Plenty 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 yr” to return to Durham for a fifth season. However someplace between April and Might 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, loads of issues needed to change in Ann Arbor for it to develop into a viable vacation spot. Instantly after the season, it regarded 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 coming into the yr however fell off most draft boards after a wildly inconsistent yr, whereas Diabate confirmed exceptional 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 response to plan; as a substitute, each determined to decide to the NBA draft regardless of being projected as second spherical picks (though there may be hypothesis that Houstan acquired some form of “assure” from a group, provided 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 Prime 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 the perfect sport of his profession in Michigan’s upset win over Tennessee that vaunted them again into the Candy 16.
Exterior of that core, although, Michigan is stuffed with query marks.
There is definitely uncooked expertise on the roster. Rising sophomore Kobe Bufkin was a consensus 4 * and Prime 50 recruit who will probably get first crack on the beginning taking pictures guard function: whereas Bufkin was used sparingly as a freshman, he confirmed flashes of potential and Michigan coaches are excessive on what a summer time of power and conditioning can do for his sport. Two of Bufkin’s classmates, Isaiah Barnes and Will Tschetter, undertaking as wings however redshirted final season, and doubtless will not be known as on to supply rather more than depth this yr.
There’s extra expertise within the 2022 recruiting class, together with coach Juwan Howard’s son Jett. A consensus 4 * recruit, the younger Howard acquired rave critiques at summer time 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 probably be competing with the fifth-year switch for minutes at that spot.
That is probably a part of what drew Baker to Michigan: the chance to earn a beginning function on a group 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, that means Baker nonetheless has loads of minutes to assert as a sixth man.
Maybe most vital to Baker’s match is that his ability is one thing Michigan covets: taking pictures. Whereas Dickinson has been the star in Ann Arbor the final two seasons, arguably the largest distinction between 2021, when Michigan regarded poised for a Last 4 run earlier than a late season damage to senior Isaiah Livers, and 2022, when Michigan squeaked into the NCAA Match area earlier than making a run, was constant three level taking pictures. The 2022 squad shot a collective 32.4% from past the arc, for a decent a 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 likewise at Ohio State, house towards Michigan State, and residential towards Purdue. Within the latter two video games, the Wolverines shot a scorching 50-plus % from deep.
It is unsurprising that these taking pictures performances correlate with Dickinson’s effectiveness within the paint. In opposition to Tennessee, Dickinson was 8-13 from the sector (together with 3-5 from past the arc on his personal) for 27 factors. In opposition to 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 towards Purdue, he led the group with 22 factors.
Baker offers Michigan the taking pictures presence it must open the ground up for Dickinson. The Wolverines’ do not want shot creation from their wings: that can come primarily from Llewellyn with help from Dickinson, who is a wonderful passer out of the submit. They want somebody who has the expertise to learn the offense accurately 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 probably 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 talents higher: Juwan Howard’s man-to-man is decidedly much less aggressive than Coach Ok’s, and Howard additionally has performed zone for extra prolonged durations. With Dickinson a plus defender within the paint, there’s the potential Baker’s common protection with hustle might be ample. Maybe extra importantly, with none clear competitors for minutes on the 3 exterior of Jett Howard, it is probably Baker’s leash might be considerably longer than he ever had at Duke.
One might rightly argue Joey Baker by no means bought the possibility 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 realize that potential at Michigan, on a group which received’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 ability that was a noticeable gap on this Wolverine group’s roster, and it’s probably Baker can earn himself 15-20 minutes per sport off of his means to house the ground alone. Filling that function on a group that is prone to be extremely aggressive within the Massive Ten, and doubtlessly nationally if Dickinson takes a leap towards superstardom, was probably very interesting for what might be Baker’s final yr of collegiate basketball.