Ask the Beat: Which departing player will be missed the most?

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan 56, Ohio State 51- 25Michigan at Illinois 19Michigan 5622012-01-21
Over the coming days and weeks we’ll be debating the 2012-13 Michigan basketball team with a number of people that cover the team daily. In a new feature called Ask the Beat we reached out to Michigan basketball beat writers to answer some of our questions about this year’s team. Rod Beard of the Detroit NewsNick Baumgardner of, Joe and Rob White of iSportsWeb  all agreed to join up. Our first question looks at which of Michigan’s departing rotation players will be missed the most this year.

Which departing player – Zack Novak, Stu Douglass or Evan Smotrycz – will be missed the most in 2012-13?

Rod Beard (Detroit News): Probably Novak, obviously for the leadership. He was a vocal leader and wasn’t afraid to get riled up to try to motivate the team. They played for him and after the loss to Ohio in the NCAA tournament, the players were disappointed that they didn’t win a game for Novak and Douglass. The big question mark is whether someone else will be able to fit into that role — probably not — but Novak was a unique player and leader and it’s too hard to try to replace. This group may not need an emotional leader in the Novak mold, so they’ll have to figure out what they need and try to be that type of leader. Smotrycz provided some versatility, but with the arrival of Robinson, Stauskas and McGary, they’ll be able to make up for it.

Nick Baumgardner ( Novak, probably without a doubt.

Douglass was a fine complimentary leader, but that was always Novak’s team — no question about it. Players looked to him for motivation and all those things you want from a captain at some point in just about every game. Michigan just can’t replace that. Few teams could, to be honest.

I’m not sure Michigan will find a singular leader inside its locker room this season, and it certainly won’t find one as polished at the skill as Novak was. It’ll likely take a team effort to replace what he brought to the table.

From a production standpoint? I think the combination of Nik Stauskas, Matt Vogrich and Spike Albrecht can replace what Douglass brought — shooting, small backup point guard minutes.

Smotrycz is an underrated loss, to a degree. He completely disappeared when the schedule got tough last season, but just having the threat of a 6-foot-9 four or five-man who could knock down the 3 was something teams had to always prepare for.

They absolutely won’t this season.

Joe White (iSportsWeb): I’ll start by saying that I don’t think they’ll miss Evan Smotrycz at all. He disappeared during Big Ten play last year, lost all confidence, and simply needed a fresh start that he wisely sought out.

The easy answer to the question is Novak, because his leadership was so obvious. But as much as he led with his heart on his sleeve, Douglass was just as important, especially after losses. Novak was nearly inconsolable after his team lost while Douglass would put a smile on, address the media with poise, and assure us all that the team was still headed in the right direction. Both styles of leadership will be sorely missed but since we’re having the discussion, and since Novak produced at a higher statistical level throughout his career, I’m going with the easy answer: Zack Novak.

Dylan Burkhardt (UM I’m going with a different answer here. Zack Novak’s extraordinary leadership can’t be over appreciated or undervalued. It meant everything for Michigan last year. As Rod, Nick and Joe stated above, it’ll be nearly impossible to replace and will require a leadership-by-committee approach. From a purely basketball standpoint, I’m a bit more concerned about losing Stu Douglass.

Douglass’s career numbers are fairly innocuous: 29 minutes, seven points, two rebounds and two assists per game. He used less than 15 percent of Michigan’s offensive possessions and shot just 34% from three point range last season. His offensive skill and production is certainly replaceable.

Defensively, Douglass might have been the most important Wolverine a season ago. Douglass averaged 33 minutes per game last season because he was hands down Michigan’s best perimeter defender. He could play on the ball, off the ball and was willing to work on the defensive end. Losing Douglass’s perimeter defense will be a significant blow because there’s not a natural option to replace him. Trey Burke has the quickness but asking your best offensive player to be your best defensive player is a massive burden. Hardaway has never been known for his defensive abilities and shifting toward guarding quicker players at the two isn’t likely to help. Matt Vogrich and Nik Stauskas are two likely candidates to replace Douglass’s perimeter shooting but neither are suited to fill a defensive void. Freshman Glenn Robinson III has the quickness, strength and athleticism to defend nearly every position on the floor but he’s just that, a freshman. It’s very rare that any true freshman arrives on campus ready to be a lockdown defender.

There’s been plenty of talk about front court depth and athleticism and this being one of John Beilein’s best defensive teams but don’t overlook the loss of Michigan’s most experienced and steady perimeter defender. John Beilein might be a bit concerned as well, reports are that Michigan’s been working almost entirely on the defensive end throughout off-season workouts.

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  • gobluemd16

    No disrespect at all to you Dylan, but there is no doubt that Novak is the biggest loss to the team. I understand where you are coming from with Douglass’ defensive prowess, but Novak’s shooting last season cannot be overlooked, either. And, of course, there is his unquestioned leadership that cannot be measured in statistics. As the others reiterated, we don’t know who on this team will fill that void. Such a characteristic cannot be overlooked, and I really think leadership will play a huge role in the success of this year’s team; the sky is the limit with the talent that’s on the roster.

    • Dyenimator

      Stu was just as much of a leader as Zack.

