Notebook: LeVert-Stauskas backcourt a possibility

Michigan 61, Syracuse 56 extra-41The rumblings have been there throughout the offseason practices, and while the Michigan assistant coaches were on WTKA’s Michigan Insider Tuesday morning, LaVall Jordan finally came out and said it: Caris LeVert could see minutes at point guard this season.

“I wouldn’t hold that (LeVert and Nik Stauskas playing in the backcourt together) out of the realm of possibility,” Jordan said to Sam Webb during the show. “And (LeVert) played point guard in high school. They would put the ball in his hands late-game, and he was the guy who would initiate the offense and take care of the basketball.”

This may come as a surprise to Michigan fans who watched LeVert as a freshman last year. Often the Pickerington, OH native seemed to rush things on the court and didn’t do a great job of taking care of the ball. He certainly wasn’t a facilitator on the floor.

But a lot can change in one offseason. Jordan said that LeVert has improved tremendously and is up to about 190 pounds. Moreover, LeVert has a natural advantage over smaller guards, for whom visibility of passing lanes can be an issue against taller defenders.

“With Caris and Nik in the backcourt, it gives you a little more of a Darius Morris feel, where guys at the position as a passer, some guys like Trey and maybe Derrick Walton now, they can’t deliver, just due to size,” Jordan said.

But even more than the obvious physical changed LeVert has undergone, it’s his more cerebral approach to the game that has impressed Jordan — and convinced him LeVert has the ability to contribute at the point guard position.

“Last year, his role was a defender, an energy guy off the bench, and anything else was kind of bonus points,” Jordan said. “Whereas this year, he’s really gotten into his film study. The game has slowed down for him, his pace is much, much better and his ability to make decisions to where you can put him in those positions is something we feel comfortable with this year.”

With two players already competing for minutes at the point guard spot, it isn’t likely LeVert would take over the point guard position on a full-time basis. However, this revelation does give Michigan some very interesting options in its guard rotation. If the Wolverines wish to go big on the perimeter, LeVert at the lead guard position opens up the opportunity for a LeVert-Stauskas-Glenn Robinson III look at the first three spots. With each standing at a long 6-foot-6, this could present a defensive nightmare for opposing teams.

With so much speculation swirling around about Michigan’s possible lineups, this throws an added factor into an already-confusing situation. However, Michigan coaches stress that their goal in both recruiting and player development is versatility, and this development would make for even more options for this staff to tinker with.

Glenn Robinson III breaks Michigan’s vertical leap testing device

So he didn’t “break” it, but Michigan assistant Jeff Meyer revealed that Robinson is the first player in the program’s history to reach its limit of 12-feet, three inches. The ridiculousness of that statement is obvious after a quick glance at this list from DraftExpress of the highest vertical jumps recorded at the combine since the NBA began tracking such numbers. At 12-foot-3, Robinson’s max-vertical reach would be tied for the sixth-highest on that list.

But there’s even better news: his vertical leap is only one of the ways Robinson has shown improvement from last season during Michigan’s first 15 practices of the year. According to Meyer, Robinson has greatly improved his ball handling, even working some with LaVall Jordan, who usually works with the point guards.

“He’s worked very diligently in July — we kind of shifted and allowed the best point guard coach in the country to work with Glenn, with his ball handling. Vall did a great job of putting him through a series of skill development drills,” Meyer said. “Glenn on his own has really worked hard at improving in that area, which is putting the ball on the floor. I think, in terms of the first 15 practices, his ability to take the ball end-to-end with the bounce has definitely improved, his ability to negotiate ball screens, reading the defense and then playing based on what the defense is giving has improved. Through our first 15 practices, I think he’s at 16 assists to three turnovers, so he’s really improved in that area and I know he’s taken a lot of pride in improving in that area.”

All of this indicates Robinson has been gunning throughout the off-season for the three position, and the areas in which he’s improved indicate that he’ll be ready to take on more of an active role in creating his own shots from the perimeter. Robinson wants to be the ball handler in pick-and-roll scenarios and he wants to prove he can score off the bounce.

The athleticism is — and has been — there. If Robinson has made marked improvement in his ball handling and decision-making off the dribble, he’ll be free to spend more time on the perimeter this season.

Mitch McGary’s health is steadily improving

One of the most pressing questions throughout the fall has been whether or not Mitch McGary will be healthy to start the season. The short answer: we still don’t know. However, Michigan assistant coach Bacari Alexander shed some light on his rehabilitation activities Tuesday morning.

“We expect that he’ll get back to form fairly quickly,” Alexander said. “He’s already back to stationary shooting in practice and running in the underwater treadmill.”

McGary’s usage early on in the season remains to be seen, but Michigan coaches are talking like they expect to have him. By Alexander’s account, McGary’s transition to the four position has gone well outside of this injury hiccup.

“I thought this summer that Mitch did a tremendous job with increasing his shooting range,” Alexander said. “In the summer, we all were excited to see Mitch because, in addition to his motor, he was able to add the ability to put the ball on the floor and make plays for others in a controlled situation versus what he used to be as a freshman, which was a bull in a china shop. Having said that, I thought he really did a nice job knocking down perimeter jumpers from 3, as he was working on his migration plan to the four position. There were days when he was really dominant, and that excited all of us.”

He added what has been a consistent refrain from the Michigan coaching staff — in order for more of the offense to run through McGary, a la Syracuse last year, the big man needs to value the basketball.

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