Basketbullets: Matthews-Wagner Ballet, Point Guard Roulette, Two Bigs? Comment Count

Ace November 29th, 2017 at 3:33 PM

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Charles Matthews, Point Guard

No point guard? Just run the offense through the wing. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Charles Matthews was nothing short of spectacular in the Maui Invitational. The only thing that could slow him down was cramps, which hit in the third game in three days after Matthews had posted back-to-back 20+ point, 8+ rebound, 3+ assist games.

If anything, those numbers undersell Matthews's impact. This offense now runs through him, much like the 2014 team's went through Nik Stauskas while the team broke in a freshman point guard. In the loss to LSU, Matthews took on 40% of the team's possessions with remarkable efficiency: 28 points on 22 shot equivalents, six offensive rebounds, three assists, and only two turnovers. While the final result may not have been desirable, Michigan established their offensive identity in this game. Once again, the two-man game with Moe Wagner will be the centerpiece of the offense, this time with Matthews running the show.

Early on, Michigan used a side screen to get Matthews going left-to-right into the paint, where he could either pull up for a short jumper or dump it off to Wagner for a jumper:

Like the Walton-Wagner duo, the two showed an innate ability to read the defense and make the right play off the screen, whether originating at the top of the key or off to the side. Matthews found Wagner with a nifty lob on the roll to set up an and-one; Wagner flipped a high screen to get a wide open jumper; when the roll wasn't open, Wagner cleared out so Matthews could isolate his defender and draw a shooting foul off the drive; when Wagner popped out for a three-point attempt, Matthews crashed the boards and cashed in with a putback.

What's been most impressive, and pleasantly surprising, is Matthews's court vision and passing out of the pick-and-roll. According to Synergy, Michigan ranks in the 88th percentile in pick-and-roll derived offense when Matthews is the ballhander, and he's currently providing more value as a passer (87th percentile) than a finisher (69th). This play jumped out to me the most from last week. Wagner slips the initial screen as VCU aggressively doubles Matthews. When the defender in the corner slides down to prevent a Wagner layup opportunity, Matthews throws a really difficult pass to Duncan Robinson over the double:

If that pass is late or even a bit off-target, VCU can recover to contest Robinson's shot. Instead, it's an easy three points because Matthews puts it right on him.

[Hit THE JUMP for the Matthews-Wagner off-ball two-man game and more.]

It Works Off The Ball, Too

The Matthews-Wagner two-man game is very much alive off the ball, too. John Beilein is using an off-ball side screen to take advantage of the two players's unusual talent, namely Wagner's three-point shooting and Matthews's post-up game. With the defense often preoccupied with preventing an open outside shot from Wagner, it's easy for Matthews to act as the screener, slip the pick, and establish great post position. Once he's there, he's really dangerous—Michigan has made all seven shots derived from Matthews post-ups.

When they came back to that later, LSU made sure not to overcommit to Wagner. Instead, they undercommitted.

Given how long it took Wagner and Walton to develop their pick-and-roll chemistry, it's really exciting to see Matthews already operating at this level.

Matthews's statistical profile is remarkable. I used Bart Torvik's player finder to toy with some stats. To contextualize Matthews's all-around impact, I looked for players using at least 40% of their team's minutes with parameters of >25% usage, >25% assist rate, <15% turnover rate, >50% two-point percentage, and a free throw rate over 20. Here's the entire list:

Both other players are point guards. Holder has won two straight Pac-12 player of the week awards. Sexton is a projected top-ten pick in a loaded draft. Matthews isn't shooting from the outside like those two; on the flip side, he's a more impactful defender and offensive rebounder. If his outside shot perks up, look out.

MAAR: Also Point Guard-Ish?

MAAR has become a more willing and effective passer. [Campredon]

I was firmly in the "Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman is what he is" camp heading into the season. Instead, the senior has quietly expanded his game. He's reached six straight games with four or more assists; he had six such games over the last two full seasons. Remarkably, he's only turned the ball over twice this year despite passing more and going on his usual tough late-clock forays to the basket.

Speaking of which, he's still quite good at those, and he's starting to attack more out of the pick-and-roll:

It'd be great if he could become a reliable P&R player. So far, he's been more efficient as a finisher than a passer in those situations, but he's at least showing a willingness to move the ball without turning it over. Most of his assists are coming in transition right now, but he's flashing an expanded halfcourt repertoire.

That'd be huge for this team, as no point guard has really stepped to the forefront. Zavier Simpson remains an offensive nonfactor. Jaaron Simmons has really struggled to adjust to coming off the bench. That's meant a starting role for Eli Brooks, who's probably the least point guard-ish of the three. While Brooks hasn't put up much in the way of numbers, he's got a good feel for the offense; the ball movement on this play is generally gorgeous and Brooks driving with the intent of creating a corner three was one of the best parts:

If Brooks can keep the ball moving, hit some open shots, and play passable defense, that could be enough to secure him the point guard job. That third bit may be trouble, though; Brooks was lifted late in games in Maui for Simpson because of some defensive lapses.

