Entering last season, Michigan’s starting power forward spot was a question mark until D.J. Wilson became the answer.
With Wilson forgoing his final two years of eligibility and leaving early for the NBA, the Wolverines find themselves in a similar quandary heading into the 2017-18 season.
Yet, Michigan coach John Beilein isn’t fazed and expressed his confidence that fifth-year senior Duncan Robinson is prepared to take on a larger role.
“I saw Duncan the next day and was excited for him, that this is a great opportunity for him,” Beilein said last week at a season-ending news conference. “Knowing D.J.’s emergence playing the four, Duncan would back up there probably next year but play some two (shooting guard) or three (small forward). We need him to do what he did this year but probably more because Zak (Irvin) would be gone.
“But now I’m really comfortable with that (at the four). Where we lose in some areas, we could gain in some areas.”
Last season, Robinson (6-foot-8, 215 pounds) started the first two games at the four before making way for Wilson and moving into a sixth-man role off the bench. As a result, Robinson saw his minutes (28.9 to 20.1) and points (11.2 to 7.7) drop compared to his junior year, when he started the final 27 games of the 2015-16 season.
However, Robinson and Wilson bring different styles of play to the position. Robinson is primarily a catch-and-shoot threat who took 70.2 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and led the Wolverines in 3-point shooting at 42.4 percent last year, whereas Wilson used his length and athleticism to cause problems out on the perimeter and in the post.
“I think Duncan understands right now that he just can’t stand in a corner and get open because they aren’t going to leave him open,” Beilein said. “He needs to watch (Cavaliers guard) Kyle Korver over and over and over again. Yeah, he stands in the corner but at other times he’s running a 100 miles an hour around the court to get open. He understands that and he’s driven right now. Duncan is so driven right now and this (Wilson leaving) just added to it.”
In addition to Robinson, Michigan’s other option at power forward is incoming freshman Isaiah Livers (6-8, 220), who won the Michigan Mr. Basketball Award after averaging 18 points, 14 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.4 blocks at Kalamazoo Central.
Like Robinson, Beilein said Livers is a “big-time jump shooter” who tends to take jump shots over driving the ball. But like most freshmen, it will be a tough task for Livers to step in and contribute right away.
“He’s very much like D.J. actually,” Beilein said of Livers. “He blocks shots, he can really shoot and he’s probably more skilled as anybody that we’ve had coming in that’s that size coming in. But he’s got to rebound at a higher level.
“Every freshman that we’ve had that did not play either it was a lot of depth at his position or he did not play tough enough or understand defense. It comes down to that.”
Beilein added if Michigan were to play two big men like it did with center Moritz Wagner and Wilson, it would depend on the situation. It would also require either Wagner or one of the second-year centers, Austin Davis and Jon Teske, to slide over to the four, which would be a challenge defensively.
“You are who you can guard and can any of those three bigs guard on the perimeter? I do not think at this time the two freshmen or rising sophomores (Davis and Teske) can do that,” Beilein said. “Moe has a chance there but that’s still a new thing. D.J. was just learning to really do it at the end of last year.
“It is difficult for a big kid to chase (smaller players). More people play small than they play big, so you can dominate them with 2s but they can kill you with 3s. It’s a difficult choice.”
Beilein said Wagner will join the German national 20-and-under team from June 18-July 23 and added others, including Charles Matthews and Davis, are considering playing for summer teams, which they would have to pay for on their own.
…Walk-on forward Brent Hibbitts is exploring transfer options to get more playing time elsewhere but could still return.
… Beilein on making another roster addition before the fall to fill Wilson’s open scholarship: “Yeah, anything can happen.”