Hoops Mailbag: More Weezy, Late Clock Offense, Best Five

Submitted by Ace on December 30th, 2016 at 4:36 PM

What's German for "you should play me more"? [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Michigan begins Big Ten play on Sunday at Iowa. As the team's long holiday break comes to a close, it's a good time to take some mailbag questions. I got enough good questions this time around that I'll probably do another one of these next week; a couple of these required deeper dives than I expected.

I'll begin with this: I'm less concerned about the team making the tournament than most Michigan fans, or at least that's the sense I get. They're 10-3 with no resume-crushing losses and a couple neutral-site blowout wins over top-40 teams. While it's early yet to keep tabs on this, the Wolverines are a nine-seed in the Bracket Matrix with eight at-large teams below them. A handful of the teams ahead of them have the look of paper tigers. I'm not ready to believe Minnesota and Northwestern are tournament squads; both are currently ahead of Michigan in the matrix. This team is in better shape both statistically and resume-wise after the nonconference schedule than last year's team, which had Caris LeVert through the Big Ten opener. Unless there's an injury to a major contributor, which we obviously can't rule out, then this will be a tournament team.

With that out of the way, the key to season is Moe Wagner earning John Beilein's trust enough to become the focal point of this team. This is both on Wagner and Beilein. Wagner, for his part, needs to cut down on the oft-inexplicable mental errors that he makes on defense; those have been Beilein's focus when he explains why Wagner got pulled from a particular game or doesn't have a bigger role in general. Beilein, for his part, needs to realize that Michigan is usually better off with Wagner in the game even when he's made a couple mistakes. While I understand the need for teaching moments, they don't always need to come during games, especially when they may be at the expense of the team's chances to win.

There are already encouraging signs on this front. Wagner has played 25+ minutes in three of the last six games; the exceptions were UCLA, when he got in foul trouble, and the blowouts over Central Arkansas and Maryland Eastern Shore, when Beilein had a chance to give Jon Teske some extended playing time.

Meanwhile, Wagner's relatively low minute total—he's still playing a shade less than half of the available minutes—partially obscures the reality: when Wagner is on the floor, he's the lead offensive player. His 24.0% usage rate is the highest on the team, as is his 26.2% share of shot attempts when he's on the floor. His seven assists already outnumber last season's total by three. He's cut his turnover rate nearly in half, an especially difficult feat given the major uptick in usage. He's drawing more fouls. Most importantly, he's obscenely efficient as a scorer, shooting 71% on twos and 50% on threes. While those numbers will fall back to earth as Wagner can no longer feast on the Kennesaw States of the basketball world, it's clear that Wagner has the highest ceiling as a scorer of any of Michigan's rotation players, and it may not be close.

Wagner has done an excellent job of cutting down his foul rate, which has dropped from 7.3 fouls per 40 minutes last season to 3.9 this season. As long as that continues, it's time for Wagner to play closer to 30 minutes per game than his current mark of 19.2.

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the mailbag.]

M's late-clock efficiency isn't the problem, it's the volume. [Joseph Dressler]

Do you think that not having the dominant offense player forces the offense to use more of the shot clock which may make this team less efficient compared to previous teams?  Thanks!

When this question came in, I expected to find that Michigan's late-clock offensive efficiency has dropped off from past years. When I dug into the numbers at hoop-math, however, I got something unexpected—and it makes a lot of sense. Here are the numbers for Michigan's late clock offense, which counts field goal attempts coming 25 or more seconds after the start of a possession or offensive rebound, going back to Trey Burke's freshman year:

  % of Total FGA eFG%
2016-17 22.4 49.4
2015-16 21.5 49.3
2014-15 15.1 49.4
2013-14 13.4 47.4
2012-13 10.9 49.6
2011-12 12.4 42.5

Aside from 2011-12, when Burke was finding his way and Tim Hardaway Jr. was mired in a season-long slump, Michigan's efficiency in late-clock situations has remained relatively unchanged. What's changed dramatically for the post-Burke/Stauskas/LeVert squads is the percentage of possessions that reach that late stage in the shot clock, when the shot quality is usually worse than any other situation. Beilein's teams tend to be in the 55-56 eFG% range on all shots; they top out at 49-ish in late clock situations no matter the year.