The other option, if Michigan is going to have the point guard be mostly an off-ball player, is Jordan Poole. Poole lit it up against UC Riverside on Sunday in his second chance at extended action; he's now 5-for-9 from three on the season if you include the Chaminade game. He looks athletic enough. The question is if he can hack it defensively, something we'll only find out when he gets on the floor against a team with a pulse. It appears, at least, that Poole is a candidate to steal Ibi Watson's role as a backup 2/3, and his role could increase much more if he gets a look at the point.

A Path To The Two-Big Lineup?

Two-big lineup: coming soon? {Campredon]

Jon Teske has continued to look like one of Michigan's five best players. He was a force against VCU, scoring eight points on 3/4 shooting (and a less-good 2/5 mark at the line) with four boards, two blocks, and a steal. As fans clamor to see Teske and Wagner on the floor at the same time, Beilein may have shown how he'll do just that, even though he hasn't broken out a two-big lineup quite yet.

When Teske entered the game against VCU, Michigan went to a 2-3 defense for a couple possessions, and Teske blocked a shot at the rim on the first one. If M is playing two bigs, they're going to have to hide Moe Wagner on defense; sticking him on a wing and letting him use his length and timing to get into passing lanes is a much better idea than having him chase smaller players around the perimeter. A 2-3 would also let Michigan cover for Duncan Robinson's defensive shortcomings, which...

...yes, still exist, both on and off the ball.

My hangups here are two-fold. First, Michigan's defense has actually help up pretty well so far, so this could be an attempt to fix a problem that doesn't exist. (I do expect it'll get worse against top-tier opponents, so we'll see if point one holds up.) Second, the offense could bog down if Wagner has trouble playing as the four, something he hasn't done on offense at Michigan—it's an entirely different set of actions from what he does as the five, where he's usually setting screens at the top of the key instead of moving around the perimeter. Spacing could also be a problem with that lineup.

I don't expect a two-big look to become Michigan's default. It's intriguing enough to explore anyway, especially against opponents who are successfully attacking Wagner inside or isolating Robinson like Oregon last year and LSU this year.



November 29th, 2017 at 3:37 PM ^

My main takeaway is that somehow in this day and age we have stats like 

According to Synergy, Michigan ranks in the 88th percentile in pick-and-roll derived offense when Matthews is the ballhander, and he's currently providing more value as a passer (87th percentile) than a finisher (69th). 


November 29th, 2017 at 3:51 PM ^

Some nice clips of Matthews game. I think he ends up having a monster year.

The combination of his speed and vision is stellar. I don't remember which Maui game it was, but on one play he drove hard from around the right elbow and because he was coming so fast, 1 or 2 off ball defenders had to quickly help but he still was able to smoothly drop a pass through a tight window to a cutting Robinson (I think) who finished at the hoop.



November 29th, 2017 at 4:12 PM ^

Great artilcle - thanks Ace! Keep feeding us UM basketball nuggets.

I can't wait to see that two big lineup. Not sold that it'll work, but I'll be fully entertained watching to see what happens.

Waaaayyyy too early, but I'm going to say it anyway: Is this the only year we will see Charles Matthews playing at Michigan? Already his third year in college, if he continues as is, I expect he'll explore the draft after this year. Hope I'm wrong.


November 29th, 2017 at 4:14 PM ^

I think maybe I just read your comment funny, but to me the Poole option is to put him in the rotation as a 2 and then when he is in the game you let Rahk be the 1.  Rahk has already brought the ball up the floor a ton against VCU's pressure, his assist rates are high, he's good in late-clock possessions, and his shooting is probably superior to any of the true PGs on the roster.  


November 29th, 2017 at 4:46 PM ^

I agree with this and mentioned it in a thread a couple weeks ago.  At least give it a try for a stretch of time.  My only concerns would be #1 - defense and #2 - if full-court pressed, would maar and poole be able to handle it.

I would love to see it though on the offensive end, especially if poole can shoot as well as advertised.

Unfortunately, i see little value in simpson or simmons right now, except minimal bench minutes for poole and/or brookes.


November 29th, 2017 at 4:19 PM ^

"If M is playing two bigs, they're going to have to hide Moe Wagner on defense"

to which I say, well, we have to try to hide Duncan so I can't see it going much worse with Wagner playing the role of four-that-gets-completely-burned-by-slashers.

Going with the twin towers probably keeps the four spot equally poor on defense, but is a huge upgrade in rim protection/defense from the center spot. It looks like Teske is becoming enough of a threat on the roll and a good enough passer out of the post that it might not be an offensive downgrade, and possibly an upgrade on offense because of his rebounding on that side of the floor.

