Freshmen sometimes play like freshmen, but fergodsakes…
From Hardaway to Stauskas, Michigan fans in recent seasons have been spoiled by freshmen who show up and can immediately ball with the starters. So what's up with Walton/Irvin? Were we too high on them or is this normal for kids before Christmas? Will they improve enough by March to make Michigan the contender we thought they were at the beginning of the season?
Brian: I DON'T EVEN KNOW ANYMORE
Okay, sorry, sorry. It is kind of weird that all of a sudden Michigan has to deal with freshmen playing like freshmen. Last year Stauskas was pretty great from the drop, GRIII was the perfect addition to a Trey Burke driven team, and even Albrecht came off the bench to play his role effectively and occasionally drop sick dimes on VCU or rain threes on Louisville. The year before that, Trey Burke! The year before that Tim Hardaway was just a (high volume, pretty effective) shooter but I'll take just a shooter from a freshman.
|The last freshman who wasn't really efficient as a true freshman.
You have to go back to 2010(!) to find a Michigan team that didn't get really efficient play from at least one of its freshmen. That year, Darius Morris did get starter's minutes at the point but barely shot and had a post-like 27 TO rate. And even in that situation you can understand what happened: Morris was a no-shoot pick and roll savant playing with Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims. The former was a ball magnet with no conscience, the latter a PF masquerading as a C. He was never going to be a great player until he got to dominate the ball a la Manny.
Michigan's freshmen are not in that situation. Irvin can stand in the corner and jack threes a la freshman Hardaway just fine, hypothetically. Walton, too, is in a situation where he can contribute with his decent three point shooting and hypothetically good on-ball defense without having to dominate the ball, which doesn't seem like a good idea. So they can slot in to provide effective help for the GRIII/LeVert/Stauskas troika that spearheads Michigan shot generation. We just have to see them do it.
I think both have disappointed, and that it's reasonable to expect better production--some production--any production--from guys ranked in the top 50 most places. That's not to write either off. I mean, Caris LeVert. Players get better, often radically. But Michigan fans are well within their rights to be a little disappointed about how it's gone for the freshmen so far.
As for whether they'll get better, I DON'T EVEN KNOW ANYMORE. Someone tell me yes.
[After the Jump: people who work for Brian telling him 'yes']
BiSB I'm not terribly worried about Zak Irvin. As much as anything, I'd chalk his limited playing time up to the butterfly-like emergence of Caris LeVert (bet you're sorry you wasted that nickname on Darius Morris, aren't you Tim Doyle?). You can't keep LeVert off the court right now because he and Stauskas are the only guys generating offense in the half-court.
|The role of spot-up jumper may be o…oh Caris can do that too. What else you got Zak?
That leaves LeVert/Stauskas/GRIII hogging minutes at the 2-3-4, which really doesn't leave a lot of room for Irvin. Whatever the hell was up with Puerto Rico's rims notwithstanding, Irvin has shown the ability to play the role of the spot-up artillery piece, and I think we'll see his minutes look a lot like LeVert's minutes last year.
Walton's case is a little more concerning, because he's getting minutes and still hasn't been particularly productive with them. Comparing Walton and Trey Burke is a little unfair, both because Trey Burke was Trey Burke (which has been shown to be a decided advantage in the area of 'basketballing') and because Burke was more of a dribble-drive point guard where Walton is more of a distributing point guard. Brian pointed out some solid reasons Morris wasn't statistically great as a freshman, but the fact remains that he wasn't. Walton has been dealing with a just-now-getting-going McGary, and I'm holding out hope that once the pick and roll maestro gets fully healthy, Walton will start to emerge. Still, if you had to peg it right now, Walton's career trajectory looks a lot more like Keith Appling's than Trey Burke's.
All that said, this week's football revelations teach us that a bird in the hand is worth two in the committed-but-signing-day-isn't-here-yet. These are two guys with high floors, and their worst-case scenarios are still going to be helpful for the team going forward.
Seth: Yes, freshmen get better, but they would be getting better if they were Burke 2.0 and Hardaway except 6'6. It appears the principal was a little less than we hoped, and it's going to take more time for these bonds to mature. Let's try one of those blind comparisons between freshman point guards:
Player 1 is Derrick Walton. Player 2 is 2009-'10 Darius Morris. Player 3 is 2002-'03 Daniel Horton, and Player 4 you probably guessed is Burke. Morris is the nearest comparison but he had way less usage because Manny was that offense. On the other hand a big part of the expectation for Walton was that he wouldn't have to be the offense this year, either.
