Moe Wagner has made his decision. In an article he penned for The Players' Tribune, Wagner announced he'll enter the NBA Draft and sign with an agent, foregoing his senior season at Michigan. Wagner's lengthy, heartfelt farewell (titled "Thank You, Michigan") makes it clear this wasn't an easy choice, but he has some familiar footsteps to follow:
Alle träume klingen verrückt. Bis sie wahr werden.
This is what it says on the poster that I have on my wall. I’m looking at it now, in my apartment in Ann Arbor, as I’m telling you this story. It’s German, which you probably guessed, and it means: All dreams are crazy. Until they come true. (Good saying, right?) And then beside these words is a picture of Dirk Nowitzki — who is basically my idol.
Wagner is projected as a late first- or early second-round pick, an improvement over his stock last year, when his rebounding and defensive limitations had him projected closer to the bottom of the draft. Wagner improved both this year, especially rebounding, and while his defense is still a big question mark, his offensive skill set at his size will get him a contract and a roster spot.
This is the end of Wagner's remarkable collegiate journey. He came to Ann Arbor from Germany as a lanky wing, outgrew the position almost immediately, spent his freshman year struggling to earn playing time behind Ricky Doyle and Mark Donnal, and then became the key piece of John Beilein's five-out offense as a sophomore and junior. That doesn't mean we won't be seeing him around town, however.
Ann Arbor will always be the first American city that I ever really knew. In my opinion, it’s the perfect place to live — not too big, not too small. You get all four seasons, great sports, and some of the nicest and most genuine people I have met. I’ll miss Ann Arbor a ton and come back as much as I can.
Wagner's exit has significant ramifications for next year's team, of course, and we'll dig into those in greater detail this week. Jon Teske is now your surefire starting center next year, which will make Michigan a more defensive-focused team (with a greater defensive ceiling) but he'll be an offensive downgrade barring a breakout on that end—while he improved greatly at the pick-and-roll, he doesn't provide the same pick-and-pop, spead-the-defense threat. Austin Davis is most likely to settle into the backup role while talented freshman Colin Castleton—a Wagner-like player with plus rim protection—gets used to the system and adds some needed bulk.
Yesterday's NBA Draft withdrawal deadline brought good news and bad news for Michigan. Moe Wagner will be back for his junior year; DJ Wilson is staying in the draft, reportedly after getting a first-round guarantee from Utah, which owns the #24 and #30 picks.
Wagner's return is of paramount importance. He took the highest share of shots of any Wolverine last year, and he'll be leaned on even more after the departures of the next two players on that list, Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin. With grad transfer Jaaron Simmons, a strong pick-and-roll ballhandler, stepping into Walton's role, Michigan's offense should once again revolve around the 1-5 high screen.
Losing Wilson, however, has a significant impact on how this team can play. Let's start with a look at the current roster, keeping in mind that positional designations can be fluid, especially between SG-SF-PF:
The area of concern is the position Wilson just vacated: power forward, where Duncan Robinson is poised to play huge minutes. Wilson's absence eliminates a lot of Michigan's lineup versatility. They're going to be small at the four, because Wagner isn't quick enough to stick with the vast majority of college fours, eliminating the potential to slide him down a position when Jon Teske or Austin Davis steps in at center—that lineup only looks viable against the rare team like last year's Purdue squad that occasionally plays two traditional bigs.
So how does Wilson's departure impact the team? How does John Beilein adjust? Let's take a look.
Michigan has a couple options to fill the roster spot Wilson is apparently vacating. Illinois State grad transfer Mikyle MacIntoshjust withdrew his name from the draft; he's another high-usage, dubious efficiency lower level guy. This is mostly because of his two point shooting. He was 76/44/36 last year on 28% usage. He had a block rate similar to Wilson and could help patch that lineup hole.
The other option is Canadian SF/PF Ignas Brazdeikis, who is currently planning on being a 2018 recruit but is keeping 2017 options open.
