Lots of surprising issues needed to occur earlier than Joey Baker made his strategy to Ann Arbor, Michigan.
First, he needed to resolve to depart Duke, which appeared unfathomable after he publicly introduced he would use his “COVID 12 months” to return to Durham for a fifth season. However someplace between April and Could that call making modified, and Baker entered the portal. Why he did so, and what prompted that U-turn, would be the topic of ongoing hypothesis till we hear particulars from the person himself.
Second, quite a lot of issues needed to change in Ann Arbor for it to turn out to be a viable vacation spot. Instantly after the season, it seemed like 5-star freshman Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate had been prone to return to Ann Arbor for sophomore campaigns. Houstan was a projected lottery choose getting into the 12 months however fell off most draft boards after a wildly inconsistent 12 months, whereas Diabate confirmed outstanding potential and athleticism however was extraordinarily uncooked. These two would’ve been the Wolverines’ beginning forwards for the 2022-23 marketing campaign if all went in keeping with plan; as an alternative, each determined to decide to the NBA draft regardless of being projected as second spherical picks (though there’s hypothesis that Houstan obtained some type of “assure” from a staff, on condition that he didn’t take part within the NBA Mix in any respect).
After the mud had settled, Michigan was left with a significant gap on the wings. Hunter Dickinson’s return cemented the Wolverines’ as one of many pre-season Massive Ten favorites; Dickinson, together with Oscar Tschiebwe and Armando Bacot, is among the many finest returning facilities, and maybe gamers, within the nation.
The Wolverines’ additionally landed coveted switch Jaelin Llewellyn, a former High 100 recruit who excelled in three years at Princeton, to run the purpose, and look poised handy a much bigger function to rising junior Terrance Williams II. Williams, a 6-foot-7 combo ahead with glue-guy intangibles who shot 38.5% from deep final season, noticed a significant uptick in minutes down the stretch, and arguably performed one of the best sport of his profession in Michigan’s upset win over Tennessee that vaunted them again into the Candy 16.
Outdoors of that core, although, Michigan is crammed with query marks.
There is definitely uncooked expertise on the roster. Rising sophomore Kobe Bufkin was a consensus 4 * and High 50 recruit who will possible get first crack on the beginning capturing guard function: whereas Bufkin was used sparingly as a freshman, he confirmed flashes of potential and Michigan coaches are excessive on what a summer season of energy and conditioning can do for his sport. Two of Bufkin’s classmates, Isaiah Barnes and Will Tschetter, venture as wings however redshirted final season, and doubtless will not be referred to as on to supply far more than depth this 12 months.
There’s extra expertise within the 2022 recruiting class, together with coach Juwan Howard’s son Jett. A consensus 4 * recruit, the younger Howard obtained rave critiques at summer season all-star video games, together with NBA veteran JR Smith calling Howard “essentially the most pro-ready man right here” on the Allen Iverson Roundball Basic. Gregg Glenn can be a 4 * recruit, however tasks extra as an influence ahead and a longer-term prospect.
Earlier than Baker’s dedication, that left Howard as a de facto starter on the 3. Now, he’ll possible be competing with the fifth-year switch for minutes at that spot.
That is possible a part of what drew Baker to Michigan: the chance to earn a beginning function on a staff whose core is sufficient to make it a convention title contender. However even when Howard exceeds expectations and calls for the beginning spot, Michigan lacks any skilled depth on the positions 2-4, which means Baker nonetheless has loads of minutes to assert as a sixth man.
Maybe most essential to Baker’s match is that his talent is one thing Michigan covets: capturing. Whereas Dickinson has been the star in Ann Arbor the final two seasons, arguably the most important distinction between 2021, when Michigan seemed poised for a Remaining 4 run earlier than a late season harm to senior Isaiah Livers, and 2022, when Michigan squeaked into the NCAA Match subject earlier than making a run, was constant three level capturing. The 2022 squad shot a collective 32.4% from past the arc, for a decent one hundred and twentieth within the nation, however was topic to wild cold and hot streaks. In losses to Seton Corridor, Arizona, Minnesota, Rutgers, Illinois, Michigan State, and Wisconsin, the Wolverines shot beneath 20% from past the arc; in flip, that allowed the opponent to ship double and triple groups at Dickinson within the paint.
In the meantime, the Wolverines shot about 37.5% from deep in most of its largest wins of the season, together with over Tennessee within the NCAA Match, and in addition at Ohio State, house in opposition to Michigan State, and residential in opposition to Purdue. Within the latter two video games, the Wolverines shot a scorching 50-plus p.c from deep.
It is unsurprising that these capturing performances correlate with Dickinson’s effectiveness within the paint. Towards Tennessee, Dickinson was 8-13 from the sector (together with 3-5 from past the arc on his personal) for 27 factors. Towards Michigan State, he was 13-19 from the ground on his methods to 33 factors. And in arguably Michigan’s largest win of the season in opposition to Purdue, he led the staff with 22 factors.
Baker offers Michigan the capturing presence it must open the ground up for Dickinson. The Wolverines’ do not want shot creation from their wings: that may come primarily from Llewellyn with assist from Dickinson, who is a superb passer out of the submit. They want somebody who has the expertise to learn the offense appropriately and hit the open photographs he will get, which inserts Baker’s sport completely.
As was the case at Duke, although, there stay questions on how Baker will match defensively. Some Michigan fan websites declare Baker has the power to protect 2-4, which is able to possible meet with guffaws from Duke followers who’ve watched him for the previous 4 years. However maybe a change in defensive scheme will match Baker’s skills higher: Juwan Howard’s man-to-man is decidedly much less aggressive than Coach Okay’s, and Howard additionally has performed zone for extra prolonged intervals. With Dickinson a plus defender within the paint, there’s the potential Baker’s common protection with hustle might be adequate. Maybe extra importantly, with none clear competitors for minutes on the 3 outdoors of Jett Howard, it is possible Baker’s leash might be considerably longer than he ever had at Duke.
One might rightly argue Joey Baker by no means acquired the prospect to completely present what he was able to at Duke given the immense expertise he fought with. If that’s the case, he’ll have the chance to attain that potential at Michigan, on a staff which gained’t depend on him as a major offensive possibility, however will create loads of alternatives for open photographs. However even when Baker is “only a shooter,” that’s a talent that was a noticeable gap on this Wolverine staff’s roster, and it’s possible Baker can earn himself 15-20 minutes per sport off of his capacity to area the ground alone. Filling that function on a staff that is prone to be extremely aggressive within the Massive Ten, and probably nationally if Dickinson takes a leap towards superstardom, was possible very interesting for what might be Baker’s final 12 months of collegiate basketball.