  • BlueRev

    Thought it was the easiest question ever–Zach Novak…
    but now you are scaring me man! Douglass–really? But your analysis of Stu’s perimeter defense being picked up by our three likely 2’s is a bit spooky.
    It would be nice to have a few more steals out of that spot, but wouldn’t trade that for a guy who was always in his spot on defense. Steals lead to easy buckets, but consistent defense wears individuals and teams down–and that is what SD gave us.

    We may have lost some offense but rarely does a team have 5 go-to guys anyway–yet you need 5 guys giving it all on defense. iow, the offense gained doesn’t offset defense lost.

    HOWEVER… JB will find a way to minimize that–team length and athleticism could lead to more 1-3-1, matchup zone, etc. WHEN WE PLAY SMALL w/GR3 at the 4.
    And WHEN WE BIG w/GR3 at the 2/3 I see us strong defensively–high expectations of GR3’s ball-hawking and overall defensive rebounding with 2 true bigs of McG, JMo, JH, et al.

    As I’ve said all along–I like the idea of UM with 2 posts more often than small this year… when we go small then maybe it is Stu we “miss more” but I think 2/3 of game we have 2 posts on floor–and “miss” Novak more–although no slight to Zach, but I do expect McG, JMo, JH to outplay him there. So I’ll say we miss Zach more–but ultimately we have fond memories and gratitude for each and grateful of them paving the road for future UM statesmen with better court abilities.

  • I agree that Novak will be missed, in more ways than can be measured. Wasn’t trying to take anything away from that, and everyone else did a good job of pointing out why, but Douglass is something a lot of people forget and something I really worry about.

  • jblair52

    Douglass IMO. He was a leader as well, you just don’t see him yelling and going crazy like Novak so you don’t understand that.

    Douglass was excellent on perimeter defense, his quick release, and leadership.

    Novak 1b. good range, hustle, leadership but I won’t “miss” having a 6’3″ post player.

    Both players stepped up in big moments in their careers.

    Smotrycz – meh, he could have been better but I didn’t appreciate his outlook/attitude

  • Steve2081

    From personal standpoint its impossible to pick between Zack and Stu.

    On the court I don’t think we’ll miss any of them all that much.

    • geoffclarke

      Hear, hear.

    • Northern Blue

      I think we will miss Stu more so than people think on the court. Secondary ball handler, top perimeter defender, and clutch shooting. His percentages could have been better, but just like Zack he also did a lot of the little things that help you win, and although we expect to see Tim moved to the 2 spot, Tim is best suited for the 3 and no other player on this roster can bring the total package at the 2 that Stu did in my opinion. Stauskas could bring a lot, but as a freshmen it would shock me if his defence was half as good as Stu’s.

  • Quick Darshan

    Agree on Douglass. I don’t trust Albrecht to backup the point in Big 10 play. And it also remains to be seen whether Stauskas can, so it’ll probably be Eso.

    While GR3 probably can’t shoot like Novak, he can match his versatility. And I think Beilfeldt will ably replace Smotrycz

  • IPFW_Wolverine

    I hope someone steps up to fill the leadership void left by Novak and Douglass. The last time Michigan lost two leaders like this was when CJ Lee and David Merritt graduated. The following season without them was awful. I don’t think this years team will drop off to that level but there could certainly be struggles until a leader emerges.

  • bsand2053

    I feel bad for Stu. Novack always gets the leadership cred since he was so emotional and made the highlight “grit” plays. Stu, as Joe White pointed out, has the less noticeable style, and therefore doesn’t get nearly as much credit.

  • geoffclarke

    On defense and Stu, I think Stu himself said it best: “Defensively, there needs to be a lot of focus. Team defense is key in the Big Ten. There is going to be a need for guys to really take pride in the defensive end…”

  • Erik Drake

    Completely agree with Douglass. I bet we’ll see more zone from this team than we’ve seen thus far from Beilein at Michigan.

  • A2JD

    Zack. Hands down.

  • Goblue8888

    Novak did a lot and I will probably be bashed for saying this but Novak was bad defensively, actually he was awful. A lot of people will say it was becauseGobl he had to guard taller 4’s but I always thought he struggled more when teams went smaller (see Terons Johnson of purdue). Because of this I definitely think Stu will be missed more.

  • Giebz

    Zack’s leadership will be missed, but I think people overlook how much he contributed offensively to last year’s team. The freshman are obviously better athletes, but Novak was a four year starter with Beilein and he understood the Beilein offense better than anyone else. The offense flowed better when he was on the floor, more open looks for everyone.

  • JimmyZ5

    On the court is has to be Douglass. We all love Novak for his intangibles, but a 6″4 power forward is not going to be a huge loss outside of those leadership qualities and ability to stretch the floor. Douglass, on the other hand, was our best on the ball defender, a steady ball-handler with a high IQ, and an underrated passer. Plus he has some of the “clutch” gene and could really get hot. The traits that we’ll miss the most is the perimeter defending– 6″3 with enough quickness and smarts to guard most team’s go-to. — and the secondary point guard abilities. Burke played big minutes and stayed healthy last season, but who do we go to if/when he needs a breath? Eso? Spike? Stauskas?

    To summarize: perimeter defending and a secondary ballhandling are two of my biggest concerns this season. Douglass would have solved both of those. Leadership changes hands all the time and I think we have capable heirs.