"D.J. and our coaching staff worked very hard over the last month to get as much information as possible on his draft status," said U-M head coach John Beilein. "Given the data and insight we received, D.J. is confident he is ready to take the next step in his basketball career. We love D.J., and he will always be a Michigan Wolverine. His development over the past three seasons, and particularly this past season, was phenomenal. With continued work, he shows great potential to improve in a similar manner in the NBA. We wish him and his family the very best, and we will always be rooting for him during this draft process and for all the years to come."
Pick one. Not so easy, right? [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
If you can only choose one, which player would you rather have back next year: Moe Wagner or DJ Wilson?
Ace: The genesis of this question was a lengthy twitter thread that had some good points on both sides. While it’s close, I lean just barely to the side of Wagner, who I think is a better college player than pro prospect; Wilson is the opposite. While you’re certainly sacrificing some defense to keep Wagner, the consistently efficient offensive outputs are tough to pass up, especially since he showed last year he can create for himself, something the team sorely needs sans Walton (especially) and Irvin.
Wilson is a bit too much of a wild card; he can put it all together and make this conversation look stupid, or he can essentially be the guy he was last year—he’d need to dramatically change his approach to be the lead guy we’d want him to be.
BiSB: I agree that Wagner is a better college player. But at the same time, I think Wilson leaving would leave a bigger hole in the lineup. Teske and Davis are largely untested, but at least they are extant. Unless Wagner is going to play minutes in a two-big sort of lineup, you're looking at Duncan Robinson playing a ton of minutes at the four. And while his defense has gotten somewhat better, and you can get away with it against certain types of teams, that's still a glaring hole in the defense.
Brian: This question depends heavily on how much those guys improve from last year, when they were way behind Mark Donnal. To be honest, I'd expect a Wilson-no-Wagner team to have DJ at the 5 for 20 minutes a game. Late last season that was almost already the case and small ball is all the rage at every level of basketball.
Ace: The defensive impact is what keep this close for me. Wilson is more versatile positionally, quicker, and a better rim protector. But I’m also not sold on Teske or Davis being a better option than more Robinson; I’m not sure either packs enough offensive oomph to make that a desirable swap. There are lineups than can run Robinson off the court, but there are also lineups that can probably run Teske, who’s rather ponderous, off the court as well.
BiSB: Perhaps my assumption that John Beilein could turn five confused baby ducklings into a top-25 KenPom offense is too strong.
But I do feel like DJ is what gives Michigan flexibility at both ends of the court.
[Hit THE JUMP as the debate continues, now with Synergy numbers.]
Everybody’s recruiting process is unique in some way, and mine was no different. Watching my family grow and solidify its bond was by far my favorite part of the experience. The world is bigger than 94 by 50 feet, and we all agreed that Texas offers me an exceptional opportunity to blaze my own trail on the basketball front with the comfort of knowing that no matter what happens, I’ve got an unrivaled support network to lean on for whenever the ball stops bouncing.
Happy trails. /wipes away single tear
Simmons withdraws. The NBA combine and draft lottery are complete, so we have a new wave of mock drafts to look over. First, MLive's Brendan Quinn broke a bit of news last night that was probably a formaility but is a relief nonetheless: Ohio grad transfar Jaaron Simmons, who'll likely start at point guard, will withdraw his name from the draft and join the Wolverines.
Now, Simmons says, he's ready to come to Michigan.
"I'm gonna pull my name out of the draft," Simmons told MLive on Wednesday. "I haven't officially done it yet, but that's definitely the way I'm going."
Quinn reports Simmons is "in the process" of getting his name withdrawn. A strong player in both pick-and-roll and isolation situations, he fills a significant need and takes considerable pressure off of Xavier Simpson. More on Simmons and his fit on the roster here and here.
Mock draft updates. While we have more clarity after the combine, the status of DJ Wilson and Moe Wagner is still up in the air as we near the May 24th withdrawal deadline. Both players havesaid they won't stay in the draft unless they're first-round picks. That looks unlikely for Wagner; Wilson's situation is murkier.
Wilson sat out the combine with a nagging quad injury, and while missing the five-on-five portion of the combine may have been beneficial to his draft stock—he didn't have to bang bodies in the post with guys like Jordan Bell—the same cannot be said for missing the athletic testing portion, as his biggest draw right now is his size/athleticism combo. If Wilson's quad isn't healed up enough to fully participate in individual team workouts this week, he'll be in a tough spot, operating with far less feedback than he'd hoped to get when he began the process.
