Ed: Please join us in welcoming Rian Ratnavale (@RianRatnavale), one of our two new beat writers for the upcoming season. Make sure to follow him on Twitter and stay tuned for his coverage throughout the season.
Jon Teske shot a three from the top of the arc during practice on Monday and didn’t look the least bit surprised when it swooshed in.
He didn’t look shocked when five more attempts after that dropped too, raining in from the wing and the corner. If that sounds abnormal after last season, well, it is. The 7-footer is 0-of-2 from 3-point range for his career, but he could be one solution to the Wolverines’ lack of proven perimeter shooting.
With Duncan Robinson, Moritz Wagner, and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman’s departures, Michigan said goodbye to 36.7 points per game, three of its four best free throw shooters and 214 of the team’s 361 made 3-pointers.
When Michigan needed it most, the trio came through from behind the arc and spaced the floor for the likes of junior guard Zavier Simpson and redshirt junior guard Charles Matthews. Both are capable scorers or slashers, but not the efficient jump shooters of those three.
“We were playing four on four since the time that Duncan [Robinson] stepped on this floor three years ago,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “No one was leaving him to help, and it was giving Zavier a lot of room.”
Without the spacing that Robinson and Wagner provided, teams will collapse into the paint and try to force Michigan to beat them over the top. The Wolverines are going to have a lot less of those efficient barrages like last year’s 14 three-point beatdown of Texas A&M or Abdur-Rahkman’s unconscious performance against Maryland.
Michigan’s offense isn’t necessarily doomed in 2018-19, but it might look different. Those shifts will start with three potential additions to the starting lineup.
Teske and sophomore guard Jordan Poole averaged only 12 minutes per game last year, but will be relied upon to potentially double their playing time.
Beilein mentioned multiple times that significant portions of the offense will run through Poole, who led all returning players on Michigan’s roster by shooting 36% from three last year. The sophomore guard will have to improve on his 1.0 assist-to-turnover ratio, however, to keep the Michigan offense flowing.
“Losing Muhammad, who was a playmaker… I still have to be aggressive,” Poole said. “But I don’t have to shoot. I came in last year and didn’t know how much time I’d get or how much I was going to shoot. Now I have a lot more time to fill into the game.”
Poole will look to walk that fine line between playing like the ball is a grenade, as Beilein said he did last year, and playing as aggressively as Michigan needs from him at the off guard.
After a year of backing up Wagner, Teske will provide an entirely different offensive look in the middle of Michigan’s offense. He’ll never be as shifty with the ball as Wagner, but he’s working to extend his shooting range and can knock down the 15-footer from the elbow.
Freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis also appeared to be running with the first unit on Monday afternoon. The 6-foot-7, 215-pound Canadian forward plays left-handed and in attack mode, excelling when he can get downhill and attack the basket. He led Michigan in scoring in Spain without attempting a single 3-pointer.
“We added a few new sets due to the personnel. Some things that we want to try. Let’s try to put this in, let’s tweak this,” said assistant coach Deandre Haynes. “We haven’t had a lefty, so with Iggy being a lefty we put some plays in. Just things like that we try to adjust with the personnel that we have. It’s been good so far with a better flow and guys are starting to pick up on it.”
The Wolverines won’t ever stray too far from Beilein’s traditional two-guard offense, but there will be a series of tweaks throughout the season to find that perfect offensive blend.
“We definitely work on our outside shooting, and that’s something we have to get better [at],” said Haynes, “But I don’t think that’s going to be our identity right now,”
Practice is obviously worlds away from the real thing. It’s going to take time for Michigan or any team that lost as much as it did, to get comfortable offensively. As Michigan has shown in the past under Beilein, though, it just needs to find a groove — no matter what it looks like.