Basketbullets: The Shot Fake, DJ The Lion, Secondary Scorers

Submitted by Ace on March 21st, 2017 at 3:31 PM

Player Development At Ludicrous Speed, Part One

Moe Wagner considers how to shred his defender to bits. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

John Beilein's acumen at player development is, by now, unimpeachable. He has turned Michigan into one of the top producers of NBA talent in the country without the steady stream of high school All-Americans who end up at the likes of Duke, Kansas, and Kentucky. After last weekend, Moe Wagner and DJ Wilson—a late import to the 2015 class and an oft-injured three-star wing*—are firmly on the NBA radar after two and three years on campus, respectively. Following the Louisville game, Beilein reminded us just how far those two have come in only a year's time:

Moritz, he averaged two points a game last year. He’s 19 years old. You got to watch this guy. D.J. averaged the same. There’s a process that people go through to develop their teams, and [the Big Ten] had a lot of good seniors last year who graduated and a lot of guys waiting in the wings. It may have not showed in November, December. It’s showing in March.

The year-to-year progression is remarkable; so is the seemingly game-to-game progression. Here's Beilein after the Purdue victory at Crisler less than a month ago:

[Wagner] is learning that fine line between shooting a three and driving it. I can’t wait to work with him more on selling his shot fake before he does, sometimes he just rips and goes. He’s almost like a forward or a guard in how he plays. But he had a really good post move inside. He and DJ have to bottle this thing up, that they can shoot from the outside, but to help teams win, they’re going to play professionally if they have a post-up game. They’re not going to just be these 6’10” shooters. They’re going to need to grow in that physical part of it. He’s got a good mix of that. If we can put that third part in, that he can shoot, he can drive, and he can effectively post up and hold position, he could become very special.

We saw a whole lot more than a pair of 6'10" shooters last weekend. That shot fake Beilein wanted to see Wagner utilize? He busted it out on arguably the biggest possession of the year:

Wagner also obliterated Louisville from the high post. His career-high 26-point output against the Cardinals couldn't have looked more different from his previous best, the 24-point performance in that aforementioned Purdue game. The latter featured Wagner raining in threes off pick-and-pops with a couple post buckets standing out as notable exceptions. The former saw him working with his back to the basket against smaller defenders and using that three-point threat to take bigs off the dribble; he only attempted (and made) one three-pointer.

*[HT to Maize.Blue Wagner for posting a thread of the current team's commitment posts.]

[Hit THE JUMP for DJ's development and the late-season surge from MAAR and Irvin.]

Player Development At Ludicrous Speed, Part Two

Not Just A Stretch Four™ [Campredon]

I'll be spending my travel time to Kansas City catching up on The Dak and Dunc Show, which has been excellent from the limited amount I've heard. Their most recent podcast features an interview with DJ Wilson in which he discusses how much he's developed since getting blocked at the rim by then-Villanova point guard Dylan Ennis in Michigan's 2014-15 loss to the Wildcats:

Wilson, who said he was just a "cub" then, didn't play another minute the rest of the season, taking a redshirt year. He still had a long way to go last year, often looking lost on the court playing limited minutes in 25 appearances.

Now a self-described "lion," Wilson's third-year breakout mostly came at the power forward position, but he's been a late-season revelation spelling Wagner at center for increasingly long streches. That development culminated in the Oklahoma State game, in which Wilson played all 40 minutes and spent the majority of the second half at the five when Wagner proved ineffective at protecting the rim. Wilson looked like a natural; this hedge, recovery, block, and rebound is textbook:

Like Wagner, Wilson showed off his versatility on offense while often operating out of the high post. Even though his three-point shot hasn't been very effective, he's been an extremely efficient player since the Big Ten Tournament began. His numbers in the last six games: 32/48 on twos (67%), 6/19 on threes (32%), 15/17 free throws (88%), 29 reb (4.8/game), 6 assists, 10 turnovers, 12 blocks (7 in the last two games), 3 steals.

Of note: Ennis is now a grad-transfer starting guard for Oregon. You can bet that Wilson will look to exact some serious revenge should the two meet at the rim again on Thursday.

Zak Irvin, Reliable Role Player

Zak Irvin has learned to pick his spots. [Campredon]

When posed a question about Zak Irvin's leadership after the Louisville game, Beilein made sure to slip in a mention of Irvin's newfound efficiency following that ugly midseason slump:

He was unflappable through it all. All of a sudden now, if you check his stats, he’s shooting about 50 percent overall and from 3 during these last five games when it really counted. I had several questions about this. When do you turn to somebody else? I said I’m not turning to anybody else. We’ve got a team. Zak Irvin is in there and will take shots because he makes shots. We have a lot of confidence in him. I wouldn’t do that if he hadn’t shown extreme selfless leadership during the entire four years here.

