A Closer Look: Evan Smotrycz

Dylan Burkhardt

Ken Pomeroy released his first series of individual player statistics for the 2011 season on Sunday afternoon which allows us to dive a little deeper into the performance of notable 2011 Wolverines. The first player we’ll examine is Evan Smotrycz. A large jump in production was expected from Smotrycz this season. At the time he was committed he was the most highly regarded commitment of John Beilein’s tenure, his skillset is a great fit for John Beilein’s offense and he spent the summer adding muscle necessary to compete in the Big Ten.

Smotrycz has shown improvement through eight games but his performances have been far from frustration free. Despite those sometimes maddening moments, he’s on track to improve in almost every statistical category this season.

It’s only a seven game sample size (Pomeroy only includes D1 opponents) but the numbers don’t lie:


No one is going to call Smotrycz an imposing force in the paint but there’s no denying that he’s a more aggressive player this season. His turnaround has started inside the arc – the area of the floor he tended to avoid as a freshman. He attempted 61% of his field goals from three point range as a freshman compared to 34% this season. Even more importantly, Smotrycz is making his two pointers at a higher rate this season. He’s been almost twice as effective on both of the offensive and defensive glass and is even blocking more shots than we saw a season ago.

Iowa-State-at-Michigan-22-400x600[1]The rebounding stands out as the most encouraging development with Smotrycz’s game. At 6-foot-9, Smotrycz’s freshman rebounding numbers were barely a shade above unacceptable. His defensive rebounding rate as a freshman compared to players like Keith Appling, Alex Marcotullio and Ryne Smith and was markedly lower than guards like Talor Battle, Josh Gaser and Verdell Jones. This year Evan is one of Michigan’s top two rebounders and ranks in the top 10 of eligible Big Ten players in defensive rebounding percentage. Smotrycz has matched or surpassed his freshman year best single game rebound total of seven in three of Michigan’s eight games.

Despite all of the improvements statistically, it has still been maddening to watch Smotrycz play at times this season. One of the primary reasons why is obvious: fouls. Smotrycz has been unable to shake the tendency to pick up ticky tack fouls and it has significantly limited his playing time. He’s being whistled for 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes which is .8 fouls more per 40 than a season ago and the second worst rate among Big Ten players that have played over 40% of their teams minutes this season.

Smotrycz has picked up two first half fouls in three games and averages his first foul call by the second media timeout. He’s only made it to the 15 minute mark in the second half with less than two fouls in one game this season and has fouled out in three of the last four games.

Smotrycz’s foul problems might be compounded by his second problem – his on court demeanor. He’s playing a more physical style of basketball – defensively, on the glass and diving for loose balls – but he still seems to get frustrated too easily. He has the tendency to let bad stretches of play early affect his whole game and is certainly apt to pick up frustration fouls.

Evan’s improvement has been as impressive and tangible as any other player on the Michigan roster but he also hasn’t come close to his potential. Michigan needs him to be a guy that can play 30 minutes per game at the four and five, provide match-up problems, hold his own defensively and score the ball. Those are significant expectations but this offense is dying for a No. 3 scorer and Smotrycz’s skillset fits the bill. As the season progresses, Smotrycz’s production is certain to be a bellwether of Michigan’s success.

  • mikey_mac

    Very nice analysis. Is there a way to compare his competition so far this season against the production of an “average” 4? I ask this because it seems that UM has faced a healthy number of very good power forwards, and that may be contributing to his foul totals somewhat, since defense is not his forte.

  • eddieben

    To me it seems like much of Evan’s foul woes are from laziness or slow-footedness.  He always seems a half step late on defense, whether it be on ball or by rotating to the ball. Both of those issues seem coachable and fixable (I hope).  The encouraging thing, and the thing that I keep reminding myself of, is that during the preseason practice sessions, Beilein kept mentioning that Evan was by far the most improved and most impressive on the squad.  Though we haven’t seen Evan put together a complete game yet, I have to believe one is on the way and it will feel very good–and very much needed for his (and our) confidence.

    • His production is certainly the most improved of any Michigan players.

  • GregGoBlue

    With increased 2-point shooting this year (which is a good thing), Evan has also struggled with his 2-point shot selection. From a purely observational standpoint, it appears that he’s getting a number of his shots blocked this season on looks that simply aren’t open. I like the new aggressiveness out of Smot, especially on the glass, and I think as the season goes along he’ll be smarter about which shots to put up and which ones to kick out.

  • Kool Breeze

    The parts of Evan’s game that drives me nuts are:

    1.  The way he finishes when taking the ball to the basket, instead of going strong he usually throws up some prayer.  Doesn’t make sense, go up strong get it block, get fouled or make the shot.
    2.  He is two careless with the ball or not strong enough with it, or both.  It seems he does not know how to protect the ball when getting pressured by good defenders.

    I do like the fact that he is being more aggressive, but at times it looks as though he is trying to do too much rather then letting the game come to him.

    • Kenny

      He is not used to playing inside yet and he needs to add more upper body strength. Certain things do not happen over an off season.

  • 702burkeacre

    Great post, and the most encouraging thing to me about Smotrycz is he seems to be constantly improving, game to game. You pointed out that he lets a bad start get in his head, but on the flip side I see his confidence snowball once he has an “aha!” moment. Particularly true re: his growing some balls the past few games, driving to the hoop.

  • Mattski

    I find the numbers hard to read–he’s seeing 11% more playing time? Still very early days. Did he start last year? He seems more confident, in his shot, from what I can make out. Rebounds are a huge plus.

  • mitch

    He has been frustrating to watch,  He has such heavy looking legs.  He really seems to force things and is always complaining.  He is only a sophomore so he can turn things around hopefully.

  • section13row15

    Kool Breez mentioned my biggest frustration with Evan. He is lazy with protecting the ball when he catches it on the perimeter. This has resulted in several turnovers leading to easy baskets. Also, his rebounding numbers have improved but he still doesn’t go strong enough after boards. There were two times against Iowa State where he didn’t even get 2 inches off the ground when reaching for the ball. It’s frustrating for a guy with his height to not go up stronger to get the ball at its highest point.