I do think it should only be used situationally, when matchups dictate, like tonight when Maye is playing the four and Manley is playing the five.

Also, could be great against MSU when Bridges is playing the three and they have two other bigs out there.


November 29th, 2017 at 4:18 PM ^

I like the idea of a 2-3 zone with 6'11" Wagner, 7'1" Teske, and 6'8" Robinson.  I think that would be extremely match-up specific though. I'm wondering if it would make sense against a team like MSU who plays a lot of bigs.  It also makes sense in the event that Matthews got hurt or in foul trouble.  


November 29th, 2017 at 4:30 PM ^

I think it is hard to pull that off for any extended period of time as that pretty much leaves no big coming off the bench to spell either of them. 

Eli seems to have a good grasp on the O for a Belein Freshmen.  Seems lke the ball is always moving when he is on the court and it tends to stagnate with the others. 


November 29th, 2017 at 4:50 PM ^

but it could be utilized for a couple 5 minute stretches against some bigger lineups.  mo needs some help on the defensive glass.  he often under there against 2 or 3 guys, and that's on our defensive end.

i am worried more than any year under JB about defensive rebounding as we approach BIG season.


November 29th, 2017 at 5:10 PM ^

how does it leave no big off the bench to spell either of them?  You still have Duncan and Livers.

If Mo needs to come out, you put in Duncan or Livers for him at the four. Simple.  If Teske needs to come out, you put in Duncan or Livers for him and move Mo back to the five which is the lineup we're playing right now, anyway.

The purpose of playing them together would be to get Teske more minutes because he's easily our best rim protector and defensive center, and the tradeoff is giving Duncan fewer minutes because he's a big defensive liability and it would allow us to pick his matchups better.

I don't think we'd do this 20+ minutes a game, but it wouldn't cause any rotational issues as long as you kept one of them out of foul trouble to make sure you had a center down the stretch. And that's easily done with Duncan and Livers.

Mr Miggle

November 29th, 2017 at 4:41 PM ^

because he's such a tough matchup for opposing 5s. Few can handle him on the perimeter and pulling the center out opens up the middle even when they can. I'm convinced that will be his position in the pros too. 

Teske's been fine so far, but his offense has mostly come against undersized teams with 6'7" post players. It's hard to project that against the rest of our schedule. 

Beilein has a long history of forcing opponents to change their lineups to matchup with him. That's what I expect to mostly see, rather than the other way around.


November 29th, 2017 at 5:17 PM ^

for the last 3 quarters plus OT that we played them last year.  He had a scorching first half in the first game and then Painter put Vince Edwards on him and he became unplayable like he was for most games down the stretch.

We couldn't play him in the second matchup.  He only played 17 min out of 45 and scored just 5 points on 0-5 shooting.


November 29th, 2017 at 5:45 PM ^

Anyone have any clue what's going on with Simmons?  I am floored that he's been so bad.  It isn't like he came from a Div-3 school or was a role player on a MAC team.  This guy was a stud MAC player who was playing at a level not too far below the Big-10.  Yet he can't even get on the floor right now.  How is that possible?  How does someone with that resume suddenly look lost and without confidence?  

It does remind me of O'Korn - who had a lot of success at Houston and when you watch him play for Michigan he just seems lost and you can't picture him ever throwing 28 TDs.  I can't picture Simmons being a high-usage successful player right now.

Any basketball experts out there know if you could dig up some old plays from Ohio that he thrived on and try running them a couple times per game just to build his confidence?  


November 29th, 2017 at 6:11 PM ^

and he hasn't been that bad, i.e. losing games himself bad. But he has been a surprising non-factor.

My guess is that he thrives in a role as the alpha dog, which he could do at Ohio, but is struggling to be a role player that defers to Matthews and Wagner and the other better players on the team. 

Fairly common in basketball for that to happen.  It's not as simple as saying, look what he could do while shouldering the load at Ohio, shouldn't he be better without such a heavy load?  Some guys play a lot better as the guy.  You also see this when a guy who dominates the ball leaves a team and another steps up into that role.  Like when Trey left and Stauskas became the man.  He didn't just get that much better in a year.  He thrived being the guy.  I would bet that's been part of his shooting struggles at the NBA level. Having a hard time going back to being a role player.


November 29th, 2017 at 6:28 PM ^

are exceeding expectations. Wagner is pulling down more rebounds, which is also a plus, and although he can sometimes be neutralized, promises to average 10-15.

Proficient point guard play, however, remains a question mark.

Some promising signs (including potential break-outs from several young bench players)--and what looks like a very down year for the B1G suggest that if this team gells a little bit earlier than some recent Beilein teams Michigan can exceed expectations this year. 

In John We Trust