Whether Michigan has to replace its entire starting lineup next season or merely some of it hinges on the decisions of a trio of Wolverines.
Hunter Dickinson, Caleb Houstan, and Moussa Diabaté are all considered NBA prospects. They also all have college eligibility remaining. Will they declare for the draft? If so, will they keep their names in?
We’ll have our first indication soon. The NBA’s deadline for underclassmen to declare is April 24 (at 11:59 p.m. ET).
All Michigan’s coaches can do is wait — and work. They’re aggressively recruiting the 2023 class, even though Michigan has no open scholarships. They’ve made it a program policy to take every call from anyone representing a player who’s in the transfer portal, even if it won’t lead to anything.
And they’re guiding the current Wolverines through the pre-draft process.
Before becoming Michigan’s head coach, Juwan Howard spent 25 years in the NBA. He alone could provide useful feedback to his players on their draft stock. Assistant coach Howard Eisley was also an NBA veteran (as a player and coach), and Michigan’s other assistants and staff members are well connected. There is no shortage of NBA draft insights to be found within Crisler Center.
And yet Wolverines are encouraged to get an official assessment from the league.
“The view from others is invaluable,” Michigan assistant Phil Martelli said. “Players having a chance to get the NBA evaluation is a good thing.”
It’s a safe bet that Dickinson, Houstan, and Diabaté requested feedback from the NBA’s undergraduate advisory committee, or will before the day ends (Thursday, April 14, is the final day to so do). Why wouldn’t they?
The committee, composed of NBA team executives, provides a confidential projection of a prospect’s likely draft position. A player is told if he is likely to be drafted in the lottery (picks Nos. 1-14), later in the first round, early in the second round, late in the second round, or not at all.
In some cases, there’s a follow-up phone call, but individual skills are typically not discussed at this time. In other words, Houstan might be told he’s viewed as an early second-round pick, but he won’t be told it’s because he’s a tall shooter who needs to work on his defense. That comes later, along with actual workouts, should a player officially declare for the draft.
So what will these Wolverines hear from NBA teams?
Dickinson, a 7-foot-1, 260-pound center, has been a highly productive player for two seasons at Michigan, leading the team in scoring and rebounding each of those years. Strictly a post presence as a freshman, he made 21-of-64 3-point attempts as a sophomore. He’s also a good passer.
But as several draft experts have told MLive, Dickinson may be a college star who’s not fit for the modern NBA.
“If this was the 1970s, he might be a first-round pick,” one scout said.
Dickinson will turn 22 in November. “He is who he is,” the scout said. “He’s not going to be able to guard the pick and roll. He’s not going to be able to get up and down the floor the way you’d like. But he has really good hands, he can shoot the 3, and he can score.”
Dickinson entered the NBA draft last year only to withdraw and return to Michigan. At the time he made it seem like it would be his final college season, but said after Michigan’s final game he hadn’t thought about it yet.
A pair of Michigan freshmen will have to do some thinking of their own.
Houstan, a 6-foot-8 wing who turned 19 in January, started all 34 games for Michigan. He shot 60-for-169 (36 percent) from 3. The aforementioned scout has seen Houstan listed as a late first rounder in mock drafts. (In publicly available mocks posted on the internet, it is common for no Wolverines to be included.)
The scout believes potential workouts will be critical for Houstan. “If he can go some place and shoot the hell out of it, at his size…”
Workouts will be important for Diabaté, too, if he chooses to declare. “He is all over the board,” the scout said with a laugh. “The variance with him is crazy.”
Diabaté was Michigan’s starting power forward much of the season. He turned 20 in January and is still a raw prospect in many ways. He’s super athletic and a good rebounder on both ends, but he showed little ability to score outside of the paint, and often had trouble defending the better forwards in the Big Ten.
“I think the kid’s got a chance to be pretty damn good,” the scout said. “But is he a (center)? Is he a (power forward)? Can he shoot? He’s an interesting prospect.”
Any player who enters the draft hopes to get invited to the pre-draft combine, held in May in Chicago. Dickinson was not invited last year and instead competed in the G League Elite Camp.
The scout believes all three Wolverines have a chance to get invited to the combine. Dickinson, despite his draft stock, is big, and NBA personnel will want some size variety at the event.
Regardless, prospects who declare for the draft might be invited to individual team workouts. Running through drills designed to mimic NBA in-game scenarios, they can show off skills that weren’t necessarily part of their roles at Michigan. There’s an interview portion as well.
Players have through June 1 to withdraw from the draft and retain NCAA eligibility.
The scout pointed out that it only takes one team to like a prospect. So perhaps Dickinson is, to one team at least, worth a second-round pick. Houstan? “I wouldn’t be shocked if he left,” the scout said. “He’s got good size and can shoot: Those are two big things in the NBA.” Based on how this scout’s franchise views Diabaté, it would indicate he’d turn pro. But the scout knows other teams see him as, at best, a second-rounder. It makes him a particularly difficult prospect to project.
Michigan has already lost its starting backcourt: Eli Brooks is out of eligibility and DeVante’ Jones, after five years of college, is also moving on. It’s wait-and-see on the other starters.
Michigan isn’t alone there.
“I think all programs are up in the air,” Martelli said. “Whether it’s transfers or in our case whether or not they pursue an NBA career or at least get an assessment.”
The Wolverines’ season ended in March. They won’t play again until November. What happens in between is just as important.