Before the season I mentioned that Evan Smotrycz might have one of the most difficult transitions of any of Michigan’s freshmen. That sounded odd because Evan was the top rated recruit in Michigan’s class, an RSCI consensus top 100 player, and appeared to be a perfect fit for John Beilein’s system.
One of the toughest positions to transition from the prep to college level is a perimeter oriented four man. 6-foot-9 players with skill show out on the AAU circuit, where the level of defensive intensity is a bit lacking, but to utilize all of those skills on the college level is a different fight. There are exceptions to this rule (see: Robbie Hummel) but for the most part it’s tough for these type of players to play an efficient brand of basketball as freshmen and Evan Smotrycz’s up and down year followed this rule. He displayed tantalizing flashes of his potential with nine double figure scoring games, tied for 4th on the U-M roster, including game changing performances versus Clemson and Michigan State. There were also a boatload of 2-9 and 3-11 type performances that demonstrated the freshman wasn’t quite there yet.
- Three Point Shooting: Evan finished the season at 38.1% on 118 three point attempts, mere hundredths behind Michigan’s top three point shooters: Zack Novak (38.5) and Matt Vogrich (38.7). Those numbers were down just a bit in conference play (35.7%) but Smotrycz proved himself as a viable three point threat. Being a consistent three point shooting threat at 6-foot-9 is an offensive weapon in itself.
- Turnovers: Although he might not have inspired much confidence putting the ball on the floor, and was mostly a shooter, Smotrycz still had a respectable turnover rate (15.4%) which ranked third on the team. He had an assist rate just shades behind Zack Novak, who also played a lot of time at the four, and his turnover numbers seem above average for a 6-foot-9 freshman.
- Skill set: Evan’s skill set is what makes him so intriguing as a prospect. He’s not the best athlete but his ability to shoot and put the ball on the floor is promising. We only saw it in small doses but it was enough to prove that, with some consistency, Smotrycz has the opportunity to step into a bigger role.
Room for Improvement:
- Finishing at the rim: Smotrycz has a great pump fake and showed the ability to put the ball on the floor but he had the second worst two point shooting percentage (43.2%) on the Michigan roster. He had a lot of shots blocked and flat out missed quite a few bunnies as well. He finished the season with one of his strongest takes of the season, an and-one layup versus Duke, but needs to consistently prove that he can finish at the rim.
- Defense: Evan saw his defensive role transition over the course of the season as he went from playing primarily the four position to spending significant time at the five position. He’s not great at defending either position and picks up fouls at a similar rate to Jordan Morgan (a bad thing) but he did seem to improve his low post defense as the year progressed.
- Rebounding: At 6-foot-9, Smotrycz needs to become a better rebounder. His offensive rebounding percentage (4.5%) isn’t altogether awful but a defensive rebounding percentage of 11.4% just isn’t good enough. For comparison, Matt Vogrich had a DR% of 10.6%, Zack Novak 17.4% and Jordan Morgan 16.8%. Evan had some strong rebounding performances but he recorded 1 rebound or less in 16 games.
Shining Moment: 18 points (6-7 fg) and 6 rebounds at Clemson (YouTube highlights). In just his sixth college game, and first on the road, Smotrycz exploded for 18 points on seven shots. He was instrumental in allowing Michigan to climb out to a huge first half lead which really buoyed the season early, preventing a three game losing streak.
Runner-up: 14 points on 4 of 6 shooting versus Michigan State at home.
All eyes are on Evan Smotrycz. There’s been lots of talk about how much this team can improve during the off season but Smotrycz’s room for improvement and potential impact should be number one on any list. He has the tools to become a difference maker at the position that’s been Michigan’s most glaring weakness for the past three seasons.
That’s not to say that Evan doesn’t have flaws – he certainly does, and they might never be truly eliminated. He’s not the best athlete, a problem which is magnified by his below average wingspan. His limited athleticism might prevent him from becoming a great defender and rebounder, but that doesn’t mean he can’t become much better with an offseason in the weight room. I’m confident that Smotrycz will make significant improvement on the offensive end next season. He should push his three point shooting percentage up, flirting around 40%, and continue to diversify his offensive game inside the arc. His value to next year’s team depends on how much he can improve defensively and on the glass, allowing him to stay on the court for longer stretches.
Smotrycz improving by a significant margin would present John Beilein and his staff with a number of “good problems” to solve. It would mean that Zack Novak doesn’t play as many minutes at the four. That would create a bit of a log jam in the backcourt with Morris, Douglass, Novak, Burke, Brundidge and Vogrich but that’s another good problem to deal with. For now, the ball is in Evan’s court. His freshman year was acceptable, and probably equal to reasonable expectations, but he has the potential to have a breakout season. If Michigan is going to become a significantly better team next year, Smotrycz’s 2012 report card will be calling him out as the team’s most improved player.