Previously: Preview MGoPodcast with John Gasaway, Media Day Wrap, Bigs, Wings (Also, BUY HTTV BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE. There's more great preview content in there than I can possibly cover in a sequence of blog posts.)
With the bigs and wings already covered, that leaves just the point guards to preview. Michigan has two very good options here, plus a third (Caris LeVert) that can be used situationally. Will their powers combined equal that of Trey Burke? Well, no, that's simply unreasonable. Will they still be pretty darn good? This blog says yes.
This looks pleasantly familiar.
Measurables: 6'1", 185
Recruiting Rankings: 247Composite #10 PG, #45 overall
The 2013 Michigan Gatorate Player of the Year winner and Mr. Basketball finalist officially took up the now-hallowed mantle of Michigan Starting Point Guard this week, when John Beilein gave Walton the nod over Spike Albrecht in the exhibition finale against Wayne State. The freshman ranked as high as #30 overall (and no lower than #67) depending on your recruiting site of preference. There were a few common threads in the various scouting reports on him:
First and foremost, he's a pass-first point guard that keeps everyone involved. Scout hailed him as a "true point guard" whose court vision makes his teammates better. ESPN called him a "true point guard [that] can control the game" in their evaluation. Rivals didn't quite get the memo, calling him "one of 2013's top pure point men," after an AAU tournament last May ($). Whether true or pure, guard or man, Walton is certainly a natural fit at the one, and he'll look to distribute more than his predecessor.
Walton can score, especially at the perimeter. Scout's report lists three-point range as a positive. ESPN also discusses his outside shooting in a good light and adds that he's got a solid mid-range game. The Rivals article cited above notes his ability to score from the outside or around the basket. When he decides it's time to score, Walton is capable, though it's unfair to compare him to Trey Burke in this regard. (That goes for just about everything, actually.) Early returns here are positive: Walton hit 3 of 7 three-pont attempts in the two exhibition games and looked very confident in his shot; yes, I'll acknowledge that's a tiny sample size.
At the very least, Walton is going to give plenty of effort on defense, and while Scout lists his size and defensive ability in the "areas for improvement" section, that sentiment isn't echoed elsewhere. ESPN loves his toughness and competitive drive on both ends of the floor. Rivals cites his on-ball defense as a major factor in his lofty ranking. In the two exhibition games, Walton has two Burke-esque halfcourt steals and looks like he's well ahead of where Burke was defensively at this early stage.
There's also his leadership; while most AAU squads are disjointed at best, Walton's Michigan Mustangs won a major tournament in Las Vegas thanks to taking on the identity of their point guard, per Rivals's Eric Bossi ($):
It's only fitting that the Michigan Mustangs took home the 17 and under crown at the Adidas Super 64. ... Taking their cue from tough-as-nails floor general and tournament MVP Derrick Walton, the entire Mustangs team played with toughness, togetherness and a unified purpose. Frankly, there weren't enough teams in Las Vegas -- or any of our other stops between April and July -- that played with the same purpose as the Mustangs so it's good to see their efforts result in a big tournament victory.
Bossi's evaluation of Walton's play in that tournament was glowing, to say the least ($):
Setting the tone for the Mustangs was four-star point guard Derrick Walton. The Michigan bound guard was an absolute stud on both ends of the floor. He went right at defenders' chests on drives, dimed up his teammates with pinpoint passes, defended at a high level and generally played with a level of confidence that allowed him to do whatever he wanted to do.
One strength of Walton's that's become immediately apparent is his ability to push the pace and control the tempo of the game; he's always looking to run when he gets an outlet pass (or a defensive rebound—he had seven combined in the two exhibitions) and that resulted in a lot of easy transition buckets for Michigan. When McGary—and his Unseldian outlets—returns to the court, the fast break could become one of Michigan's primary offensive weapons.
