First Look: Potential 2011-2012 Breakout Players

Dylan Burkhardt

Much was made of Darius Morris’s dramatic improvement that saw him go from disappointing freshman to potential first round draft pick. While it’s unlikely that any player on next year’s roster will improve as much as Morris, the opportunity is there. Morris was responsible for roughly half of Michigan’s offense last season and there are plenty of shots and possessions up for grabs next season.

What defines a “breakout player”? It’s more than just routine improvement. A player like Morris improved but he also was presented the opportunity to flourish.  Morris always had the tools, but was clearly not comfortable in the college game as a freshman. His physical ability – size, strength and passing ability – combined with his incredible work ethic yielded dramatic improvement which wasn’t unleashed until Michigan’s two primary shot-takers (Harris and Sims) moved on. In this post we’ll take a closer look at the breakout candidates on the current roster and the reasons they are likely or unlikely to breakout next season.

Obviously the chances of a Morris-esque leap are far fetched, but there are some candidates who have the chance to go from role player to key contributor.

Evan Smotrycz

Why? Smotrycz displayed tantalizing flashes of his potential as a freshman and when he played well, Michigan usually played well. The Wolverines were 7-2 in the nine games that he scored in double figures with wins over Clemson and Michigan State and narrow losses to Duke and Ohio State. After a mid-season lull he finished the year on a strong note, hopeful to carry that momentum into the next season. His game isn’t perfect but he’s a legitimate three point shooting threat at 6-foot-9.

The opportunity is there, as Zack Novak is far from an ideal fit at the four position, in terms of both minutes and shots. Early returns, like this snippet from his gym in Boston, point toward Smotrycz putting in the necessary work this summer to continue to improve:

Phase 1 is over for Evan Smotrycz… 13lbs weight gain, 1.5″ increase on his standing vertical jump, 2.5″ on his max touch vertical jump…I am not sure people actually understand how hard it is to increase your weight by that much while at the same, getting that much more explosive.

Why Not? While there’s a lot to like about Evan’s potential, there are plenty of question marks and red flags as well. He’s not a great athlete, has subpar length and is a below average rebounder for a 6-foot-9 player. A lot of his strong play late in the season came at the five position, which probably isn’t where the coaching staff would like to see him end up long term. Does he have the quickness to guard fours or the strength to guard fives?

To truly take the next step, Smotrycz needs to develop an in between game. He has an effective pump fake, but can he take two dribbles after the shot fake and knock down the 18-footer? That’s the move that would transform him from shooter to scorer.

In a perfect world, Smotrycz is the primary four-man on next year’s roster. However, Zack Novak is going to play somewhere and Smotrycz will have to be good enough to prevent him from playing major minutes at the four.

Photo Credit: Chris Keane

Jon Horford

Why? In terms of sheer potential – based on athleticism, length and size – Horford might top the Michigan roster. Bacari Alexander mentioned on the radio in May that Horford was “flirting with 6-foot-10 and 243 pounds” which might be exaggeration but is still encouraging.

The sample size is small but Horford grabbed 25% of opponents’ missed shots while he was on the floor, a number far better than any other Michigan player last season. He’s a natural rebounder and as his offensive game develops he could be a real player. Big men tend to develop slow, and his older brother was no exception, so there are plenty of reasons to be excited.

Assuming Smotrycz settles at the four spot, Horford will split time at the five position with Morgan. Morgan has previously demonstrated the propensity to pick up cheap fouls and there should be minutes available for Horford to make an impact.

Why Not? Despite his potential, Horford looked like the game was moving too fast for him last season. He was late on defensive rotations and just seemed a step behind the game at times. That “aha moment” tends to come at different times for different players and there’s no guaranteeing that the game will slow down for Jon as a sophomore. While his potential oozes, Jon is still far from physically imposing. He’s been working hard to develop strength but he needs to combine that with more aggression on both ends.

Jordan Morgan

Why? Morgan improved significantly during his redshirt season, exceeding almost everyone’s expectations in his first season of play in a maize and blue uniform. He ran the less glorious end of the pick-and-roll, as a screener, effectively, always seeming to make the right cut. Morgan averaged a very solid nine points and seven rebounds per game despite a limited offensive skill set.

Why Not? If Morgan can demonstrate a solid back to the basket game, or a nice 10-15 foot jump shot, his offensive game will improve by leaps and bounds. Until he proves that he has those offensive tools, and without Darius Morris running the pick-and-roll, it’s tough to project Morgan as a surefire pick to make a dramatic improvement for the second consecutive season.

The Less Likely Candidates

Stu Douglass and Zack Novak are probably about what they are at this point. Both have steadily improved, and provide a lot to the team, but are unlikely to make the jump from 8-10 point per game scorer to 15 point scorer.

Blake McLimans was the designated shooter that couldn’t shoot last season. Improvement should be expected, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect him to shoot the ball much better next season, but his game isn’t diverse enough to develop into more than a role player next season.

Matt Vogrich improved as a shooter, and provided Michigan with a huge boost off of the bench in key moments, but has the downside of playing behind most of Michigan’s most established quantities. Tim Hardaway Jr. will be the primary shot take on next year’s team and demand a majority of the minutes at the three, while the two position might be the deepest (numbers wise) on Michigan’s roster. Even if Vogirch improves, it’s unclear where he will find enough minutes and shots to qualify as a breakout performer.

