Is Michigan Better With Nik Stauskas at the Point Guard Position?Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on November 21st, 2013
Halfway through the 2011-12 Big Ten season, Trey Burke was still a freshman and was more comfortable playing off the ball instead of focusing on learning the art of playing point guard. As a result, Michigan head coach John Beilein inserted Stu Douglass into the starting rotation to play the point in the half-court. It was a position that didn’t naturally come to Burke during his first year, and even though Douglass was not a traditional one by any means, he was comfortable handling the ball with either hand and he understood Beilein’s offensive system very well. This subtle but meaningful change catapulted the Wolverines over the last six weeks of the season.
Flash forward to the present and Beilein might find himself in a similar predicament. Derrick Walton Jr. is an excellent guard who will eventually figure out the art of playing the point guard position, but for now, he may be more effective playing off the ball and doing what he is most comfortable with — putting the ball in the basket. There is no need for the Wolverines to panic after just three games including a road loss at Iowa State, but based on what we have seen so far, Nik Stauskas may be the only player confident enough to take on the team’s new leadership role. Against the Cyclones, the Wolverines were limited to a three-point shooting squad that couldn’t find decent looks from the perimeter. Michigan shot 8-of-29 (28%) from beyond the arc and Stauskas contributed four of those eight long-range buckets. Once Mitch McGary is completely healthy and can adequately man the post, that dynamic may change, but in the near-term – specifically the non-conference season – Stauskas appears to be the one who will carry the Wolverines’ offensive burden.The following are a couple of observations which could indicate why Stauskas could be effective at the point guard position until Walton gets over his freshman jitters and McGary is healthy:
- Glenn Robinson III and Caris LeVert need to be set up for the three-point shot: On Sunday, both of these starters combined to shoot 6-of-29 from the field because neither could create their own shot off the dribble. Robinson tried to break down his man one-on-one a few times but usually failed and settled for jumpers from the baseline. LeVert, on the other hand, hoisted too many shots from beyond the arc coming off of screens even though he wasn’t wide open. Simply put, they tried too hard to produce on their own in the half-court because there was no dominant point guard who could reset a broken play. Last year when Robinson couldn’t find an opening, the ball reversed to the top of the key and Burke reset the play. And if there wasn’t enough time, Burke had the athleticism and ball-handling to create his own shot. It’ll take a while before Walton gets to that stage, but Stauskas has already emerged as that player after three games. With McGary back, the Wolverines can run a quick pick-and-roll after a broken play to focus on Stauskas’ range. And with the sophomore taking over the sets, he has the requisite chemistry with the others – LeVert and Robinson – to command their trust on the floor. During most of the second half, Walton was on the other side of the court while the others were trying to score on isolation plays. Beilein’s offense requires that the ball is moved from one wing to the other and Stauskas appears to be the only reliable guy to lead the offense until Walton gets comfortable. Let’s not forget that LeVert rarely played over 15 minutes in a game as a freshman, so it’ll take a while before he is used to playing more minutes against formidable competition.
- Spike Albrecht can play point to free Stauskas to pick up the scoring: Albrecht only played 18 minutes against Iowa State but was still very effective, scoring seven points and dishing out three assists. If Stauskas takes over the point guard role, his scoring average of 17.3 PPG could drop but he can still play off the ball during the stretches when Albrecht is on the floor. Once again, Walton may trump Albrecht in this position by February 1 , but until McGary is healthy and LeVert gets more comfortable, Beilein may be better off with his known commodities during important games. The lineup of Albrecht-McGary-LeVert-
Robinson-Stauskas was effective during certain stretches of the second half on Sunday. Moving Stauskas away from pick-and-rolls would also create more room for Albrecht, who is a highly effective three-point shooter.