As we discussed on this week's podcast, Irvin has almost entirely eliminated the ineffective heroball shots from his arsenal. He's no longer jacking up off-the-dribble shots early in the clock; instead, he's turned his midrange game into one of Michigan's most reliable ways to generate points in late-clock situations, something that was on full display with his three straight buckets to tighten up the game against Louisville:

Irvin's numbers over the last eight games would seem unbelievable to Early-February You: 34/51 on twos (67%), 14/32 on threes (44%), 66.2 eFG%, 20 assists, 12 turnovers. He's picking his spots with a discernment he didn't have in his first three years. His usage is mostly hanging in the mid-teens, well below the 22-23% load he carried in the past.

Perhaps the strongest sign that Irvin is choosing the right time to attack is his almost complete lack of free-throw attempts; he's taken only seven in that eight-game span, all in the final two games of the BTT, and while that'd be a bad sign for many players, Irvin is at his worst when he's driving the ball into traffic—that's when he tends to toss up his ugliest shots or turn the ball over. Instead, he's drilling his pet midrange pull-ups and going to the rim only when the defense opens up. Irvin's willingness to take a back seat to Walton, Wagner, and Wilson and find a role that suits his game has been overlooked as a reason Michigan has turned into a Sweet Sixteen team. It shouldn't be.

MAAR, Reliable Role Player

MAAR gets buckets. [Bryan Fuller]

Another overlooked reason this Michigan team has become a fire-breathing hellbeast: timely scoring from Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who's maintained a remarkable level of efficiency since the ugly loss to Ohio State, which capped a five-game stretch in which he went just 4/17 inside the arc. His eye-popping stats in the 14 games since: 40/59 on twos (68%), 17/42 on threes (40%), 64.8 eFG%, 26/33 free throws (79%), 28 assists, 13 turnovers.

MAAR boasts an impressive array of moves to score around the rim. He's equally comfortable scoring off kamikaze drives or using moves stolen from that 65-year-old dude at the YMCA to exploit switches:

In the past, MAAR's forays to the hoop almost always resulted in him putting up a shot. He's recently added a drive-and-kick element that's tough to contain given his ruthless efficiency as a scorer. He tallied four assists against Oklahoma State; three of them set up Walton three-pointers.

If all of the above carries over into the second weekend of the tournament, it's going to be very difficult for any foe to slow down this team. These guys don't need Walton to carry them anymore; that was evident against Louisville. Every player seeing major minutes right now poses a matchup problem in one form or another. It's a joy to watch.



March 21st, 2017 at 3:48 PM ^

Not sure I totally agree about it being a bad thing when Irvin penetrates; he looked good putting it on the deck in crunch time against Purdue.  Agree that his midrange game (especially going to his right) is his strength though.




March 21st, 2017 at 4:08 PM ^

He has issues when he drives and there's a help defender waiting in the lane. He's been picking his spots and driving when he just has one man to beat to get to the rim. I certainly have no issue with him taking layups—we have a few other pictures from last weekend that are eerily similar the one in this post where Irvin is putting the ball on the backboard with little resistance.


March 21st, 2017 at 5:53 PM ^

I actually think Irvin is at his best when he's using his driving ability to complement/create space for his pull up jumpers (or its the other way around?) - either way, both are crucial to his recent success.  Irvin appropriately picking his spots (with jumpers AND drives) has led to his resurgence.

As for his lack of free throws, he'd have more than seven if at least two of them weren't missed front ends of one and ones!  I kid (sort of), but Ace's point makes sense.  


March 21st, 2017 at 3:52 PM ^

On MAAR's "added drive-and-kick element" gif, couldn't help but to notice DJ's pretty backdoor cut; you know, just in case MAAR decided a wide-open Walton 3 might be less efficient than a wide-open DJ dunk. So many weapons in Heisen-... Beilein's arsenal.


March 21st, 2017 at 3:59 PM ^

MAAR is the X factor for me at this point.  Scoring from him is a huge bonus and he seems the most capable of creating his own shot.  I love the fact that all 8 of our major players must be defended at the 3 pt line.  With Wagner's new-found fake and drive, the sky is the limit for these guys.  If we can avoid the dreaded "x minutes without a field goal" that pops up every few games, we'll be in every game from here on out. Here's hoping we get four more games.

Chilly Willy

March 21st, 2017 at 4:29 PM ^

65-year-old dude at the YMCA... Love it!

We all hope to be that guy someday. I do wonder why the title comes with the privilege of prancing around the locker room buck naked for 30 minutes afterwards?!?


