Michigan Basketball: Ranking Wolverines' 5 Most Indispensible Players

Zach DirlamSenior Analyst IIAugust 19, 2013

Michigan Basketball: Ranking Wolverines' 5 Most Indispensible Players

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    Not all players are equal in terms of their importance to a particular team, and Michigan has a few who are completely irreplaceable. Position, impact on the final box score and what a particular individual provides to a club strategically all factor into the equation of indispensability. 

    Head coach John Beilein's group would struggle to contend nationally this season without a few of these players. 

    Losing any of the following players to injury, suspension or any other unforeseen circumstance would be a devastating blow. Some losses would sting worse than others. It is time to rank the most indispensable members of the 2013-14 Wolverines.

5. Nik Stauskas

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    Let me be clear about one thing, Nik Stauskas is only indispensable to the Michigan Wolverines when his three-point shots are falling. Otherwise, up-and-coming studs Caris LeVert and Zak Irvin are much more important. Especially considering Stauskas' defense is suspect at best.

    It is hard to doubt him, though, given the fact he shot 44 percent from beyond the arc in 2012-13. Only nine players with more than 150 attempts from that distance were more efficient than Stauskas.

    However, the rising sophomore's three-point percentage can be a bit misleading.

    In games against ranked opponents and the NCAA tournament, Stauskas went just 18-of-59 (34 percent) from long range. Similar numbers in Michigan's most important games this season will make him replaceable. 

    A more balanced lineup should help create some more open looks for Stauskas in 2013-14. Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III and Derrick Walton will command the bulk of attention from opposing defenses. When the 6'6", 190-pounder plays alongside Irvin and/or Spike Albrecht, teams will have to hedge their bets.

    Hopefully, Stauskas' struggles on the biggest of stages had to do with youth and inexperience. If so, and he shines in the Wolverines' toughest contests, the Canadian product's value rises immensely. 

4. Spike Albrecht

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    Although Derrick Walton will likely be the Michigan Wolverines starting point guard, it never hurts to have a solid No. 2 like Spike Albrecht. After all, Walton is just a true freshman and will undoubtedly endure some growing pains. These will be the times Michigan needs Albrecht's experience more than ever.

    What the Crown Point, Ind. native lacks in athleticism, he makes up for with tremendous passion and a high basketball IQ. A smooth shooting stroke never hurts either.

    Look no further than Albrecht's 17-point outburst in last season's national championship game for evidence of those three traits.

    Albrecht has a huge chip on his shoulder, Appalachian State basketball coach Jason Capel told Ryan Kransoo of Sports Illustrated. If you look at him he’s not the first guy you’re going to pick to be on your team, but the second you see him start playing you realize that his team is going to win more games than not.

    Walton is not going to be able to shoulder the same weight Wooden Award-winner Trey Burke did in 2012-13. Not too many players could handle it. This means Albrecht is going to see an increase in minutes at the point. John Beilein will likely play the rising sophomore at shooting guard in certain situations as well.

    A year ago, Michigan would have been just fine without Albrecht in all but a couple of games. This season, his presence will be an important key to the Wolverines' success. 

3. Derrick Walton

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    The word coming out of Ann Arbor as it relates to Derrick Walton has been overwhelmingly positive. This should allow the Maize and Blue faithful to worry less about who will fill Trey Burke's shoes. It also means Walton is going to be one of the most important cogs in the Michigan Wolverines' rotation.

    This is not an attempt to compare the 4-star prospect to Burke. Sure, both play a similar style of basketball, but one is a Wooden Award winner, the other is a freshman adapting to the college level.

    It would be foolish to believe Walton cannot guide the Wolverines to a Big Ten Conference title, or a second straight Final Four, though. These are the goals Michigan's current group has set for itself. Neither is out of the question the way Walton is playing right now.

    (Michigan) add(s) a point guard in Derrick Walton who has shown in open gym the way Trey Burke did when he first arrived, Chris Balas of TheWolverine wrote (subscription required) on Aug. 16. No, Walton isn't Trey Burke, but he's giving the team an indication the way Burke did that he's the 'real deal,' more in terms of setting teammates up than scoring (though he can do that, too).

    Yes, it is just summer practice, but this also backs up a recent comment from John Beilein. Another recent report from Balas (subscription required) said Beilein called Walton, "the best distributor he has seen at that age."

    All the Wolverines need Walton to do is distribute. Scoring will be a bonus rather than a necessity. Setting up Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III and others with easy opportunities is what Walton's focus has to be. 

    Limiting turnovers and dishing to teammates for easy baskets will be imperative to Michigan's success in 2013-14. For the most part, Walton will be in control of both, making him irreplaceable to the Wolverines.

2. Glenn Robinson III

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    Glenn Robinson III's role is changing for the 2013-14 campaign, but this will not diminish his importance to the Michigan Wolverines. As a matter of fact, Robinson's production is going to be needed much more than it was last season.

    As a freshman, 56 percent of Robinson's field-goal attempts came at the rim. He proved to be an effective finisher by making 73 percent of those chances. The latter statistic should not change much this year. Robinson has improved his vertical jump and added weight, which will allow him to continue converting near the basket.

    If Robinson returns to Ann Arbor with an improved perimeter shot and ball-handling skills, opposing teams will be hard-pressed to stop him.

    Opponents did not have to worry about Robinson's three-point shooting in 2012-13. Someone who shoots 33 percent from beyond the arc is not going to attract a whole lot of attention. This season should be very different given the work Robinson has put in during the offseason.

    The potential lottery pick will be back at his natural position, small forward. This means Robinson can no longer be a finisher for the Wolverines. He has to be a playmaker, thus making Robinson vital to Michigan's success.

     

1. Mitch McGary

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    Mitch McGary's impact on the game both as a scorer and a rebounder make him the most indispensable player for the Michigan Wolverines. It would not be much of a surprise if McGary managed to average a double-double this season. 

    There are not a whole lot of bigs who can run the floor as well as the 6'11", 250-pounder either.

    Michigan fans have every reason to believe McGary will pick up right where he left off at the end of last season. The Brewster Academy alum posted three double-doubles in the NCAA tournament. One of those performances was a 25-point, 14-rebound game against Jeff Withey and Kansas in the Sweet 16. 

    With a more polished mid-range game and potentially an outside shot, McGary will present an array of problems for opposing big men.

    Defense is where McGary could truly surprise this season, though. Anticipation and quickness enabled him to rack up 14 steals in Michigan's final seven contests in 2012-13. Opponents will have to worry about McGary swatting their shots in the paint as well.

    An improved McGary is bad news for the rest of the Big Ten. Without him, however, the Wolverines would be hard-pressed to make a run at back-to-back Final Fours.