I agree with the premise of the question here. While Wagner has taken on a larger role in the offense, he's still largely reliant on his teammates; per hoop-math, 32 of his 57 field goals have been assisted. Zak Irvin and, especially, Derrick Walton have not developed into the type of shot creators who can consistently generate buckets outside of the framework of the offense.

Michigan's offense is still good, mind you. They rank 20th in adjusted efficiency on KenPom and 24th in eFG%. Without a player like Burke or Stauskas or LeVert who can attack off the bounce and break down defenses, however, there is a definite ceiling for the offense, one that's a little below the lofty standard Beilein has set.

With MAAR struggling, Duncan Robinson has earned a bigger role. [Campredon]

What would you say is our best 5 right now? To me it seems like Irvin, Walton, Wagner, and Wilson are locks (in that order). From there it's a question, based on how Rahk has played, whether our best 5th person is Robinson or Rahkman. I love the spacing element that Robinson provides on offense, but when the team plays against good defensive teams (e.g., South Carolina), Walton and Irvin are just not enough sometimes to consistently generate good offensive looks. That's where Rahk at his best would help, but we just haven't seen enough of it yet (on either end).


Again, the questioner here has done me the favor of providing the best answer. Irvin, Walton, and Wagner are clearly in any top lineup Michigan can put out there. I agree that Wilson is in there as well; while he's not Robinson's caliber as a scorer and passer, he does everything else better. Wilson's rebounding and shot-blocking are invaluable and he's been an efficient, low-usage scorer who's an ideal complement to the more ball-dominant Wagner up front—Michigan doesn't have to worry about taking away their only rebounding threat by giving Wagner the ball if Wilson is also out there.

The way they're playing right now, I'd go with Robinson over MAAR as the fifth player in Michigan's best lineup. MAAR's ideal role heading into this season was as a defensive stopper and offensive slasher; he hasn't done either of those things well and it appears to be affecting his confidence. While Robinson is still a worse defender, he brings so much more to the offense; it's been obscured because his overall minutes are down but his usage rate and share of shots are up substantially from last year and he's maintained excellent efficiency as a shooter. Robinson bends defenses more than MAAR, opening up space for his teammates, and he can handle a much larger offensive workload. Unless MAAR makes up that gap on defense, Robinson should see more minutes as the season goes on, and I wouldn't be surprised if he takes MAAR's starting spot.



December 30th, 2016 at 6:22 PM ^


Beilein, for his part, needs to realize that Michigan is usually better off with Wagner in the game even when he's made a couple mistakes. While I understand the need for teaching moments, they don't always need to come during games, especially when they may be at the expense of the team's chances to win.


This is a bit harsh and presupposes Beilein (A) doesn't realize MW's importance to the offense, (B) assumes that Beilein doesn't have a plan for increasing MW's role, (C) doesn't have more information to work on than us.

Of course, all of those seem to be false. And, really, there aren't better teaching points than things that happen in a game. And if Beilein has reason to believe, in a particular game, that another player gives his team the better chance to win, then that's what he's going to go with.

However, as you've pointed out, he has been increasing MW's minutes and role and everything points to that continuing.


December 30th, 2016 at 7:58 PM ^

Couldn't the increase in the percentage of shots late in the shot clock be partially explained by the shot clock being shortened? It gives UM, as well as other teams, less time to get a shot off in their normal offense.

The 15/16 season was the first season when the shot clock was reduced to 30 seconds.


December 31st, 2016 at 8:16 AM ^

My first thought about your suggestion was that it should be the opposite, and the stat shown (% of shots taken after 25 seconds) is even more remarkable given the shot clock change (to 30 from 35). There should be fewer shots in the last 5 seconds compared to the last 10 seconds, simply because the latter includes the former. Instead there are more.

On second thought, I think you're onto something, though I'm not quite sure what it is. It would be useful to know if Michigan is an outlier, or if this holds throughout the NCAA.