Position by Position: Zack Novak

Dylan Burkhardt

I started out writing a breakdown of the shooting guard position but I realized that there was going to be a problem with these positional breakdowns: Zack Novak.

Zack is the wildcard. It’s hard to quantify lots of the things he does on the court and he doesn’t even have a true position. There has been talk in the comments here that Novak will be the odd man out in this year’s rotation. To those questioning Novak’s role next year I offer you one simple statistic: Zack Novak led Michigan in minutes throughout the Big Ten slate, not Manny Harris or DeShawn Sims but the freshman forward from Chesterton.

Zack Novak will play this year, and play a lot, the only question is where.


Shooting Guard

Depending on the point guard situation there is limited time available at the two guard. Stu and Laval will get a lot of minutes at some combination of the guard positions. Darius Morris will get a big chunk of minutes at the point guard. I also expect Matt Vogrich will get a decent amount of playing time this year as well.

With 80 minutes to go around between the two backcourt positions and four players already on the depth chart there, I don’t see enough playing time for Zack to become a serious option at the two. If someone goes down to injury (something Michigan conveniently avoided last year) there is definitely the possibility that Zack could slide over.

Small Forward

I expect Novak to play the three when Manny Harris rests. Manny has averaged around 33 mpg his freshman and sophomore years, so that leaves around 7 minutes for someone. CJ Lee filled this role last year so the minutes are available. The three is also very similar in terms of its offensive and defensive roles to the four in Beilein’s offense so this should be an easy transition.

Power Forward


Zack is undersized to play the four and that certainly has its disadvantages (pictured, right). Teams with big front courts like Illinois, Ohio State, or Oklahoma can exploit Novak’s size on defense but the hope is that he can create mismatches on the offensive end.

It’s important to remember that the four position in Beilein’s offense is more of a perimeter position on offense and the term power forward really doesn’t do it justice. DeShawn Sims sophomore year he played the four and 38% of his field goal attempts were from three point range, last year he moved to the five and only 19% were three point attempts.

Last year it was clear that Beilein wanted to get his best players on the floor even if it meant playing a 6-foot-5 power forward. There weren’t a lot of options in the front court and he had a guy who did all of the little things that needed playing time.

This year there are more options in the front court with Ben Cronin, Blake McLimans, and Jordan Morgan.  Beilein has acknowledged that there are more options, but isn’t sure of what effect they will have:

And to see how big can we play? One of the reasons we were good last year is we were small, and one of the reasons we lost some games is we were small. Where is that balance? Can you go either way effectively?”

Cronin and Morgan should play the five and McLimans is a prototypical Beilein-four. I just don’t think Zack Gibson, Ben Cronin, Jordan Morgan, or Blake McLimans will provide enough to slides Sims to the four position or knock Zack out of the lineup.


Novak is the perfect utility man. He can play three positions and he’s too good to keep off the court. I still see him playing the bulk of his minutes at the power forward this year. He will play the three behind Manny, which will allow the coaching staff to experiment with some different combinations in the front court, but as crazy as it sounds he is still a power forward first and foremost.

  • Tom Too

    I figured Dylan would need to do something like this for lunch pail. Either this or cut and paste Zack’s strengths and weaknesses into three different position outlooks. Nice job.

  • Ganderson

    Completely Agree. Remember that the only teams that really exploited Novak at the 4 were Wisky, OSU, MSU, and UCONN (Griffin would’ve dominated anybody on this roster). Besides those aforementioned games, Novak’s range created a hugely beneficial mismatch that Beilein exploited with success not just against poor, small teams, but against good teams like Duke, Minnesota, and Purdue. The best part though is that Beilein will hopefully be able to counter-act those teams that have great size by either limiting Novak’s minutes or moving him to a different position just for that game in order to get added size on the floor, which we finally have now! If we stay healthy I do not see Novak getting time at the 2, but I could see him spelling Manny at the 3 for about 5 minutes per game. However, if we are forced to play man to man, I am not sure if Novak is quick enough to guard a slasher ala Manny Harris, Evan Turner, Durrell Summers etc…

  • Novak will get his minutes. It is obvious that Beilein loves the kid and he sold his heart and soul for us last year. I honestly think the 4 is his until McLimans proves he is ready or perhaps when Smotrczadfsaf gets on campus next year. Even then I don’t see Novak losing his minutes, not by that much.

  • Blucinic

    Great article. This is so informative-thanks much! The one thing I’m curious about is not Novak’s skill set as an INDIVIDUAL, but how he will play in COMBINATION with others, i.e., as part of the team. It strikes me that the best teams are made up of very complementary pieces, such that five players with lesser individual skill sets who mesh very well as a team will often beat five players with greater individual skill sets who don’t mesh as well as a team. IIRC, Blue’s win over Clemson was a good example of this principle.

