a terrible blight on our fine country
caris levert point guard possibility
Let's get this out of the way: Michigan loses Nik Stauskas, and it's never good to lose a Nik Stauskas. Players that brutally efficient who can also shoulder such a large workload don't come around often; ditto shooters of that caliber. If you're expecting someone to step up and be Nik Stauskas, you will almost assuredly be disappointed.
If you're simply looking for excellent play out of Michigan's starting two and three, however, you should be quite happy this season. Caris LeVert has progressed in a scant two years from beyond-skinny-kid-who's-redshirting to beyond-skinny-kid-who's-too-good-to-redshirt to less-skinny-but-still-very-skinny-#2-scorer to, now, 200-pound-NBA-lottery-prospect. Zak Irvin entered last season as a top-30 prospect and showed absolutely no fear as an unabashed gunner off the bench; even if he doesn't diversify his game as a sophomore, which would surprise, he'll be a critical part of the offense.
LeVert will be the top option this season, and his ability to create off the dribble will be even more crucial with Stauskas in the NBA. Irvin steps into a starting role, and his shooting will be even more crucial with Stauskas in the NBA. While no one man can replace Stauskas, a reasonable step forward from each of these two can go a long way towards doing so.
[Hit THE JUMP for detailed breakdowns of each player.]
U-M can get by with three options at center (all photos by Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog)
As we welcome in the new year, we've moved on from fretting about the 2013 football team to ... fretting about the 2013-14 basketball team. There's good reason for this, of course, with Mitch McGary's season almost certainly over due to his upcoming back surgery. Your hoops mailbag questions reflect this, as all but one are related to the impact of McGary's absence in one way or another. Without further ado, here's a very McGary-centric mailbag.
@AceAnbender Where to Mitch's minutes go percentage-wise between Irvin, Morgan, and Horford?
— Bry Mac (@Bry_Mac) December 31, 2013
John Beilein announced this week that—at least for now—he's sticking with Jordan Morgan as the starting center and Jon Horford coming off the bench. I don't think McGary's absence will affect the minutes of Zak Irvin very much, if at all; he might see an increase in minutes, but that will be due to his in-season progression as opposed to any need for him to play the four, as Max Bielfeldt and Glenn Robinson III can pick up much of the slack there.
As for how the minutes will be distributed, we already have an idea thanks to the four games McGary has missed so far this season. In the first two games of the year, Horford started and played 22-24 minutes while Morgan added 12-15, with Bielfeldt getting 4-6 minutes of mostly garbage time. The split between Horford and Morgan has reversed in the last two games; Morgan played 22 and 24 minutes against Stanford and Holy Cross, respectively. While Horford only played six minutes against the Cardinal, that's because he picked up five fouls in that span, opening up a few more minutes for Bielfeldt to see the floor.
For the time being, I expect Beilein to go with a 25/15 split between Morgan and Horford, with Bielfeldt picking up a few minutes here and there at both the four and the five. The wild card here is foul trouble: Horford currently averages 4.7 fouls per 40 minutes, while Morgan is at a whopping 6.6 (the change in charge calls has really hurt him defensively). Bielfeldt got 12 minutes against Stanford. Notably, freshman big Mark Donnal didn't see any time despite all three bigs being in foul trouble in that game, which brings me to the next question...
@AceAnbender also, any chance of burning Donnal's redshirt due to need for bigs?
— Morris Fabbri (@MoMoneyMoFabbri) December 31, 2013
I don't think this is going to happen unless another big man misses extended time. Donnal is a lean stretch four at 6'9", 230 pounds, and unlike Caris LeVert last year there isn't a mountain of practice hype to suggest he'll force his way onto the court despite the need to add bulk. Between Morgan, Horford, Bielfeldt, GRIII, and Irvin, the Wolverines have plenty of options when it comes to filling minutes at the four and the five; I don't see the benefit of burning Donnal's redshirt just so he can fill in for a few minutes from time to time.