Center Moritz Wagner was arguably the worst player in the five-on-five portion this week. In his first game, he posted 13 points, but his team was much better when he was off the floor as he posted a minus-25 plus/minus while struggling against big men like Omer Yurtseven. Then, in the second game, he went 3 of 15 from the field as he posted a 1 for 8 mark from 3 over the two games. Every time he left the floor, his team went on a run. He also didn’t measure well, and none of his athletic testing stood out. Sometimes kids just want to be done with school, and I respect that. But if Wagner was to enter the draft, he would run the risk of going undrafted given the obvious defensive and athletic limitations he showcased not just here, but also during the entire college basketball season.
Wagner is mostly absent from updated mock drafts, even the full two-round mocks. If those same projections hold, Wilson is going to have a difficult decision. Here's a rundown:
Save the rather odd suggestion from ESPN's Chad Ford that Utah could draft Wagner with the final pick of the first round and stash him in Germany, a route Wagner hasn't even hinted at considering, all indications are Wagner will either go in the mid-to-late second round or not at all. He's working out today for Milwaukee, which owns the #17 pick in the first round—far earlier than even the rosiest projections have Wagner going.
Wilson, meanwhile, is right on the borderline for his decision. Of the eleven mocks listed above, five have him going in the first round. With Bamba off to Texas, Wilson's decision will have a huge impact on the outlook of next year's rotation:
Perhaps Michigan could get in late on a grad-transfer wing if Wilson declares, but options are limited at this point.
Wilson told Quinn that his quad injury is going to impact his individual team workouts, though one team has stood out as a potential landing spot:
Wilson said the Spurs have requested that he reschedule a new workout and that he also plans to visit with the Orlando Magic. He added that there are "a few teams in the mix."
How many of those he'll be able to perform in front of remains to be seen. Wilson noted: "My window is going to be shorter."
That said, one team that will likely remain interested is Utah.
"They thought I was a pretty decent athlete for my size and I shot the ball well there, so that was something they were impressed by," Wilson said.
Those teams all hold selections in Wilson's projected range: Utah at #24 and #30, Orlando at #25, San Antonio at #29. If Wilson can get a guarantee from one of those teams, he's probably gone. If he doesn't, he may be uncomfortable enough with the uncertainty to head back to school for another year.
John Beilein has spent ten seasons in Ann Arbor. As of the most recent, he's the winningest coach in program history with 215. He snapped Michigan's post-sanction tournament drought in 2009, the first of seven NCAA appearances with the Wolverines, three of which have extended at least into the second weekend.
In recognition of the above, as well as the need for offseason #content, I've put together a series of All-Beilein teams, inspired by this twitter post and the ensuing conversation. My guidelines:
I'm attempting to put together the best possible lineups, which isn't necessarily the same as picking the best individual players at each spot.
I'm choosing individual player vintages (i.e. 2013 Trey Burke). A player can only be chosen once for each category, but different player years (i.e. freshman bench gunner 2014 Zak Irvin and well-rounded senior 2017 Zak Irvin) can be eligible for separate categories.
The same player/year can be chosen for multiple categories—for instance, 2013 Mitch McGary making the All-Bench team doesn't exclude him from making the final All-Beilein team.
Eligibility for certain categories may be slightly fudged because of the limited pool of players.
I'm not putting too many constraints on myself for this exercise since the point is to let our imaginations run wild. Today's list is the logical counterpart to the previous All-Freshman squad: here are the best senior seasons from Beilein's players. Could I fill out a full second team? Well, no. No I couldn't.
POINT GUARD: 2016-17 DERRICK WALTON
It all came together for Walton in his final season. [Bryan Fuller]
Might I recommend the 5000-word version of this blurb? For those who don't have time, a relevant sampling:
Walton had spent his time at Michigan as the consummate teammate, always looking to get his talented teammates going before seeking his own shot. At the same time he called upon his team to step up and make plays, he embraced calling his own number.
