Could Michigan’s season be defined by a player who has yet to see meaningful minutes at the collegiate level?
It seems like an odd question to have about a roster that should boast plenty of depth, experience, and talent next season, but it could be true. If redshirt freshman DJ Wilson–who played one minute versus Villanova prior to being shelved for the year–can tap into some of his raw talent, it could completely reshape expectations for the Wolverines.
Admittedly, expectations are already quite high for this Michigan team. Though the Wolverines had just a 16-16 record a year ago, things appear to be on the rise. Virtually all of last year’s roster returns and notably, star guards Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, Jr. are on pace to return fully from injury.
This is also a roster that was trending up last year. Michigan may not have been an elite team, but the Wolverines were playing quality basketball late in the year. Not only did Michigan upset an NCAA Tournament team in Ohio State, but it also blew out Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament and nearly knocked off a Final Four team in Wisconsin as well.
That upward trend also showed up in the advanced stats as well. Over the course of conference play, Michigan’s offensive performance improved significantly.
(Stats via KenPom.)
Needless to say, there’s a lot to like about Michigan heading into next season. These are just some of the big reasons that Michigan is starting to get attention as a top 25 contender and a potential Big Ten dark horse heading into next season.
But even with this, Wilson could be the biggest wildcard on the roster.
When Wilson originally committed to the Wolverines, he was rated as a three-star prospect by ESPN and just the No. 41 rated power forward in the recruiting class according to ESPN. He was considered to be a legitimate prospect, but terms like “project” and “raw” came up far too often to believe Wilson could have an instant impact for Michigan.
Last season, Wilson saw some early time in Michigan’s exhibition games, but was eventually sidelined due to injury. One can debate whether he would have ultimately worked his way onto the floor if fully healthy, but regardless, he received a redshirt.
Wilson’s redshirt wasn’t a surprising outcome for his first year with the program, but it did keep his development in the dark. Wilson may not have been perceived as an instant impact type of player, but his upside is absolutely off the charts.
To start, just look at Wilson’s unique combination of athleticism and size. He is currently listed at 6’10” and 240 lbs, but has the speed and length that fans usually see in a wing play. Along with this, his wingspan is absolutely enormous and he has really good foot speed for his size.
Imagine combining a small forward and a lengthy shot blocking center and that’s what Wilson could be if he lives up to his long-term potential.
It’s probably something that leaves the maize and blue faithful daydreaming regularly.
However, Wilson’s skillset certainly needs some fine tuning. Having a diverse style of play is great if a player can develop, but otherwise, it creates significant problems for a lineup. Even if Wilson can offer a dynamic ability to guard on the outside or create his own shot offensively, if he can’t defend or score in the low post, it’s probably not going to help the team.
In short, if Wilson is going to reach his potential, he needs to become good in at least an area or two. Once he gets going, he can then build off that and develop his game. Imagine a cook who can make 10 meals, but none of them well. There’s a lot of potential there, but until he can make at least a meal or two well, it’s hard to really use and develop his skillset much.
Michigan certainly won’t be entirely dependent on Wilson with so many options around him, but considering his upside, it could really change the team’s chances. The team’s biggest question marks are clearly in the frontcourt and if Wilson can get anywhere near his massive upside, the Wolverines would have an absolutely dynamic lineup.
There’s no telling how Wilson will play this season, but if all goes right, he could take what should already be a rebound year for Michigan and make it a great one.
And considering John Beilein’s ability to develop his roster, don’t count that out just yet.