Golden Age Rap Song That Describes His Game/Impact: "For My Dogs" — DMX
And I'm gonna be the one behind just to keep you on your toes
I be your extra eyes and hold you down around your foes
I be your extra gun you need me let me know
For my dogs I be the first to cock it back and let it go
Walton isn't going to be the first option on this team; he's going to let his teammates know he's got their back, however—whether that comes in the form of assists, timely buckets, or giving his all on defense.
The Bottom Line: Walton is a freshman point guard, and that means he's going to make the occasional mistake on both ends of the court. The difference between Walton and other point guards of recent vintage is that there are other options—not only is Spike Albrecht a viable starter on a solid team, Caris LeVert is quickly emerging as a serious drive-and-kick threat playing the point in bigger lineups. Walton is the starter and should be for the duration; on this team, that means he's going to be pretty good, even if he's the fourth or fifth option on the court whose primary job is to distribute—think Yogi Ferrell on last year's Indiana team, except hopefully with a more consistent outside shot.
[Hit THE JUMP for SPIKE.]
Measurables: 5'11", 175
Base Stats: 8.1 MPG, 2.2 PPG, 39/55/83 2P/3P/FT%, 28 assists, 15 turnovers
Key Advanced Metrics: 13.8% usage, 120.7 ORating, 14.6 assist rate
You've been introduced to Spike Albrecht, of course, after his first-half explosion against Louisville in the title game made his subsequent Twitter pass at Kate Upton seem totally reasonable. A very capable ballhandler with a sniper's touch from the outside, Albrecht has a role on this team playing at both the one and the two; he can dribble the air out of the ball without it getting stolen (this is both a good and bad thing) or spot up from the outside and sink daggers.
His limitations are obvious just by looking at the guy—he's listed at a possibly-generous 5'11", which limits him on both ends of the floor. Spike isn't going to see over bigger guards—not to mention hedging big men—or finish consistently enough at the basket to make the pick-and-roll work smoothly, and he struggles to hold his own defensively. On a bigger Michigan team with plenty of offensive options, this isn't too much to work around—against Wayne State, Beilein played LeVert as an oversized point with Albrecht at the two, allowing Spike to spot up (and drill) a three while effectively hiding him on defense.
Still, those limitations are enough to keep him behind Walton, especially since Albrecht isn't the best facilitator of the offense—too often he's content to dribble aimlessly around the top of the key until it's time to rush a shot instead of moving the rock and getting some motion going in the offense. Walton is the superior distributor, which is more of what this team needs than an undersized shooter, especially when accounting for defense. That said, Albrecht very much has a role: his ballhandling and outside shooting make him a more than adequate backup point guard, and with this team's versatility he can also play off the ball. Also, he occasionally does stuff like this and this, which is pretty nice. (Those GIFs are entitled "SPIKE" and "SPIKE!", respectively. Yes, last year's tournament was quite enjoyable.)
Golden Age Rap Song That Describes His Game/Impact: "The Watcher" — Dr. Dre
Things just ain't the same for gangstas
Times is changing, young n****s is aging
Becoming O.Gs in the game and changing
To make way for these new names and faces
Spike Albrecht may just be a sophomore, but he's already seen Trey Burke come and go and a new star point guard anointed in Ann Arbor. Dr. Dre's first real track on his second solo album, 2001, sees him embrace his status as one of rap's respected elder statesmen—while also warning the young up-and-comers that he's still got people, in so many words, so don't sleep on him (But everywhere that I go/I got people I know/Who got people they know/So I suggest you lay low). Yes, Spike's making way for a new name and face; that doesn't mean he's out of the picture by any means, and he's willing and capable of stepping in should the new blood go the way of, say, Memphis Bleek.
The Bottom Line: Spike should see his minutes rise from the eight he averaged last year (he's at 17/game after the exhibitions); if he comes even close to replicating last year's 55% mark from beyond the arc, he'll be deservedly lauded as one of the Big Ten's best off the bench.