This year, the college basketball landscape has been more exciting than most people previously anticipated. There’s more talent and competition across the country than we’ve seen over the recent years, even though Duke is currently touting four first-round draft selections of their own. Programs like Nevada, Nebraska, Buffalo, and Furman are all ranked within the Top-25, which seems uncommon, but they’re all finally beginning to see their methodology come to fruition. Which makes the emergence of this year’s Michigan team even less surprising, considering they typically possess one of the more talented, yet underrated, rosters in the country.
Right now, the Wolverines have secured the fifth spot in both the AP Top 25 and Coaches Poll, largely thanks to the play of star-freshman Ignas Brazdeikis. He’s garnered very little traction on most NBA Draft Boards thus far, despite clearly being among the most impactful two-way players in the country. Brazdeikis is anchoring Michigan in virtually every way, especially on offense, and possesses an NBA-ready skillset. His averages through eight games: 16.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG, and 1.5 APG in only 27.4 MPG with shooting splits of 55-43-80, which is unbelievably efficient. The most difficult thing to understand is how Brazdeikis, at 6-foot-7 with shot-creation skills, gets overlooked in an era where shooting and the ability to generate consistent offense are infinitely valuable.
The deeper you dive into the numbers, the more appealing Brazdeikis becomes, as his traditional (mentioned above) and analytical statistics are both off the charts. He just became the fourth freshman to meet the following criteria: a PER of 29, a True Shooting Percentage of 65, and a Box Plus/Minus of 13. The other three? Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving, and Zion Williamson. So Brazdeikis joins two, potentially three, first overall selections, but doesn’t have any interest as a first-round candidate? That seems peculiar, but it’s still early, and NBA scouts will be unable to ignore his productivity for much longer. In comparison, former Michigan standout, Nik Stauskas, only averaged 1.2 more points per game as a sophomore than Brazdeikis is doing as a freshman. Meanwhile, Brazdeikis has outperformed Stauskas in every other statistical category while being on the court for eight fewer minutes a game. Stauskas was named player of the conference and later drafted inside the top ten, meaning a lottery-selection should be well within the realm of possibilities for Brazdeikis, who already projects as the better all-around player.
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