March 21st, 2017 at 4:48 PM ^

If I didn't know any better, reading this, I'd say you think Michigan has a title shot. So let me ask: who left in the tourney do you think is definitely better than Michigan? 


March 21st, 2017 at 6:46 PM ^

the best combination of talent (NBA players/high recruits), experience (lost a classic in the title game last year), and coaching (Roy is one of the best).  They're probably the best team left. Luckily only one team can emerge out of the UNC/UCLA/UK trio.  Whomever gets out of there will be the biggest challenge we'd face, IMO.

Kansas is freaky athletic but I don't think they're well-coached or disciplined enough to scare me too much.  We'd be underdogs but probably only by a couple points.

Only potential title game opponent that scares me more than a little is Arizona which is now healthy.  They're talented, athletic and pretty well-coached.  Would be really fun to see a Markannen v Wagner matchup.  Florida is a beast on defense so they could clog some things up for us.



March 21st, 2017 at 4:55 PM ^

I see that you got some of these clips from that torrent posted on the board, and didn't get convert it to a different file format first, haha. Got some serious jagger.


March 21st, 2017 at 5:13 PM ^

What game was it in January where Beilein tried Wilson at the 5 and he looked totally lost? That was like, a month ago, right? Now he's playing 40 minutes and beasting up on D.


March 21st, 2017 at 5:20 PM ^

would do well to read the latest columns by brian, ace and alex.  

Really are there any tv talking heads that know more of M basketball than Mgoblog nation.

Well written, informative and joyful column to read.

And Nothing about a plane wreck, which I'm sure the tv folks will sensationalize.  This team was on their way with or without that mishap.

Beat the Ducks, and DJ bust ennis. Go Blue.


March 21st, 2017 at 5:30 PM ^

The next step in the evolution of this program is recruiting.  We clearly don't need (nor do I want) the 1-and-done players that dot the landscape of the blue-blood programs.  Even Izzo experienced the challenges of that this year.  I lived through the Fisher era and saw it too.


But with that being said, we do need to have that player who comes in with a solid floor to their game and has the high ceiling for Beilein to push them toward.  We've lost a lot of those recruiting battles and I often struggle to figure out why.  If you're a point guard, a shooter, or a versatile stretch big guy wouldn't you be beating down Beilein's door for an opportunity?  


Not only have we produced a ton of NBA players in recent years who didn't show up on campus as 5-stars, but nearly every player that stuck with the program has exceeded their expectations.  MAAR probably won't play in the NBA, but he's far exceeded his expectations as an old 2-star recruit and will have a long career in Europe if he wants one.  Levert and Spike were no-name recruits.  Wilson and Wagner were projects.  Maybe you can argue that Doyle and Chatman were failures of the Beilein development model, but they didn't stick around long enough to find out.  Even everyone's favorite punching bag Mark Donnal started for a year and has a couple of 20-point games to his name.  


Mo Bamba - if you want to be a 1-and-done guy who jumps out of the gym and blocks shots, hoping the Knicks or 76ers draft you, then go to a blue blood program and work on your dunks.  If you want to develop a mid-range shot and well rounded game, sign with us and give Beilein 2 years to work with you.


March 22nd, 2017 at 1:47 PM ^

Even without the tumor Doyle was never going to be a two-n-done guy (I know you weren't saying he was). The Beilein development grade was always going to be incomplete. I was hopeful to see his 3rd and 4th years even with the regression as a Soph.


March 22nd, 2017 at 1:12 AM ^

answer the question?  Of course they want to just jump out of the gym and then get drafted and start making millions!

But in all seriousness, you're probably not correct about being well-rounded.  Well-rounded on offense, sure, but the problem with all these Michigan players Beilien has sent to the NBA is that they're all minus defenders or worse.  It's just never been a strength of his programs and he's never been a good defensive coach.  That's half the game and a must in today's analytics focused NBA - unless you're a savant on offense.  It seems like at this point, we're largely viewed like Oregon or Texas Tech or (the program formerly known as) Baylor in football.  We produce system guys, not pros, is the narrative.

I'm sure other coaches recruit against us by pointing out the NBA failures and tell guys that they won't learn to play defense. I'm optimistic and hopeful Donlon will change that. I think the counter to that negative recruiting is many of those three and low four stars wouldn't have even been drafted had they not played for Beilein and Michigan, which is true.  But that doesn't help you recruit the top players.  In their minds, they're going to the NBA.  They'd already be there if the NBA allowed them to be drafted out of high school. So it's just a matter of where they want to spend their one or two years.  And it's not a surprise they'd want to do it at Duke or UK or Kansas where they're going to compete for a championship and not have to play school, etc.