  • gpsimms

    Position chart for 09-10 wolverines:

    At the 1 : Darius, Stu, LLP
    At the 2 : Stu, LLP, Vogrich
    At the 3 : Manny, Vogrich
    At the 4 : McClim, Gibson
    At the 5 : DeShawn, Cronin, Morgan
    At the Novak : Novak

  • ScottGoBlue

    Great analysis and insight, Dylan. IMHO, Novak will vacillate a starter and a 6th-man role because he’s the not-quite-a-fit, yet-all-purpose-utility-man many have described. Manny’s back-up plus an even split at the 4 means 27mpg. I buy that.

  • Tom Too

    I’m laughing here at Smotrczadfsaf and At the Novak : Novak. Dying.

  • David

    27 mpg sounds about right, but I bet he starts pretty much the whole season. Scott, do you see one of the other bigs starting sometimes, with Peedi at the 4?

  • Ganderson

    Question: Is it smart to have our only legitimate backup PG start at the 2-guard? Under the assumption that Darius Morris cracks the starting rotation at some point this season, I’m not sure Stu should start at the 2 even if he is a little better than LLP or Vogrich. I’m not saying Stu should strictly play at the point but here is my thinking.

    Sometimes Beilein did not sub his starters until the 12 minute mark in the half. That being the case, perhaps it will be better to have a fresh and capable ball-handler entering the game for DMo instead of our starting SG who has just played 12 consecutive minutes. Stu can still get his minutes even if he doesn’t start. Scenario: DMo and LLP start at the 1 and 2, Stu relieves DMo at the point, and then when DMo is ready to sub back in, Stu can shift over to the 2 to get some minutes there. This enables us to have a rested, capable ball-handler on the floor at all times. Color me pessimistic but I would not feel comfortable having LLP as our lead guard unless he has greatly upped his savvy and awareness with the ball in his hands.

  • James

    I’d like to see Novak drop 15 pounds and stick to the 2 and 3.

  • Ganderson

    Not Scott but FWIW, I would hesitate to put Peedi anywhere other than the 5 strictly to keep him from getting complacent and drifting out to the perimeter. Peedi is our best–and perhaps only–offensive threat down in the post, so that is where he should remain. The 4 in Beilein’s offense tends to become too perimeter oriented at times, which would hinder Sims’ ability to dominate down low like he did so effectively last season.

  • Gordie Bell

    I will give it a shot piggybacking on Dylan’s insights.
    Manny 35
    Deshawn 35
    Novak 30
    Darius 23
    Douglass 23
    LLP 18
    Vogrich 16
    Cronin 10
    Gibson 10

  • JayRich

    Ganderson: I like your idea about bringing Stu off the bench. If they do this though, I want a GREAT 3 point shooter starting at at the 2 then. If LLP shoots like he is capable, that is fine, if not, Novak. I think Michigan needs that player that can come down and knock down several 3’s and demoralize the other team in a heartbeat. It is so hard to tell what is going to happen. If DMo and Cronin are worth playing…all of our speculation means nothing. It is just so hard to tell. I don’t think Cronin is going to get a ton of minutes, however I do think DMo will. But who knows….and there is the problem

  • El Capitan

    That “At the Novak: Novak” thing is hilarious.

  • Jay

    He will get his minutes, but if his shot aint falling and hes afraid to put the ball on the floor inside the arch then his minutes should be cut and spent next to Beilein. Nobody can question his heart, hustle…But if Vogrich can shoot as advertised and Stu steps his game up another notch, then someones PT is getting cut especially if they are one dimensional. Alot is also going to depend on what we can get out of minutes from Cronin. If he can give legit minutes then you can go with a bigger lineup from time to time, and not always be the smaller team.

  • Tom Too

    Bringing Stu off the bench is interesting. Similar to the reasoning for not starting Gibson with Peedi last year; to spell Peedi with Gibson as opposed to both being tired at the same time and no one coming off the bench. Although we would have LLP coming off the bench being able to spell both Stu or D-MO. Interesting nonetheless.
    I just think it all boils down to who can shoot after sitting for 8 games minutes (25 real minutes) and who needs to start to get off on the right foot each game. Who can sit and then shoot: Stu or MV? and who needs that start. Seriously, some people play better as a starter, even if they play less minutes overall. And some can wake up at 3 am and hit threes in their PJ’s.

