Many fans and even some analysts had the same question when Hunter Dickinson announced his return to Michigan for his sophomore year …
“Will the big man want to become a jump shooter, and how will that affect coach Juwan Howard’s third U-M team?”
NBA teams, after all, told him they want to see him expand his range and prove he can make jumpers (and yes, three-pointers) in games the way he did during workouts for them. That’s what today’s NBA big men do, and it’s especially important for Dickinson given his struggles with lateral movement and lack of elite athleticism.
“You have to balance the need for him to develop individually with what’s going to be best for the Michigan team this year,” former Northwestern standout and current Big Ten Network analyst Shon Morris said. “They’ll have to figure out the best way to incorporate his individual needs with what the team is going to need from him from November to March.”
That might be tough for some who have the NBA at the top of their lists, as many do. Dickinson absolutely does, too, and has made no secret of it.
But putting himself above the team just “isn’t in his DNA,” assistant coach Phil Martelli noted.
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“He knows individual accolades come from team success,” Martelli said, scoffing at the notion there might be concern the big man would use this season as an NBA audition.
“Uh … no. Not at all,” he continued. “And I would only flash back for the fans [who might be concerned] — Jon Teske was an effective shooter, but he put up good numbers [in practice]. Hunter has to prove that in practice, and then Juwan is going to fuel that.
“But it has to be in practice, first. He was 0-for-4 from three last year, and because we chart everything, it wasn’t as if his numbers in practice last year would lead you to believe, ‘man, we kind of missed something with him.’”
Howard will do everything he can to improve that part of his game, and it’s already begun. He’s hands on when working with his big men, and he’s going to a) make sure he spends plenty of time on it and b) makes scouts aware of what’s going on with his progress, too.
“Juwan is such an honorable guy and has such a special relationship with Hunter,” Martelli said. “He was so supportive of him going through this, so you know 30 teams are going to come in and watch practice. They are going to see what he does in practice.
“But there’s no mistaking this — when we open the season with Buffalo, we’re trying to win that game. If that means Hunter gets 15 touches on the block, so be it, man, if it’s that kind of line.”
At the same time, former Michigan head coach and Big Ten Network analyst John Beilein said, Dickinson can and probably will be a great high post player, too. He’s a good free throw shooter (73 percent last year) who seemed to be aiming or guiding his jumpers last year, Martelli noted, and they’ll work with him on it.
The possibilities for the offense if he can play both in the low and high blocks … well, they’re scary for opposing teams, Morris said.
“I think that will be maybe not as big a transition for him as you might think,” he said. “He’s a really good foul shooter. It’s not as if you’re trying to take a sub-50 percent foul shooter and make him comfortable shooting from the elbow.
“And I don’t think he has to become a three-point guy [to prove himself to scouts]. I don’t think that’s going to be his deal. But being able to move out and maybe play a little bit at the high post, maybe knock down the occasional jump shot to keep things honest … that’s probably some of the feedback he got.”
That comes with repetition, he noted, and not thinking — just shooting. That part of the training has already begun, and it should only make the Wolverines a better team in 2021.