3 and D [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
Isaiah Livers (So): Nominal starter had 13% usage and played like it, almost exclusively taking open shots someone else created for him. Plus OREB guy and defender.
Ignas Brazdeikis (Fr): Scoring machine is already 19 and has already featured in this series at the 2 and 3, for reasons.
Brandon Johns (Fr): More to prove than Brazdeikis but maybe a higher ceiling.
I HAVE SOME QUESTIONS
[pokes Livers with a stick] hey. do something.
Isaiah Livers's 12.9% usage was the smallest number a Michigan rotation player put up since 2011, when sophomore Matt Vogrich Just-A-Shooter'd himself to 12.8%. The only scholarship player in the Kenpom era to do more than barely pip Livers in invisibility was the senior version of Gavin Groninger, who played 12 minutes a game despite shooting 10% from two and 19% from three. (Michigan basketball: more fun than it used to be.) Livers's FT rate of just above 10 is also in the same "might be the lowest in the Kenpom era" range. 90% of his shots at the rim were assisted, etc.
Livers's tendency to hole up in the corner and produce zero shots for himself or anyone else was a bit disappointing for Michigan's first instate Mr. Basketball winner in a minute. In retrospect, it actually wasn't that surprising. Matt D of Endless Motor provided a scouting report and video last year, and even against high school competition Livers was a jump shooter:
His head is often down when he dribbles against pressure defense though, mitigating his ability to create for others because he doesn't see the entire floor. Doesn't have good enough first step acceleration to create separation off the dribble against guards/wings in a straight line. Doesn't display ability to change direction with the basketball when his defender beats him to the spot or helpside defense cuts off his initial straight line. Does not get all the way to the rim off the dribble based on lack of acceleration and change of direction ballhandling.
That was the case as a freshman and will probably be the case for his career, give or take the usual Beilein development. It's asking a lot to up your usage by 50%, especially when your shot creation is a work in progress.
On the other hand, Livers was pretty good at not having the ball. His 7.4 OREB rate was Michigan's best mark from a non-center since GRIII, and he's the only other Beilein-era wing even in the frame. While I'm fairly leery about Synergy's individual defensive numbers—Zavier Simpson 73rd percentile with Eli Brooks and Jaaron Simmons 87 and 88th?!?!—Livers checking in as Michigan's second-best defender (outside of PG absurdities) behind Charles Matthews agrees with the ol' eye test. On/off splits can be noisy, but a couple things jump out as likely to be real in ~700 possessions against top 100 teams:
Livers provided big rebounding advantages over Duncan Robinson and caused both teams to operate inside the arc more. He was also terribly intimidating to opposition free throw shooters.
Normally, a 3-and-D wing who's a great rebounder would be a perfect fit at the four for John Beilein. Next year's team… maybe less so. Shot creation will be at a premium and it would take a huge leap for Livers to provide much. His target usage next year is probably 16, not 20. With Wagner gone that might be a problem.
Livers has a role next year. He'll improve, and in certain lineups his (probable) inability to create won't be as much of a problem. His familiarity with both Beilein's offense and Yaklich's defense will give him able time early in the year to solidify his spot. He's got a shot. But he's got a lot of competition all of a sudden, and it's 50/50 whether he's able to maintain his early lead. Upping the "3" part of 3-and-D is his best bet—34% probably isn't going to cut it. 40% would.
Which freshman is more likely to push him out of the way?
The twice-aforementioned Ignas Brazdeikis. Brazdeikis is older and spent his last couple years on one of those elite Canadian prep teams, where he put up 33 points per game against a collection of Success Academies; last week he drove to the basket on Bol Bol and actually scored. (Probably because he poked Bol in the eye, but rubbin's racin'.) For those and other reasons covered earlier in this series, Brazdeikis should be Michigan's sixth man immediately, and if he's able to survive on defense his ability to get to the rack will be vital.
But let's not forget Brandon Johns. Johns didn't take the hotshot prep route and saw his stock fall as a result. He spent large amounts of his time dunking on the best future accountants and deeply incompetent prosecutors that Ingham County could provide. The results were entertaining, at least.
Despite the bigger adjustment Johns faces, he is an even cleaner fit at the spot than Brazdeikis if he comes in hot. Johns is going to be the second-best athlete on the team as soon as he enrolls, and he might give Matthews a run for his money. This is a lot of above the rim for one game:
In contrast to Livers, Johns is extremely aggressive and spends most of his time getting to the basket. As per usual with high school prospects, denominators are few and far between… but apparently he shot 72% from 2 during his final high school season. This says something about his competition level, yes. It also suggests that he's allergic to the midrange. Probably? In 16 EYBL games Johns shot 52/44 with about three times more twos than threes; he shot 68% from the line on 40 attempts. AAU, sample size, grain of salt, etc.
This seems like a bit of a logjam. Can they spread this out some?
A bit. Brazdeikis has drawn mention at two other spots for a reason, and should draw most or all of the backup minutes behind Matthews since the 3 and 4 are very similar in Beilein's offense. It's not hard to get him up to 20-25 minutes even if Livers also gets that many.
In addition, Michigan hinted at some smallball lineups featuring Livers at the 5 late in the year. He looked pretty clueless about what to do on offense at the time, but if Michigan has designs on a position-less Villanova mode, he's going to be the guy they run that with. Johns may be more physically capable of holding it down at the 5 but will be in his pupation year and will look as baffled as Livers was this year. If Michigan gets weird it'll be with Livers.
This spot is the most unsettled on the team, in a good way. Michigan has three different four-stars who bring Beilein-style skills and excellent size to the 4, in three different flavors: 3-and-D (Livers), conscience-free bucket acquisition machine(Brazdeikis), and ferocious leaping dunk monster (Johns). Chances are one of those die rolls comes up real nice.
Take this prediction about who emerges with a grain of salt, but I think you'll see Livers start and maintain that role through the year. Early, the freshmen will make a bunch of mistakes on defense that will get them sternly talked to. Late, Livers might give back some playing time as Michigan turns to (potentially) higher-usage guys for a bulk of the minutes. It'll be like this years' Livers-Robinson platoon, except this version of Robinson is really really Not Just A Shooter. Minutes probably get split close to down the middle once you hand Iggy 10 from the 3: Livers gets 20, Iggy gets 20 at two spots, and Johns gets 10.