"He’s really become the guard that he always wanted to be and we always wanted him to be. It’s not that he’s been bad in between. It’s just that he’s such a great, unselfish player who’s always about the team. I think he convinced himself that if it’s really about the team, then I need to do more." — John Beilein
After a promising freshman season was followed by an injury-plagued sophomore year and underwhelming junior campaign, Walton transformed as a senior into the best Michigan point guard to play for Beilein, Trey Burke excepted—and Walton was so good down the stretch that you could almost (almost) eliminate that caveat. I could watch this all day:
The early NBA departures of Burke and Darius Morris didn't leave much in the way of competition for this spot. That doesn't make Walton's senior year any less spectacular.
Someone who thought he needed to change something to land in the first round would likely be playing. Brendan Quinn points out that Wilson might have a minor injury or other malady and he might be protecting his draft stock by not offering scouts less than the full DJ, but it is MGo-consensus that this is not a great sign.
This means that until recently, roughly one-third of the top 2017 recruits in the country were still available for the 2017-18 season. ... The trend is unmistakable. Top prep basketball players are using their leverage to wait out coaching changes and roster attrition before choosing their schools in the 11th hour. Given the power structure of college athletics, it's difficult to blame them. By waiting as long as possible, these players assure themselves an alliance of convenience before matriculating.
The current state of the NBA draft is a major driver of this trend. Since the drop dead date has moved so far back it has correspondingly moved back decisions.
A potential silver lining here: Mo Bamba is one of the players still waiting, as you no doubt know. Now that Texas's Jarrett Allen has signed with an agent, Michigan is the only one of Bamba's four finalists still waiting on a decision from a big. (Duke PG Frank Jackson and Texas PG Andrew Jones are still on the fence; all other UK/Duke/Texas early entrants are in for good.) If Michigan wasn't a potential landing spot he could pull the trigger. Hopefully a Wilson entry would make Michigan attractive enough to get Bamba. That's the ticket.
UPDATE: Consider the source, but:
Sources in Chicago tell us D.J. Wilson is not participating in the workouts because he is banged up ... no other reason.
By not hiring agents, both players have left the window open for a return to Michigan. They can participate in the combine and work out for individual teams. The deadline to withdraw from the draft is May 24th. Wilson has been projected in the mid-to-late first round in some mocks; Wagner's projections have been mostly in the latter half draft. It's quite possible, as occurs quite often with the new rule, that one or both ends up returning.
Michigan currently has one open scholarship for the 2017-18 season; departures from Wagner and Wilson could bring that number to three. They are in continued pursuit of five-star C Mo Bamba, who'd be the ideal replacement but also has Duke, Kentucky, and Texas in hot pursuit. The coaches are also looking into grad transfer options; they're in contact with Wright State guard Mark Alstork, Howard guard James Daniel, and Pitt forward Cameron Johnson.
It turns out to be a wildly successful marketing stunt for a company that will send you image or message-emblazoned potatoes. This company is inexplicably not based in Ohio. The best thing to come out of this is the Wall Street Journal giving the headshot treatment to Dirk's tuber:
Twitter did not find this nearly as amazing as I did, but rest assured this is incredibly entertaining.
Oregon: good matchup? The WaPo's Neil Greenberg seems to think so. He's using extremely small sample sizes, but given Chris Boucher's absence that's less unfortunate than it usually is. Transition is a major Oregon focus and Michigan's stepped up their stinginess:
In transition, Michigan has allowed opponents to score 39.1 percent of the time in the tournament, an improvement over their regular-season performance (46.3 percent) and a potential stumbling block for Oregon, who has scored almost two-thirds of the time in transition (63.6 percent) against their first two opponents. No other remaining tournament team has had better results on the break. Take that element away from Oregon, and it’s a big blow.
This item won't surprise you but will shock your January self:
The Ducks also won’t get as many open looks as they have through the first two rounds. Oregon has taken 24 of 32 (75 percent) catch-and-shoot opportunities unguarded, per Synergy Sports, scoring 1.08 points per shot. Michigan, however, has allowed just six of 22 (27 percent) catch-and-shoot attempts without a defender close by.
Oregon is was already a bit three-heavy with Boucher in the lineup and figure to be more so without him even if that hasn't shown up in the three games since his departure, and Michigan is very good at preventing threes from being launched.
