warmups before every contest with a thunderous dunk and made electrifying plays in-game, too — with Illinois’ Nnanna Egwu the biggest victim.
But Dawkins excelled in other areas as well, most notably behind the arc. He finished Big Ten regular-season play with the league’s best effective field goal percentage (63.3%) and true shooting percentage (65.8%) against conference opponents.
While there were games during which Dawkins struggled with his shot, he teased fans with the constant possibility of the spectacular, whether it be a highlight-reel slam or daggers from deep.
Three-point shooting: Dawkins became a household name December 30th against Illinois, when, in front of a sellout crowd, the forward nearly stole the show from newly hired Jim Harbaugh by exploding for 20 points on 6-for-7 shooting from beyond the arc. The performance in the Wolverines’ Big Ten opener set the tone for the rest of the winter — Dawkins made 48% of his three-pointers in conference play. More than half of the freshman’s shots were three-pointers, and his 1.268 points per possession on those opportunities place him in the top 10% nationally.
Mid-range game, curls: Late in the season, Dawkins began to show the ability to catch the ball at the elbow and knock down 16 foot jumpers off of curls. He graded out in the 95th percentile nationally in scoring off of screens, but had limited attempts. While he had just 22 mid-range attempts, he made 46% of them on the season — well above the NCAA-average.
Zone buster: Dawkins scored 1.58 points per possession against zones, one of the best performers in the nation. But the forward rarely seemed to struggle too much no matter what looks opponents gave him. His 1.13 points per possession this season rank in the 98th percentile, per Synergy Sports — not too shabby for a freshman.
Room for improvement
Defense: According to Beilein, Dawkins saw limited playing time early in the season because he was too much of a defensive liability. (The freshman played 10 or more minutes in just three games before the new year, then did so in every game after that.) While he has the athelticism to be a plus-defender, the game still moved a bit too quickly from him on the defensive end of the floor. He’ll need to add strength — a summer with Jon Sanderson should help — but also improve on his awareness on the defensive end of the floor.
Creating offense: Much like Zak Irvin was last year, Dawkins excelled at catch-and-shoot opportunities but didn’t create many looks for himself or others. He executed just a handful of ball screens — creating 6 points in 19 possessions — and isolations — 12 points in 17 possessions. His assist rate of 4.1% was the lowest on Michigan’s roster among players that played the 1 through 4 positions and it was even lower than Zak Irvin’s assist rate as a freshman.
Rebounding: Given his ability to elevate, Dawkins’ rebounding numbers left a lot to be desired. He rebounded just 8.5% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor. That was the worst defensive rebounding rate on the team among rotation players.
Dawkins posterizes Egwu
Max Bielfeldt on Dawkins’ 31-point performance on Senior Day: “He can steal my shine all he wants if he wants to do that the rest of the year and the rest of his career. Oh my gosh, that’s something else. Eight threes? That’s stupid. That’s ridiculous.”
John Beilein on Dawkins’ growth: “There’s been tremendous growth in him. When he got here, he could shoot, but he had to get it off quicker. He’s worked hard at that. He has a short memory when it comes to when he misses. He gets back out there, loading the gun, shooting it again. He works really hard at this, really happy for him.”
Despite his inconsistencies early in the season, Dawkins significantly elevated his game, averaging 18.8 points per contest in March. The forward was excellent offensively, and the possibility of SportsCenter-worthy moments every night made him Michigan’s most exciting player to watch.
After earning 13 starts in 2014-15, Dawkins role should be up for grabs along with Michigan’s host of other wing players. The Wolverines will add Duncan Robinson and DJ Wilson back into the rotation, two players that could eat away at minutes at the four or three (Robinson) positions next season. Add in Zak Irvin, one of the few sure-things on Michigan’s roster, and the potential of Caris LeVert returning or even a late signee, and the minutes could be scarce on the wings.
While the Wolverines would have no complaints if Dawkins could replicate his lethal offensive efficiency, learning to attack the basket more regularly and, most importantly, improving on defensive end of the floor is probably the best way for Dawkins to secure his role. But the forward is in the enviable position of entering his sophomore campaign with 620 minutes logged, and Michigan should reap the benefits of that next year.