Saturday, October 6, 2012

Previewing The Roster: Eso Akunne

Michigan basketball suffered numerous injuries last season, but one of the more significant ones was the injury that sidelined Eso Akunne for the remainder of the season.  Was this a major factor in why Michigan struggled in some of the later season games?  Not likely, but Akunne had definitely improved going into last year and actually had more playing time last year than the year before, despite playing in fewer games. Those kind of improvements are important, especially when a player doesn't get the full year to gain experience and improve.

Going into this year, the Wolverines are still in search of a capable backup point guard.  Trey Burke has solidified the starting role, but he was forced into playing ridiculous minutes last year.  Akunne was his primary backup last season and when he went down with injury, the lineup had to make some major adjustments to be able to get Burke off the court.  This year, there are a couple more candidates to fill this backup point guard role, but the primary candidate is still Akunne.  If he can recover from his season ending injury and come back, he could get some substantial playing time.

Things To Look For In 2012-2013:

1.  Recover
The most important thing for Akunne for both this season and the future is for him to recover from his injury last season.  The news has seemed to be pretty positive and considering that he was treated immediately, I think he will be fine for this year.  Now, this isn't to say that it's not a major factor because it could be for this year.  I wouldn't be surprised a bit if he has lost a step, especially early in the season.  I also wouldn't be extremely surprised if his play has dropped off by a decent margin.  However, because he will have such a long time to recover and get back going before Michigan truly needs him, I think his contributions should be about the same as last year.  One thing to consider is that he received very little playing time in serious games last season.  His main objective was simply "clean-up" duty and to make sure that Michigan did not blow big leads, especially in the early season.  I thought he had a good chance at expanding his role this year, especially with better role players on the team surrounding point guard, but recovering from his injury will be vitally important.

2.  Improve Vision
One of the most surprising things I found when looking over Akunne's stats for this post was that he really did not play point guard the way most think the position should be played.  Over 48 minutes of play, he had 1 assist.  Yes, in time that amounted to more than a full game, he had just 1 assist.  I realize that some of this was due to the playing situation, when Michigan was simply looking to eat up clock and end the game, but there's no way you can be a contributing point guard and have that kind of stat line and still hope that the team's offense is going to be running well.  I'm sure part of this is the reason that Akunne didn't get to play in many big games, but he really needs to become more of a passing threat to get some serious playing time.  Along with this, with Michigan's depth, experience, and playmakers surrounding the point guard position, there should be plenty for Akunne to work with when he gets in a game.  If he can learn how to use this players effectively, Michigan may have found its backup point guard for this year.

3.  Play His Role
This is something that I thought Akunne did pretty well last year, but I just wanted to take a little bit to comment on his role for the team.  Yes, he's a backup.  Yes, he probably won't get much playing time and yes he wasn't exactly stellar in his brief time last year.  However, because he was in almost all late game situations, his performances can receive some mixed reviews.  He will never have outstanding stat lines.  He doesn't get much playing time and when he does, it's mainly to burn the clock.  This is something fans will just have to accept.  One thing he can do though is make few mistakes.  When he does get on the floor, he needs to make sure that everything he does will benefit the team and not threaten the result of the game in anyway.  He only had 4 turnovers last year, but he also had 6 personal fouls.  Granted, late game situations are unusual, but I definitely would like to see him get those numbers down if he gets the same or more playing time this season.  If he doesn't, I think Beilein might look to somebody else for more play.  To me, Akunne can be a major benefit to Michigan if he can recover and improve his play.  I'm not completely convinced on how his recovery and performance this year will go, but he's still a great part of the team and has the chance to make a significant difference.

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