They're 5'9" with big hair and one of them doesn't have a work visa. Welp, they've been found. Both DJ Wilson and Mo Wagner are major risers on Chad Ford's NBA draft board:
No one did more to help his draft stock over the weekend than Wagner. His career-best performance against Louisville -- 26 points on 11-for-14 shooting -- showed why he was been quickly moving up our Top 100 over the past month. Wagner is a fluid athlete at 6-foot-11 who can score off the bounce and on the block. He also has 3-point range.
When he's engaged and not in foul trouble, he can take over a game. The fact that he did it against a bunch of NBA-caliber athletes on Louisville impressed scouts. He sat at No. 40 on our Top 100 before the tournament and moves up to No. 21 in our latest rankings. That's a huge leap for any player, but if you watched his draft stock all month, it isn't just based on one game. It's just scouts getting more and more comfortable with the idea that he has all the skills he needs to be a good NBA player someday.
Wilson showed off all the strengths of his game against both Oklahoma State and Louisville. He's a terrific and versatile athlete who can stretch the floor, finish at the rim and block shots. He can even handle the ball and bring it up the floor.
However, his lack of toughness continues to bother some scouts who want to see him initiate and handle contact better. He grabbed only two boards against Louisville and at times seemed bothered by the physicality. Still, athletic 6-foot-10 guys who can shoot 3s and protect the rim don't come along every day and Wilson has made a strong case to be a first-round pick after hovering in the 30s in our Top 100 all season.
FWIW, I was talking to Sam Webb a month or two ago and at the time his impression was that the NBA was interested in both guys but that they were both likely a year away. Let's hope that's still the case, because I'm guessing Teske and Davis are going to need another year of grooming before they're ready. Also I really want to see weaponized versions of Wilson and Wagner.
If one or both does end up going this will be another situation where Beilein's astounding player development—despite almost no access to one-and-done types Michigan was 12th in NBA players produced entering the season—outpaces his recruiting. Nobody was expecting Trey Burke or Nik Stauskas to be two-and-out, and I don't think anyone thought Wilson or Wagner would have any chance of going to the league this year after the pair averaged two points a game in 2015-16.
Remember when Bernard Robinson sticking at the end of a roster for a year or two was notable to Michigan basketball fans? Slightly different situation these days.
Part of that development. Congrats to friend-of-blog Andrew Kahn for landing a WSJ byline. It's a look into some player development tools Michigan (and others) are using. Wagner has a bad day against Ohio State and Beilein set to work on his shot:
...Beilein set out to fix Wagner’s problems using one of basketball’s hottest new diagnostic tools: a machine that measures the arc of a shot as it reaches the hoop. ... [tool vendor] Noah’s data says the ideal shot comes in at about 45 degrees.
Wagner’s practice session showed that he was shooting the ball far too high, coming in at around 53 degrees. Beilein knew they had no chance of going in and pressed Wagner to adjust by flattening his shot.
“By the time we were done, he was draining threes all over the place at 45 (degrees), 46, 47,” Beilein said. Wagner, a 41 percent three-point shooter for the season, shook his slump and nailed 8 of 17 (47%) from deep the next four games.
Beilein is still adapting and taking advantage of new tools being created even though he's "no spring chicken," which not every coaching in his 60s does. You can safely assume that Michigan is on the cutting edge with this stuff. The results are proof enough.
Two points. The Big Ten did pretty well in the first weekend of the tournament, sending three teams to the Sweet 16 and Shutting Up All The Haters, except not really. Mark Titus:
As soon as the buzzer sounded on no. 7 seed Michigan’s 73–69 victory over no. 2 seed Louisville on Sunday afternoon, the talk of the internet became whether the Big Ten, which was complete trash from November through early March, had been underrated all season. ... [The Big Ten got three S16 teams and the ACC was bad.] ... Clearly this had to mean something, right?
Of course not. You know what Michigan beating Louisville and Wisconsin beating Villanova proved? That Michigan outplayed Louisville and that Wisconsin outplayed Villanova. How come everyone who gets so wrapped up in conference-pride bullshit always seems to move the goalposts with these arguments?