— Kyle Rosenbaum (@Gkm13) December 31, 2013
This entirely ignores the best aspect of McGary's game: his ability to induce chaos. Despite playing through injury this year, he's currently ranked 29th nationally in steal rate, which not only foils opponent possessions but usually gets Michigan into the fast break, where they're much more effective than in their halfcourt offense. Neither Horford nor Morgan provides that threat, and while Horford has proven to be as good—if not better—at blocking shots than McGary, Morgan is a relative non-factor in that regard.
He's also a superlative offensive rebounder, ranking 83rd in that regard, though Horford and Morgan actually have slightly higher rebound rates on that end—we'll see if that holds with increased minutes. On the other end, while Horford is just about equal with McGary when it comes to defensive rebounding, there's a big dropoff to Morgan, who's posted just a 15.9 DReb% in comparison to 25.4% for McGary and 24.6% for Horford.
Also, McGary has easily the best chemistry with Michigan's perimeter players on the pick and roll, especially Nik Stauskas and Spike Albrecht. Horford is inconsistent when it comes to setting a good screen, while Morgan—as we've seen for four years—has trouble catching entry passes cleanly and finishing strong at the rim. McGary's passing acumen—especially when Michigan faces zone defenses—will also be missed; his assist rate is around double those of the other two bigs. Beilein's offense may not run through the post; that doesn't mean it won't suffer without McGary.
@AceAnbender odds Mitch comes back next year? Doing so could boost his draft stock, but he might feel urgency to get paid.
— Dan Roehrig (@DanRareEgg) December 31, 2013
This is going to be a very tough call for McGary; he turns 22 in June, old for a rising junior, and if he was guaranteed a first-round spot I don't think there's any question he'd turn pro. That's in seroius doubt at this point, however. Even before the injury, ESPN's Chad Ford had dropped McGary down to the #24 spot on his big board ($). In the immediate aftermath of the injury, ESPN's Jeff Goodman got this quote from an NBA general manager:
"He should have left," one NBA general manager told ESPN.com. "Now he's a borderline first-rounder. He would have been a lock last season."
The latest NBADraftNet mock has McGary going as the seventh pick of the second round. Barring a pretty miraculous recovery, McGary isn't going to have a chance to raise his stock before it's time to declare for the draft, and I believe he'll come back if he's projected as a second-round pick—unlike first-rounders, those players don't get guaranteed contracts, and a strong junior season from McGary could easily vault him back into the first round.
Alright, let's do one non-McGary question since this is getting rather depressing.
— Gustavo Adventure (@colintj) December 31, 2013
It's certainly a viable lineup, especially on the defensive end, as LeVert is currently the best player on the team at defending opposing point guards, in my opinion (with a freshman and a 5'10" guy as his competition, I don't think I'm going out on a limb here). Beilein has talked about going to this lineup more often as a situational defensive lineup at the end of games and I'm in full support of this.
15 minutes a game of this, however, might be a bit much. While LeVert is great at taking care of the ball, his assist rate (14.8%) is well below Derrick Walton's (19.5%), way below Spike Albrecht's (27.7%), and even trailing Nik Stauskas (18.0%). When LeVert is running the offense, it often devolves into him dribbling the air out of the ball in isolation situations; while he's getting pretty good at getting buckets out of those plays, that's not a very sustainable way to run an offense.
That said, Beilein's offense doesn't really require a traditional point guard, and between Stauskas and LeVert there are two solid creators off the dribble when Michigan goes big. If they can get the offense to run more smoothly when LeVert initiates the play, this lineup could very well turn into Michigan's best—that's a big if, though, and deemphasizing the point guards could hamper Walton's development.
Since this game was televised, I'll make this relatively short and sweet—Michigan held a commanding lead for practically the entire game, though they failed to dominate Wayne State to the same extent that they eviscerated Concordia in the first exhibition. Given the amount of lineup shuffling, that's not of particular concern. Once again, here are some assorted thoughts from an exhibition blowout.
