How Does Joey Baker Work As a Wolverine?

A variety of surprising issues needed to occur earlier than Joey Baker made his method to Ann Arbor, Michigan.

First, he needed to determine to depart Duke, which appeared unfathomable after he publicly introduced he would use his “COVID yr” to return to Durham for a fifth season. However someplace between April and Might that call making modified, and Baker entered the portal. Why he did so, and what prompted that U-turn, would be the topic of ongoing hypothesis till we hear particulars from the person himself.

Second, plenty of issues needed to change in Ann Arbor for it to grow to be a viable vacation spot. Instantly after the season, it appeared like 5-star freshman Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate have been more likely to return to Ann Arbor for sophomore campaigns. Houstan was a projected lottery decide coming into the yr however fell off most draft boards after a wildly inconsistent yr, whereas Diabate confirmed outstanding potential and athleticism however was extraordinarily uncooked. These two would’ve been the Wolverines’ beginning forwards for the 2022-23 marketing campaign if all went in response to plan; as an alternative, each determined to decide to the NBA draft regardless of being projected as second spherical picks (though there’s hypothesis that Houstan obtained some kind of “assure” from a group, provided that he didn’t take part within the NBA Mix in any respect).

After the mud had settled, Michigan was left with a significant gap on the wings. Hunter Dickinson’s return cemented the Wolverines’ as one of many pre-season Massive Ten favorites; Dickinson, together with Oscar Tschiebwe and Armando Bacot, is among the many greatest returning facilities, and maybe gamers, within the nation.

The Wolverines’ additionally landed coveted switch Jaelin Llewellyn, a former Prime 100 recruit who excelled in three years at Princeton, to run the purpose, and look poised handy an even bigger function to rising junior Terrance Williams II. Williams, a 6-foot-7 combo ahead with glue-guy intangibles who shot 38.5% from deep final season, noticed a significant uptick in minutes down the stretch, and arguably performed the perfect sport of his profession in Michigan’s upset win over Tennessee that vaunted them again into the Candy 16.

Exterior of that core, although, Michigan is stuffed with query marks.

There is definitely uncooked expertise on the roster. Rising sophomore Kobe Bufkin was a consensus 4 * and Prime 50 recruit who will doubtless get first crack on the beginning taking pictures guard function: whereas Bufkin was used sparingly as a freshman, he confirmed flashes of potential and Michigan coaches are excessive on what a summer season of energy and conditioning can do for his sport. Two of Bufkin’s classmates, Isaiah Barnes and Will Tschetter, venture as wings however redshirted final season, and doubtless will not be known as on to supply way more than depth this yr.

There’s extra expertise within the 2022 recruiting class, together with coach Juwan Howard’s son Jett. A consensus 4 * recruit, the younger Howard obtained rave evaluations at summer season all-star video games, together with NBA veteran JR Smith calling Howard “probably the most pro-ready man right here” on the Allen Iverson Roundball Traditional. Gregg Glenn can be a 4 * recruit, however tasks extra as an influence ahead and a longer-term prospect.

Earlier than Baker’s dedication, that left Howard as a de facto starter on the 3. Now, he’ll doubtless be competing with the fifth-year switch for minutes at that spot.

That is doubtless a part of what drew Baker to Michigan: the chance to earn a beginning function on a group whose core is sufficient to make it a convention title contender. However even when Howard exceeds expectations and calls for the beginning spot, Michigan lacks any skilled depth on the positions 2-4, that means Baker nonetheless has loads of minutes to assert as a sixth man.

Maybe most necessary to Baker’s match is that his ability is one thing Michigan covets: taking pictures. Whereas Dickinson has been the star in Ann Arbor the final two seasons, arguably the largest distinction between 2021, when Michigan appeared poised for a Closing 4 run earlier than a late season harm to senior Isaiah Livers, and 2022, when Michigan squeaked into the NCAA Event subject earlier than making a run, was constant three level taking pictures. The 2022 squad shot a collective 32.4% from past the arc, for a decent one hundred and twentieth within the nation, however was topic to wild cold and hot streaks. In losses to Seton Corridor, Arizona, Minnesota, Rutgers, Illinois, Michigan State, and Wisconsin, the Wolverines shot beneath 20% from past the arc; in flip, that allowed the opponent to ship double and triple groups at Dickinson within the paint.

In the meantime, the Wolverines shot about 37.5% from deep in most of its greatest wins of the season, together with over Tennessee within the NCAA Event, and in addition at Ohio State, dwelling in opposition to Michigan State, and residential in opposition to Purdue. Within the latter two video games, the Wolverines shot a scorching 50-plus p.c from deep.

It is unsurprising that these taking pictures performances correlate with Dickinson’s effectiveness within the paint. In opposition to Tennessee, Dickinson was 8-13 from the sphere (together with 3-5 from past the arc on his personal) for 27 factors. In opposition to Michigan State, he was 13-19 from the ground on his methods to 33 factors. And in arguably Michigan’s greatest win of the season in opposition to Purdue, he led the group with 22 factors.

Baker offers Michigan the taking pictures presence it must open the ground up for Dickinson. The Wolverines’ do not want shot creation from their wings: that may come primarily from Llewellyn with help from Dickinson, who is a superb passer out of the publish. They want somebody who has the expertise to learn the offense accurately and hit the open photographs he will get, which inserts Baker’s sport completely.

As was the case at Duke, although, there stay questions on how Baker will match defensively. Some Michigan fan websites declare Baker has the flexibility to protect 2-4, which is able to doubtless meet with guffaws from Duke followers who’ve watched him for the previous 4 years. However maybe a change in defensive scheme will match Baker’s talents higher: Juwan Howard’s man-to-man is decidedly much less aggressive than Coach Ok’s, and Howard additionally has performed zone for extra prolonged intervals. With Dickinson a plus defender within the paint, there’s the potential Baker’s common protection with hustle shall be adequate. Maybe extra importantly, with none clear competitors for minutes on the 3 outdoors of Jett Howard, it is doubtless Baker’s leash shall be considerably longer than he ever had at Duke.

One may rightly argue Joey Baker by no means bought the prospect to totally present what he was able to at Duke given the immense expertise he fought with. If that’s the case, he’ll have the chance to realize that potential at Michigan, on a group which received’t depend on him as a major offensive possibility, however will create loads of alternatives for open photographs. However even when Baker is “only a shooter,” that’s a ability that was a noticeable gap on this Wolverine group’s roster, and it’s doubtless Baker can earn himself 15-20 minutes per sport off of his capacity to area the ground alone. Filling that function on a group that is more likely to be extremely aggressive within the Massive Ten, and probably nationally if Dickinson takes a leap towards superstardom, was doubtless very interesting for what shall be Baker’s final yr of collegiate basketball.

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