Neither side of any conference superiority argument generally marshals anything resembling a coherent argument. It is talk-radio fodder.
While a few tournament games don't establish that the Big Ten was at the level it was a few years ago, neither was it "trash." They entered the NCAA tourney fifth out of six power conferences on Kenpom, all of two points behind the second-place ACC. That's roughly the difference between #20 Michigan and #24 Butler, or #37 Northwestern and #44 Illinois State—ie, barely any difference at all. The first two rounds should at least be sufficient to demonstrate that the Big Ten is in the same range as any other power conference (with the possible exception of the Big 12).
This weekend did matter in the computer rankings, sliding the Big Ten up to fourth, and it should influence our perception of the league this year. The real answer, though, is that the Big Ten was just slightly down. Titus seems to be projecting his feelings about Ohio State, which was so trash that many Michigan fans gave up on their season after losing to the Buckeyes*, to the wider league.
Nice. 2017 PF Isaiah Livers won Mr. Basketball. He's a 6'8" stretch four with game and hair fairly reminiscent of DJ Wilson.
Wilson has a couple of inches of both height and hair on Livers, but hopefully he's able to step into the rotation next year.
Star-crossed Ricky Doyle. Remember how he was ill or injured seemingly perpetually? This has not abated, at all.
Ricky Doyle, a Bishop Verot Catholic High School alum, was forced to sit out this season after transferring from the University of Michigan due to NCAA rules, as well as a tumor.
“I just kept having these stomach pains for a long time and I just kind of pushed them off,” he said. “One day, I just had to go to the hospital and it turns out that my appendix has been burst for two months…they found a tumor about the size of a softball and they had to cut 6 inches of my colon out.”
The tumor was non cancerous, Doyle said, and his body formed it naturally around the burst appendix to prevent poison from seeping out and killing him.
Doctors believe the medicine Doyle is on for his sleep apnea dulled the pain to the point where he didn’t realize how severe the tumor was.
Writing on the wall. There's a ton of football stuff that we'll get to in a week or two as part of a spring preview, but one roster note: Sam Webb replies to people asking about a lack of Shelton Johnson coverage that "he is not a part of [Scout's] defensive line preview." I would not expect him on the roster this spring.
Etc.: A lot of people say the tournament saps the importance of the college season. I don't buy that, because I like Big Ten championship banners. For an example of a season that truly doesn't matter, I give you the NBA.
The Michigan sophomore who turned down a prime opportunity to enter last year's NBA draft and paid a price has decided to declare for the 2014 draft, admitting that he failed an NCAA-administered drug test in March and faced a one-year suspension from college basketball.
The drug test he failed was for pot, which seems ludicrous. Since when does the NCAA even test for pot, let alone levy year-long suspensions? Especially of a player who didn't even play? The situation here is insane. If Michigan issues the test, they get to decide the punishment. If the NCAA does, it's pretty much a death penalty for your career:
By failing a test administered by the NCAA, rather than his school, McGary was subject to the draconian Bylaw 18.104.22.168.1, which calls for a player to be "ineligible for a minimum of one calendar year." A second offense, even for just marijuana, results in permanent banishment.
"If it had been a Michigan test, I would've been suspended three games and possibly thought about coming back," McGary said. "I don't have the greatest circumstances to leave right now [due to the injury]. I feel I'm ready, but this pushed it overboard.
"I don't think the penalty fits the crime. I think one year is overdoing it a little bit."
Michigan agreed, McGary said, and appealed the decision to the NCAA in early April. It was denied, however. Neither the university nor the NCAA would comment directly on the case or the appeal.
The NCAA is the worst organization in the world (that isn't FIFA). They just changed the penalty to a half-season—still ludicrously punitive for a substance that is heading towards legalization within a decade—and would still not relent, because think of the NCAA like a marching band full of assholes. Good on McGary for just talking about it. At least one party in this situation comes off like an adult.
Michigan's situation at the five is now pretty alarming. They've got true freshman Ricky Doyle and, now out of necessity, redshirt freshman Mark Donnal. Transfer Cole Huff now has a scholarship slot, though he would not be available next year.