Hoops Preview 2014-15: Point Guards Comment Count

Ace October 16th, 2014 at 2:31 PM

Previously: Gardening Lessons

[Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]

While the rest of the roster deals with a good amount of turnover, point guard is a comforting constant for Michigan this season thanks to the return of starter Derrick Walton and invaluable backup Spike Albrecht.

Although both point guards return, their roles—especially Walton's—should be quite different with the departure of Nik Stauskas, who ran the show on offense for much of 2013-14. Caris LeVert will continue to handle the ball quite a bit himself, but Walton will either be the second or third option when he's on the court, and with Stauskas gone Albrecht's shooting off the bench becomes more valuable, as well.

These two will also be asked to provide much of the leadership for this young squad. A true junior who recently turned all of 22 years old, Spike is the oldest player on this team—I KNOW, RIGHT?—and John Beilein has discussed his importance as a leader several times this offseason, including at today's Big Ten Media Day:

Q. I was wondering if you could talk about Spike and how you've seen him develop since he got on campus, particularly from last season to this season?

JOHN BEILEIN: It's amazing the confidence he has shown since the day he walked in the door. I mean, even when he came for his visit where he was what some people thought was an unlikely recruit, he was laughing about how unlikely people thought this was. And then every time he walks on the floor, he just -- he's got incredible confidence that "I can play at this level," and he's shown that so well. He's a pleasure to coach. He's become a really excellent team leader right now. I'm really leaning on him to be the pulse of the team.

Spike is the pulse, Walton the burgeoning floor general. Hit the jump for a deeper dive into what to expect from them this season.


Derrick Walton

Year: Sophomore
Measurables: 6'0", 185
Base Stats: 26.7 MPG, 7.9 PPG, 45/41/79 2P/3P/FT%, 106 assists, 56 turnovers
Key Advanced Metrics: 18.2% usage, 112.2 ORating, 19.8 assist rate, 19.9 turnover rate

Walton came to Ann Arbor last year as a consensus top-50 recruit, and he displayed that level of potential while playing in a supporting role. He'll be asked to do a whole lot more this year, especially in the pick-and-roll game, and there were enough signs that he's destined for stardom last season that confidence is high in his ability to handle increased responsibility.

With Stauskas and LeVert handling much of the on-ball duties in 2013-14, freshman Walton spent much of time working as a spot-up shooter, and he was highly effective in this role, as Dylan's shot chart displays:

There'll be fewer spot-up opportunities this year, in all likelihood, but when he's able to work off the ball Walton remains a serious threat in this offense. He also showed major potential as a finisher; according to hoop-math, he hit 71% of his shots at the rim, and only 22% of those shots were assisted, figures that actually compared favorably to Stauskas (65%, 35%). Walton turned the clutch and-one into something of a signature last year, and he was able to create shots for himself both in transition and halfcourt sets; he'll be tasked with the latter a lot more this year, and the evidence suggests he'll be quite capable.

Walton will shoulder much more of the distribution load, and while his assist and turnover rates were nearly identical in his freshman year, those numbers tend to head in a very good direction for second-year point guards, especially those under John Beilein's and LaVall Jordan's tutelage. Walton and Zak Irvin both participated in the elite Adidas Nations camp during the offseason, and per College Basketball Talk, Walton's progress as a passer in the pick-and-roll directly benefited his college teammate:

On Friday Walton was very good with regards to distributing the basketball, making sound decisions in the pick-and-roll game and getting his teammates the ball where they were best positioned to enjoy success. One of the beneficiaries was teammate Zak Irvin, who knocked down multiple jump shots on the tail end of those Walton passes.

He'll also look to push the ball quite a bit after recording 35% of his assists in transition last season, the highest figure on the team. Walton is a good decision-maker on the fast break and he finishes well at the rim; he should only get better on that front as a sophomore.

On defense, Walton held his own for a freshman at a demanding position. Unlike his predecessor, he's got pretty ideal size to go along with plus athleticism, which helps make up for the fact that his steal rate was only half of what Trey Burke's was in his final season. Walton also chips in a good number of rebounds for a point; his 12.4% defensive rebound rate actually came in slightly ahead of Glenn Robinson III's figure last year. That's an underrated asset with Walton, as he's able to immediately turn those boards into fast break opportunities.

There are several spots one could point to heading into this season and say it's THE key for Michigan to continue their high level of success. Walton is one of them. If his three-point shooting can stay in the same range while he improves his on-ball efficiency, he should make a big push for all-conference honors, not to mention put the team in a position to win a whole lot of games.

Spike Albrecht

Year: Junior
Measurables: 5'11", 175
Base Stats: 14.7 MPG, 3.3 PPG, 44/39/78 2P/3P/FT%, 75 assists, 16 turnovers
Key Advanced Metrics: 13.8% usage, 126.1 ORating, 24.3 assist rate, 13.6 turnover rate

Spike may not become much more than what he was as a sophomore last year, but that's by no means a bad thing in this program. Even though his three-point percentage dropped from an anomalous 55% to a paltry-only-in-comparison 39%, his outside shooting off the bench remained a huge asset. While he'll never be a serious threat as a slasher, he also improved his arsenal inside the arc, becoming more reliable with his wonky-looking running scoop layup.

Meanwhile, Albrecht made massive strides as a distributor, raising his assist rate from 14.6% to 24.3% while slashing his turnover rate from 21.4% down to 13.6%; in Big Ten play, he dished out 35 assists against just five turnovers. It's tough to ask for much more out of a backup point guard—when Walton was ineffective, Beilein had the luxury of turning to Spike and knowing the offense would run smoothly, and Albrecht brought a confidence to the court that seemed to spread to his teammates.