Speaking of Hardaway, he’s not a candidate for this list because he’s expected to carry the team. He was the second best freshman in last year’s Big Ten season and averaged 17 points per game over Michigan’s final 16 contests. His season will be about living up to expectations, not transforming into a new player.

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  • Kevd21

    As regards to Smote….he has to go to the basket with much more authority and not this flippy cup finger roll he always did!!!!  God that annoyed me sooo much.  GO STRONG TO THE HOLE

  • Brian_W_97

    I’ll go with Evan as the potential breakout player.  I have a feeling Horford could surprise, though.

    ESPN has a report about Indiana Elite’s AAU program, which is worth seeing.

    Also, OSU’s Ray Small opened the can of worms wide open in regards to selling things and getting discounts on cars.


    • Mattski

      Yes. Increasingly likely that this thing hits the basketball team, too.

  • Anonymous

    The freshmen aren’t candidates for breakout players?  I think we’re gonna need Burke and/or Brundidge to “break out” at the 1, or else NO ONE will break out next year.  Strong PG play is not optional.

    • Sood

      I don’t think freshmen can have breakout years. They’ve done nothing – at the college level – to break out from yet. 

      Doesn’t mean they can’t have very good years, though.

      • Anonymous

        I think THJR had a breakout year last year.  To me, a breakout year is performing far beyond the expectations.

  • Kenny

    there is an interesting video on NY times website on cross-over. It is interesting that Iverson learned his cross-over move not until he played in Georgetown. It gives me hope that THJ might be able to pick some moves from his daddy this off-season and improves his handle significantly. 

    THJr was effective running ball screen with Morgan, if the two freshmen struggle, I can see Beilein let THJr run point at crutch time.  

    • Mattski

      People should check that if they can–might only be there today. Shows Iverson putting an NBA defender on the floor TWICE in the same sequence as he crosses over en route to the basket. Really something. 

      • Guest

        Of course it helps that AI carry/palm the ball all the time in the NBA which is part of the reason why it worked in the NBA.

        • Mattski

          Did you watch it? Iverson talks at length about that question. You can study that simulations at your–ahem–leisure. 

          • Guest

            Sure AI talked about it but it’s obvious that he palm the ball.

    • Anonymous

      There’s no reason a basketball player can’t learn new moves at any point in his playing career.  Dwight Howard developed more post moves this past off-season with help from Hakeem.  Jordan changed his game a bit when he became less explosive. I’m sure THJr. will keep adding more polish to an already impressive game.  I’m sure his handle will get better.

  • Mattski

    I expect Horford to come up big this year. And for some reason, I think that a confident Stu Douglass could be a huge plus for the tea. That is very encouraging news about Smot’s growth, too. As many aspects of his game that could be improved, it’s very much about the confidence with him, too.

  • Anonymous

    While I’m not sure of the level of credibility of this website, it is interesting to note #10 and #17 on this list:

    • Anonymous

      I’m not saying THJr. couldn’t be a top 10 pick in 2 years but you have to wonder about credibility when they can’t even finish mocking the first round. 

    • DIU_BLUE

      The “” should be a give-away.  That site has no cred.  Interesting no less

    • Anthony

      Any mock who does not have anthony davis in the top 10 has no credibility he doesnt have barnes,sullinger, and plenty others that came back on there either…

      • Anonymous

        In the guy’s defense, it was for 2013 so I’m assuming he’s assuming those guys will be in the 2012 draft.

        • Anonymous

          Yeah, before you comment about how Anthony Davis, Jared Sullinger, and Harrison Barnes aren’t listed, you might want to check the draft year that is posted. Obviously those guys are going to be lottery picks next season, which at least this blogger realizes and is smart enough to not include them. As I said, I am not backing him up by any means, but I’m sure he has somewhat of a clue to even know who Jon Horford is.

    • JBlair52

      #16 is interesting too

  • Anonymous

    When I saw the lead to this post, I tried to think who I would pick.  I came up with the same 3 players and in the same order.  So yeah, right on Dylan.

  • Anonymous

    It would take a combination of injuries and/or players struggling for him to get the chance, but Eso could be a surprise if the circustances lead to a turn to him.

  • Andrew

    Show some love to Colton Christian.

  • Brian_W_97

    Article/interview with Zach Banner, who is being recruited by Michigan for both football and basketball…

    Article on Zack Novak’s pro hopes in 2012, with quotes from Darius…

    • Anonymous

      Wow.  I mean, I’ve got Novak’s bloody forehead as my avatar.  But the NBA?  I hope D-Mo is right again (and I’m wrong again).  Novak is obviously tough and competitive.  We know he can shoot the 3 pretty well.  He rebounds better than anyone 6-4 should.  But to get drafted and make an NBA roster would require a blow up senior year, particularly from a scoring stand point.  That sounds good to me.

    • Anonymous

      And since when does Novak have red hair??

  • Paul

    Great post as always!  I think Vogrich will be better than he’s given credit for here

  • Anonymous

    Like the analysis and agree. I feel like we kinda know what we’re going to get with Morgan. I suppose he could develop some true post moves but I more just expect him to be a solid contributor. Smot and Horford though have some big time upside and I expect one will have a very good year.

  • Bill

    Coach K and Izzo both made comments about how Evan created match up problems for them that’s enough for me. I also think if Blake can find his confidence he could cause the same kind of match up problems. Morgan is a very smart player who understands how to get open and make himself available. I thought he broke out already. If Jon keeps giving great effort like he did last year he will do just fine love watching him play because he wants to improve.