THE TWO-BIGS LINEUP SHOULD BE PUT ON HOLD
Michigan once again started both Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan, though this time it was freshman Derrick Walton getting his first career start (of many) instead of Spike Albrecht. Simply put, it didn't look like the two bigs lineup is going to work against real competition pending the return of Mitch McGary. Early on, the spacing on offense was poor, and Morgan looked uncomfortable trying to defend on the perimeter. That didn't change much when they trotted out similar lineups later in the game.
If tonight's game is any indication, Michigan is going to start Glenn Robinson III at the four sooner or later, and until McGary returns it may very well be Horford, not Morgan, who starts alongside him. After playing 22 minutes to Morgan's 14 in the opener, Horford once again got the lion's share of the minutes at center—25 to 14, despite having four fouls to Morgan's one. Neither player factored in much offensively and each fared pretty well on the boards; Horford's ability to block shots (two tonight) may be what's giving him the edge.
CARIS LEVERT AT THE POINT, ON THE OTHER HAND...
When Horford picked up an early foul, Michigan put out a lineup with Caris LeVert running the point and Spike Albrecht playing off the ball. This immediately resulted in an open three for Albrecht after a drive-and-kick from LeVert, who looked very confident in both his shot and ballhanding ability tonight, finishing with 16 points (5/10 FG, 5/7 FT) and three assists against just one turnover. I really liked this look, which allowed Michigan to get Albrecht on the court and take advantage of his shooting while hiding him a bit defensively—it's tough to pick on the 5'10" guy when there are four 6'6"-or-taller defenders disrupting passing lanes.
As you can see above, LeVert even showed off a go-to move, breaking some ankles with the crossover in this one.
NO WORRIES ABOUT SCORING
Tonight wasn't a great one for hopes that Robinson (right, Fuller) is going to create a ton of offense off the dribble; he scored 15 points on 10 FGAs but had difficulty getting into the lane on his own, with one notable exception that seemed more of a defensive miscue than anything else. He does appear more confident in his three-point shot, however, even though he knocked down just one of three attempts tonight.
More importantly, it doesn't look like he has to create offense for Michigan to score. Nik Stauskas led the team with 17 points, hitting 2/4 threes and looking equally effective inside the arc; encouragingly, he laid in a tough and-one on a fast break through heavy contact, something he had difficulty doing last year. LeVert, once again, seemed able to reach any point on the floor he wanted.
Then there's Zak Irvin, who looks ready to take GRIII's place as the Guy Who Scores A Quiet [Double-Digit Point Total]. Despite playing just eight minutes in the first half, Irvin paced the team with nine points, hitting three triples; he'd finish with 13 on 5/8 shooting in 19 minutes of action. One of his second-half makes was a pretty dribble-drive to pull-up jumper; when called upon, he looks comfortable creating his own shot. While fellow freshman Walton shot just 1/4 from the field, he hit 4/5 free throws and drilled a corner three to accompany a 4:2 assist-to-turnover ratio; like LeVert, he worked his way to the inside with relative ease to create offense for others. Walton also had his second Burkeian halfcourt steal in two games. If that becomes a patented Michigan point guard move, I'm totally okay with it.
- The perimeter defense could still use work. Wayne State's Bryan Coleman hit 3/5 first-half threes and had 17 points at the break; while he cooled off in the second half, he still found himself with several open looks against Stauskas and Robinson, primarily.
- On the other hand, the transition defense was great—Wayne State finished with zero fast-break points, and Michigan communicated very well while getting back on D, a very good sign for such a young team.
- For the second straight game, Max Bielfeldt struggled to defend the glass while playing center against an undersized team, grabbing zero rebounds in nine minutes of action while also having his fair share of issues defensively. If this is what he's playing like come conference play, he may not have a spot in the rotation, since he isn't a guy who's going to add much offensively.
- Mark Donnal is almost certainly ticketed for a redshirt, as he didn't play until garbage time once again, then immediately forgot to box out on a free throw and committed a foul—that's probably the last we see of him this season unless injuries hit in a major way.
- Welcome back, Ann Arbor Airshow. I missed you dearly.