One of the biggest offseason stories leading up to last season was the coverage and improvement of Jon Horford. Rumors were that he had passed Jordan Morgan on the depth chart and was in place to make some major contributions in his second season at Michigan. Part of those rumors were true. Horford started at the very beginning of the season and contributed pretty heavily during his limited play last season. However, he was passed pretty quickly on the depth chart by Morgan and later suffered an injury that ended his season.
Horford had some pretty good production last year. Averaging 10.8 minutes, 2.7 points, and 3.56 rebounds per game. Not exactly record-setting numbers, but that's pretty solid production for a sophomore off the bench. He also amassed 9 blocks and 3 steals during that time period. His defense was definitely the strongest part of his game and these skills should allow him to get some solid playing time this year, especially anytime starters get in foul trouble. I didn't predict Horford having a starting job going into this year, but I think he could easily develop into Michigan's most productive bench player.
Things To Look For In 2012-2013:
1. Better Offense
This is something I talked about briefly in the intro, but Horford was not very productive on the offensive side of the floor. Yes, he didn't play a ton last year, but he only crossed into double digits in one game last season and that was when he played 19 minutes against UCLA. Outside of that game, his highest total was 6 points against Memphis. Somebody might argue that he faced a lot of quality teams in limited play and I would tend to agree, but if you take 5 of his 9 games from last season, he scored 0 points during 46 minutes of play. For a player with starter potential, that is nowhere near productive enough. His defense is very good, but he needs to work on becoming an offensive threat.
Will he ever be a player that racks up a ton of points? Probably not. The majority of his impact will most likely always be on the defensive side of the ball, but that doesn't mean he can't at least contribute offensively. If he's hoping to get increased time in a deeper and more talented front-court, he's going to have to be better on the offensive side of the court. Just going off the stats of 9 games can be a bit misleading, but there were plenty of opportunities over that 9 game span to get it going offensively and to be frank, he really never got it going.
2. More Versatility
I've been saying this about most of the likely bench players, but I think Horford may have to be more diverse in his play to get significant playing time in the future. Of course, most of his time will be at the 5, especially since his offense wasn't spectacular, but if he can improve on that part of his game, he might be able to get the chance at playing the 4 spot against certain teams. Do I think this is the best case scenario for Horford? Probably not. I mean, he didn't attempt one 3 pt shot and went for very long periods without scoring, which is a major problem for someone playing the 4 spot, but if Beilein decides to play small for extended segments or tries Mitch McGary at the 5 spot, Horford may have to look to more diverse areas for playing time.
I'm not predicting a position change by any stretch, but he needs to work on expanding his game, especially if the scenario starts to change in the future. Just look at the roster. There are 5 big men on the roster vying for a total of 1-2 spots. Something's going to have to give for players like Horford to get on the court. Yes, Evan Smotcryz is now gone, but Max Bielfeldt and Mitch McGary will both be ready to play and compete for time on the court. Horford will get on the floor without a doubt, but I definitely think he's going to have to alter his game somewhat to increase his playing time.
3. More "Real" Play
We all know about "garbage" time and about how it relates to backups. Once the game's result is sealed, coaches tend to stick in backup players. Horford had some playing time in some serious games last season, but he had very little time in 3 of his 9 games there were games against Western Illinois, Duke, and Virginia. The similarity between these three games is that they were all close games. This means that in crunch time, when things counted the most, Beilein was not looking to Horford to win the game. Do I think Beilein believes in Horford's ability? Yes, it's pretty obvious that Morgan was the first choice last season.
With a very challenging upcoming schedule, Horford is going to have to become a legitimate option during big games if he wants serious playing time. If he doesn't become a difference maker, he's going to end up with minute totals similar to his games against Duke (4 minutes), Western Illinois (6 minutes), and Virginia (6 minutes). I think Horford can shake up the game with his defense, but he's going to need more than that to get playing time against teams like Indiana, MSU, and OSU. If he expands his game and particularly his offense, he can have a big year. Expectations should be pretty high for Horford this year and he has the chance to be an important piece of Michigan's depth.