Caris LeVert could be a difference-maker for Michigan in 2013-14.
There is nothing less exciting than the offseason. The Michigan basketball program is looking to build off of its first Final Four appearance in 20 years, yet the regular season is still five months away. Wolverine fans are undoubtedly getting anxious as well.
Two players in particular should reward the Maize and Blue faithful for the long wait during the 2013-14 campaign. One is an incoming freshman, while the other served as a defensive specialist for much of last year. Both are set up to be overachievers for the upcoming season.
The departures of Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke will help these rising talents. Those losses have opened up two spots in the starting lineup.
Unfortunately for Michigan's guards, head coach John Beilein is thinking about beefing up the frontcourt. To do so, Beilein is formulating plans for a starting lineup featuring two big men.
This should not have much of an effect on the potential overachievers, though. Summer position battles at shooting guard and point guard will set the bar for the following pair of players. Let's take a look at who is set up to be a pleasant surprise for the Wolverines this season:
Despite the fact Caris LeVert was one of Michigan's top defenders in 2012-13, offensive struggles limited his minutes.
The lanky Ohioan averaged just 2.3 points per game on 31.5 percent shooting as a true freshman. Do not expect LeVert to put up those same kind of numbers in his sophomore campaign. According to assistant coach Bacari Alexander, LeVert has grown over an inch and is putting in the time to develop his offense.
Alexander discussed LeVert's work ethic and frame on WTKA 1050 last week:
"(LeVert) spends an enormous amount of time in the gym working on his skill set and refining what he does,” Alexander said . “I’ll give him 6-foot-6 and a half, to temper everyone’s enthusiasm, but he’s doing a great job of adding on the pounds. When he walked through the door he was probably 6-foot-5, 162 pounds...He got up to about 6-foot-5 and a half and 185 pounds. We’re hoping to get him in the 195 pound range going into next season. He’s working diligently towards that.”
Others have been praising LeVert recently as well. Rising redshirt junior forward Jon Horford told Kyle Meinke of MLive.com LeVert will be "a force in the future." Hardaway believes the Pickerington Central High School alum could be the X-factor for the Wolverines in 2013-14.
Believe everything coming out of Ann Arbor right now. LeVert is going to take a major step forward offensively this season. Nik Stauskas may be starting at the 2, but LeVert could steal that spot if the former does not improve defensively.
Either way, LeVert will play tenacious defense and eat up some of the minutes left behind by Hardaway. With a potent combination of length and quickness, LeVert can match up with small forwards and shooting guards. This means Beilein can find plenty of different ways to get him on the floor.
Do not expect to see LeVert struggling with his jump shot for much longer. The added weight will also allow him to make some more plays in the lane and at the rim.
No Wolverine will be under more pressure this season than Derrick Walton. The 4-star prospect will be tasked with replacing Wooden Award-winning point guard Trey Burke.
Need more evidence of the weight Walton will have to carry as a frosh? ESPN.com's Reggie Rankin believes the No. 30 overall prospect is "the key" to Michigan's success in 2013-14.
Fortunately, Walton will have plenty of weapons around him. Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary are both potential lottery picks. Jordan Morgan is a savvy veteran in the paint and Nik Stauskas will be lurking on the perimeter. Having Zak Irvin, Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert at his disposal only adds to the variety of offensive threats.
Unlike Burke, Beilein is not going to ask Walton to be the team's go-to scorer. Instead, the 6'0", 165-pounder will focus on setting up his teammates with easy finishes. Assistant coach LaVall Jordan does not believe this will be a problem for the newcomer.
"Derrick can really handle. He has great vision,” Jordan said on WTKA 1050. “He’s like Spike on steroids, the way that Spike sees the game and kind of has a fearlessness about him and can handle and make plays for others and put the ball in positions where guys don’t have to work hard to finish the play.”
Those comments alone should have Michigan fans across the country excited. Another thing to be giddy about is the fact Walton thrives in the open floor. Scoring in transition will be the Wolverines' greatest strength while he is running the show.
As long as Walton is able to take care of the basketball, there is no reason why he cannot be an overachiever. A strong supporting cast will lead to a high assist average for the Detroit native. Walton is also a streaky jump shooter, which could lead to some dynamic scoring stretches.
Overall, Walton will undoubtedly endure some growing pains. His successes, though, will outnumber his shortcomings. Expect a strong freshman campaign from Walton, who is tailor-made for Beilein's offense.
If this prediction holds true, Michigan will once again be knocking on the door of a second straight Final Four run and a second Big Ten Conference title in three seasons.
Considering the circumstances, an above-average year from Walton would make Wolverine fans very happy come season's end.
Follow me on Twitter: @Zach_Dirlam.