While Spike's diminutive stature will always limit his defensive ability, especially against bigger and/or more athletic PGs, he had a knack for coming up with timely steals last season; his theft of a Roy Devyn Marble pass on a 2-on-1 break against Iowa, immediately leading to a fast-break score, comes to mind—that play essentially sealed M's victory over the Hawkeyes.

Even if Spike's game doesn't progress one iota—and under Beilein/Jordan, that's hard to imagine—he'll be one of the more valuable bench contributors in the conference in addition to being the vocal leader of this year's squad. He's liable to spark a huge run with his shooting—we all remember his title game performance, of course—and when he's quiet it's usually because his contributions aren't needed instead of any poor play on his part. (The exception to that comes when he struggles defensively; his minutes waned as M's competition stiffened late in the year, in large part because it didn't seem like a good idea to give him extensive time against, say, Kentucky.)

We should see around a 75/25 split in minutes between Walton and Albrecht. Beilein has the flexibility to play them both at the same time, as well; Spike's steadiness at the point allows for Walton to play off the ball and make use of his stellar spot-up shooting. There's little doubt about this: Michigan's point guard position is once again in good hands.



October 16th, 2014 at 3:46 PM ^

It's not enough to excuse the defensive issues.  These guys are all in the same ballpark of size. Size isn't why Spike is a defensive liability.

There's a bit of a double standard here, in part because of recruiting rankings.  Which is interesting because that kind of stuff doesn't happen in football for 3-star types like Drake Johnson or Thomas Rawls or AJ Williams or Russel Bellomy.


October 16th, 2014 at 3:56 PM ^

Sure, if Spike was 6'7 he would be less of a liability (and more of an NBA prospect) but his biggest defensive issue is athleticism, not size, otherwise Derrick and Trey would have the same defensive issues.  He's not 5'6.

I think you are dead-on with mentioning his defensive limitations (not playing against Kentucky).  That's why Beilein is calling on him to be so aggressive. He can't just sit back and be a 3&D guy because that's not where his value is.  He has to force himself into being an offensive threat whenever he's on the floor because he gives up so much on the other end.


October 16th, 2014 at 3:44 PM ^

They look the same size in the picture but we know he is an inch or two shorter. Is it the camara angle? What if Peppers was standing in between them? Our point guard position is in good hands again.


October 16th, 2014 at 3:00 PM ^

people think irvin will be our most improved but i think it will be walton. hes our best player in the pick and roll with Nik gone. and hes shown as a frosh that he can finish around the rim. add that to his new agressiveness and hes a big time weapon. he wont be first team big ten or anything but he will show to be our most valuable player behind lavert


October 16th, 2014 at 3:04 PM ^

Spike turned 20 before his freshman year at UM, how is that even possible. 

I have a similar birthdate, and I turned 18 on my first day of college classes. Did he take a prep year like McGary?


October 16th, 2014 at 3:01 PM ^

Let's see how many cliché mgoblog posts I can aggregate in one comment!

...but can they block?

We need to find a "Beilein-type" football coach

Something something subs, something something crazy

Thank god for basketball season

Brady Hoke can't close (unrelated)


Now that that's out of the way. I'm super excited about bball season but am reserving expectations. It seems as though every year we have someone step up in a huge way to make up for lost offensive production. While I think we have a lot of nice parts, the teams that are consistently good have great recruiting year-in year-out to compliment the development of role pieces (e.g., Duke, Kansas). I see a team that is, quite frankly, a year away.

This being said, I'm sure I will still see a team that plays cohesively and with heart every game, and that is enough for me right now.   


October 16th, 2014 at 3:31 PM ^

Frankly, the William Davidson Player Development Center should be renamed the John Beilein Player Development Center.  Beilein is to guards and wings what Jaime Escalante is to inner-city calculus students.


October 16th, 2014 at 3:50 PM ^

I think this will work against a lot of our oppoenents.  I think Spike would get the off-ball role though.  Walton is a far bigger threat with the ball in his hands.

Either way -- what a luxury to have these two. It doesn't get much better.


October 16th, 2014 at 3:54 PM ^

If you are like me and wondered why Walton had a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio, but his assist rate and turnover rate are approximately the same, let me help you out. Assist rate is assists/field goal made, while turnover percentage is turnovers/number of possessions.


October 16th, 2014 at 3:58 PM ^

JOHN BEILEIN: It's amazing the confidence he has shown since the day he walked in the door. I mean, even when he came for his visit where he was what some people thought was an unlikely recruit, he was laughing about how unlikely people thought this was. And then every time he walks on the floor, he just -- he's got incredible confidence that says "You can run with these guys, Doug" and he's shown that so well. He's a pleasure to coach. He's become a really excellent team leader right now. I'm really leaning on him to be the pulse of the team.




October 16th, 2014 at 4:04 PM ^

Love this backcourt. Spike is a seasoned vet that can run the offense and stroke it from deep. Very anxious to see Walton make that jump I expect him to make this season.

We're also lucky to have guys like Levert, MAAR, and Kam that can run the offense in spurts.

Yard Dog

October 16th, 2014 at 4:13 PM ^

to have two point guards of this caliber.  The play at the PG alone will have us winning our fair share of games.  Very interested to see Walton's progress, I anticipate him making a big jump this year.

Perkis-Size Me

October 16th, 2014 at 4:47 PM ^

We're very fortunate to have these two. Walton looks primed to make a big leap this year, and Albrecht is a sure-fire, reliable asset that's run the gauntlet and seen it all. Both have a lot of experience under their belts and can handle the pressure. Im sure we'll continue seeing big things from both of them this year.

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