Now that goes for Mo Bamba and the top 25 guys.  Why we don't get more guys from 25-100 range who do have to develop into NBA players could be any number of things.  Beilein not cool enough or that we play "white-boy" basketball and/or don't play defense (historically not untrue) could all be decent enough reasons.  I don't buy the argument that you have to be dirty because Izzo, Donovan while at Florida, Barnes while at Texas, Matta for a stretch at OSU all recruit(ed) well without being dirty to my knowledge.


March 21st, 2017 at 6:11 PM ^

I presume he is paying attention to the postseason play and overall player development at Duke, Kentucky, and Michigan.  The crystal balls may not say it, but I'd give a 30% chance he goes Blue.


March 21st, 2017 at 9:55 PM ^

Michigan at this ooint, as has been the case for awhile now, is that every guy Beilein plays, can score. So, who are you going to leave when they go small or big, they can all shoot the three effectively?  And now, they all will go to the basket if you overcommit on closeouts.

The thing is, not only are the guys scorers, they are unselfish and don't care who does the damage. The fact that they now play defense at the other end of the court, should prompt our coach to understand how good and dangerous a complete team can be. The fact that he was willing to hire a defensive coach whose influence in their play is clearly visible, just expands the confidence of this team at both the right and best time.

This team is playing at a high level and this is in part due to the fact that they've developed individually and as a team understanding and executing their roles on the floor, but perhaps the larger element that we can't measure or understand in terms of their growth, is their enjoyment in playing with each other. I think that goes hand in hand with their late-season commitment and desire to just do it, no matter what. That and perhaps understanding that life is short and the confidence of youth is also short-lived. In any case, what a great ride they are taking us all on.


March 21st, 2017 at 10:19 PM ^

and I had almost forgotton how painful it was to watch Michigan play at that point.  It's also pretty clear how big of improvement the team has made from the first half of the season -- where you could still see elements of the awful, awful stretches of bad shots and good shots that just wouldn't fall -- to where they are now.

It's like upgrading your car to a newer, faster model. Still looks relatively the same on the outside, but man, what a difference when it runs!



March 23rd, 2017 at 12:28 AM ^

is a thing of beauty for team defense.  He hedges well to force the pass to the big, and Duncan rotates perfectly to force the jump stop and the pass to the baseline which allows DJ time to recover back to Duncan's man to make the beautiful block.  Earlier in the year, Duncan would have been late or flat out beat there.  He makes a nice play and while he's never going to stay in front of quicker dribble driver (pretty much anyone that ventures a try), he's playing a lot smarter and is in the right spots, which amazingly has made the lineup with him at the 3/4 and DJ at center a more than serviceable defensive lineup.

It's actually been our best defensive lineup against teams that have a Just a Shooter-type for him to guard because DJ is best as the rim protector. When he could guard Kline of Purdue, Brown of Wisconsin, and Hammonds of OSU, he was fine.  Unfortunately, Oregon doesn't have one of those types.  Will be very interesting to see how we matchup there.  Hope Wagner can protect the rim well enough while guarding Bell.

The Reeve

March 22nd, 2017 at 10:37 AM ^

Take a close look at clip of Mo driving at the top of this post. That play is by no means an easy layup after the fake; DJ's defender is in position to slide and contest the shot, probably to foul hard. It takes DJ perfectly selling the three—he flashes, hands out for the catch precisely when Mo gets a step—thereby exploiting the Louisville coaching directive to close out on all shooters. I even think Mo puts a little extra wide arm movement in there to implant the idea of a kick-out.

That is sophisticated coaching. I coached for 20 years (at low levels), and getting kids to understand how to sell action off ball—and how to time it—took an act of God. DJ records a nice assist there.


March 22nd, 2017 at 2:12 PM ^

Robinson was Stauskas 2.0 from three point range as he showed early on last year. He seems to miss an awful lot shots that you expect the "just a shooter" guy to make, including at the free throw line in crunch time.

Blue in PA

March 22nd, 2017 at 4:17 PM ^

I think his 3pt % has dropped from last year, but his D has improved and so has his ability to take the ball to the rim.  I think the trade off will continue to be a huge benefit to him as a player.  A 1 dimensional shooter only takes a guy so far.

Hopefully he continues to improve, DIII to DI isn't an insignificant jump and the level of competition.  





March 23rd, 2017 at 12:33 PM ^ literally identical to Stauskas' on a similar number of attempts, and while he got off to a slow start (by his standards) this year, he's been around 45% on threes since Big Ten play began. Don't let a couple missed free throws throw off your perception of his work on the whole, especially since he's become a much better all-around player this year, especially on defense.