  • Jay — My issue with your point is that I don’t see Stu or Matt cutting into Zack’s playing time. The Cronin issue pertains to Zack but I don’t think Ben is a starter at this point — against big teams it would be natural that Zack would play less.

  • Ken in Vegas

    Just booked the trip to Orlando for the Old Spice Classic. Sooo pumped. If you’re going to be there, take down my email and maybe we could get a UMHoops cheering section going. kenbgeorge@gmail.com

  • ToBlav

    This is really good reading. I’ve said before and still think Novak and Douglas are going to hard to move out of the starting line-up.

  • Gordie Bell

    Not sure if Jay was referring to Novak with his one dimensional comment but Novak is not one dimensional. Novak is going to get his minutes because he does many things well, not the least of which is battling for loose balls and rebounds.

  • Walt

    So what is Ant Wright? Chopped liver? I’m not so sure those frosh will beat him out completely. He played well in that OK game, backing up Manny.

  • Kenny

    Dylan, I love your title. I believe that Novak will play mostly 4 next season but could slide to three occasionally when Manny is not on the court. For him to play major minutes at two, either Zack Gibson will have a break-out year or McLimans will be the biggest surprise of the class.

    Let’s face the reality, Morgan will red-shirt, Ben is not ready for playing 30 minutes a game, therefore Peedi will stay where he played last season. But unlike last season, Gibson does not have to back-up Peedi and will play along side Peedi or Cronin at 4. IMO, it should help him tremendously in his effectiveness both offensively and defensively. I would not be completely surprised if Gibson logs 20+ minutes against some big physical teams. If Gibson’s shots are not falling from the parameter, then McLimans will have some chances to prove himself. But nonetheless, Novak will play on average 25 minutes at the 4 position but in some special situations could slide down to play 2 and 3.

    Lastly, I believe that Novak is going to see his minutes reduced by 7-8 minutes but his offensive number will actually up. He was way over-used last season.

  • Kenny

    I absolutely agree with Ganderson that if Morris is to start, we are better off to have Stu coming off the bench. It seems that people expects much more from LLP/Vogrich than Gibson/McLimans. But I don’t agree with them. There is good chance that Gibson makes bigger progress than LLP, and McLimans gets the system quicker than Vogrich. If that happens we could even see Novak start at 2 in some games, and stu come off the bench for three possible substitutions.

  • Kevin

    The only issue I see with Stu coming off the bench is if he plays somewhere between 4-8? minutes bringing the ball up court and defending the primary ball handler, then, when he moves over to the two, he’s already tired. Fresh legs can never hurt a good shooter.

  • Eyeteeth

    I’d like to see Stu drop fifteen pounds and go with a Levi’s Skinny cut or a Super Slim from the Gap.

  • Tom Too

    Stu probably just gained 10 pounds of muscle, now you want him to drop it? And then go against the OSU or MSU backcourt? Do you want Ben Cronin to drop a few inches in height so he doesn’t have to special order his Levi’s or Gap Super Slims?

  • El Capitan

    I also am of the mind the Novak will see a majority of his minutes at the 4, but I also think he will play the 3 whenever Manny is on the bench (so 5-6 minutes at the 3). I also think Zack will be the sixth man, coming in for whoever Beilein chooses to take out first.

    If Gibson gets in foul trouble, Zack plays the 4.
    If Peedi gets in foul trouble, Gibson moves over and Zack plays the 4.
    If Manny gets in foul trouble, Zack plays the 3.
    If Stu gets in foul trouble, Zack plays the 2.
    If LLP/Morris or whoever starts at point guard gets in foul trouble, Stu moves to the point and Zack plays the 2.

  • maxwell’s demon

    i think some people are a little overly optimistic about our freshmen and cronin. im expecting the 5 starters to be llp, stu, manny, novak, sims. maybe morris works his way in at some point and llp comes off the bench. with the depth at sg i think vogrich will have a hard time getting significant minutes unless llp really turns out to be a bust. and i think the only time anyone else sees the floor at 4 is when novak is playing 3 for manny or if we are severely mismatched in the post. i also have no idea why anyone feels confident cronin will contribute.

    all that being said, i still think we have a hell of starting squad, with awesome depth 1-3 and improved depth at 4 and 5.

  • Great post and insight.

    And I agree with Maxwell’s last post, expectations for the freshmen may be a little high, but we, without a doubt, have more depth this year than last. It’s going to be a fun season.

  • Jay

    Ken in Vegas, let me know when the tickets go on sell for the Utah game. I will be making that trip to Salt Lake

  • Geno

    A dylan what about anthony wright?He put in work in the second round.

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