Taking entire freshman seasons, though, is unfair, since presumably the first 10 games of a point guard's career will be his worst. It's too cumbersome to produce ORtg and other team-dependent stats for everybody's first 10 games but here's the base stats of those four guys at this point in their freshman campaigns:
|Daniel Horton '02
|Darius Morris '09
|Trey Burke '11
|Derrick Walton '13
Walton is getting Morris minutes and playing like freshman Morris except not afraid to shoot, which he's doing like Burke (he hasn't had Burke's weird free throw problems from his freshman year—oh yeah, remember that?). So if we're adjusting expectations for the rest of the year and beyond, it's down from "guy who will win Naismith next year" to "guy who will be an NBA draft pick in two years." If you're disappointed by that you have been spoiled by Trey Burke.
I would reserve more disappointment for Irvin, but I'm also more used to guys coming in who we think are perfect Beilein wings and having them not really be that yet. He needs to find his spot in the offense.
Ace: I think part of the difficulty regarding the freshmen finding roles this year is that, unlike previous years, many of the other pieces on the roster are still trying to find their roles. Last year's freshmen joined a team with Burke and Hardaway as the obvious go-to guys and fell into place around them. The previous year, Burke was the only viable option at the point. In 2010-11, Hardaway and Smotrycz each had clear-cut spot-up shooter roles with Morris dominating the ball. When Morris was a freshman, he was the setup guy for Harris and Sims.
|So we've got a Yogi? Has Indiana even decided what their Yogi is yet? [Fuller]
This year, Walton is the starting point guard except possibly not—I'm posting a much more in-depth look at this soon; the short version is that he's being outplayed by Spike Albrecht and the minutes are beginning to reflect that. Irvin is a spot-up shooter and defensive specialist whose minutes have waxed and waned as the schedule gets more difficult—he played just five minutes against Arizona. Stauskas has emerged as the go-to guy but now the team is trying to figure out what they do when opponents key on him; both GRIII and LeVert are still getting used to their new roles in the offense, and while they're figuring it out there's little room for Irvin to do the same. It's tough for freshmen to settle into a role when they're not entirely sure what that role is supposed to be (or, as is the case with Walton, when they're looking at the bench after every mistake).
That said, they're both underperforming for recruits of such high regard. At the moment, I'm more concerned about Irvin than Walton; freshman point guards tend to struggle in the early going while Irvin's game seemed tailor-made for an early impact on this team. Seth has some good Michigan comps for Walton; my first thought when looking for players in more similar situations was to take a look at Indiana now-sophomore point guard Yogi Ferrell's first ten games from last year, when he stepped into a starting role surrounded by players who'd be higher priorities on offense:
Walton Thru 10 Games (5 KenPom100 Teams, 4 KP50): 244 minutes, 8.4 points/game, 16/33 2-pt, 12/32 3-pt, 16/22 FT, 28 assists, 23 turnovers, 4 steals
Ferrell Thru 10 Games (4 KP100, 3 KP50): 255 minutes, 6.5 points/game, 15/45 2-pt, 3/14 3-pt, 26/29 FT, 47 assists, 21 turnovers, 7 steals
|GRIII's great Arizona game may have provided Michigan an answer to what to do when defenses key on Stauskas, it also means another recalibration of how the 2-4 spots interconnect.
Ferrell was the better distributor in the early going, but he had similar turnover issues to Walton and was a much worse shooter. Both players are of similar size and recruiting hype and carried the reputation of being strong defenders in addition to good point guards. This year, Ferrell has greatly improved his efficiency—with improved shooting percentages and a marked decrease in turnovers—despite taking a much higher percentage of shots; that leap forward began in the latter stages of last season when he starting learning when to pick his spots to attack. I think Walton can follow much the same pattern, which would mean gradual improvement to the end of this season and a big leap forward next year.
Irvin's a tougher one to figure out, in large part because his minutes have been sporadic. I think the inconsistent minutes are in large part to blame for his performance—it's difficult for a shooter to be ready to come off the bench and shoot when they don't have a regular time they're set to some in. Also, Irvin has played a lot in Michigan's big lineup featuring LeVert at the point; while LeVert is a good ballhandler and shot creator, he's yet to master the drive-and-kick—his passes often don't put the recipient in good position to immediately go up with a shot, and this has caused some misses that aren't entirely the shooter's fault. While Irvin struggled mightily in big minutes against Charlotte, he had a very nice bounce-back game against Coppin State when he got some run with the natural point guards. I think he comes around before the season is out and at least provides solid spot-up shooting.