Hoops Preview 2016-17: Wings (Part I)

Submitted by Ace on October 31st, 2016 at 5:16 PM

Previously: John Beilein media day transcriptBilly Donlon media day quotesMGoPodcast 8.7Alex's team preview, Point Guards

[Paul Sherman/MGoBlog]

After a hiatus for State Week, the hoops preview continues with a look at Michigan's starters on the wing. I'll cover the backups in a separate post later this week; Seth's been kind enough to take over the Maryland FFFF this week so I have time to get these posted before the season starts.

The starting wings will be the same as last year: Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman mans the two while Duncan Robinson and Zak Irvin occupy the nominal forward spots. All three had their ups and downs in 2015-16; all have the potential to make a huge mark on the 2016-17 season if they can more consistently play to their strengths.

[Hit THE JUMP for the player previews.]

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman

Rahk consistently created looks for himself at the rim. [Bryan Fuller]

Year: Junior
Measurables: 6'4", 190
Base Stats: 27.8 MPG, 8.6 PPG, 51/36/72 2P/3P/FT%, 2.7 REB/G, 61 assists, 27 turnovers, 22 steals
Key Advanced Metrics: 16.2% usage, 112.9 ORating, 11.5 assist rate, 9.4 turnover rate, 18.3 defensive rebound percentage

While Muhammad-Ali Adbur-Rahkman didn't get top billing, when Michigan needed a tough bucket last year, he was by far the best bet to convert. As the season progressed, so did MAAR, who scored between 14 and 16 points in each of the team's five postseason games.

According to Shot Analytics, MAAR hit 60% of his shots at the rim, a solid figure made more impressive by the high degree of difficulty on many of those attempts. That was a slight improvement over his freshman-year percentage, and he also raised his level of play in several other regards: his three-point percentage jumped from 29% to 36% on twice the attempts, he got to the free-throw line with more than twice the frequency, and he halved his turnover rate.

Put it all together and MAAR's ORating jumped over 20 points. His progression wasn't just apparent in the numbers; this and-one in the late stages of the Minnesota game was an "oh, damn, he can do that?" kind of moment:

MAAR hadn't shown that level of physicality and dogged effort at the rim as a freshman; we should only see more of it in his junior season, and it's not as much about his athletic ability as his mental approach:

"Sometimes I get down on myself and I'm not as confident as I should be," he said.

Now he has every reason to be. Abdur-Rahkman explained that his strong finish to last year and this year's inherent starting job have changed him just as much as his role.

Now the guy who has been different for Michigan is starting to feel different about himself.

"I need to be more confident," Abdur-Rahkman said, "for the team to be more successful."

One way MAAR can show off that added confidence is by running the offense, an opportunity which may arise more often this season with only freshman Xavier Simpson providing backup for Derrick Walton; the team needs another ballhandler and MAAR could be better-suited to that role than Zak Irvin, who often took that on last year, especially if MAAR learns to look for the kickout more often on his drives. A MAAR-Wagner pick-and-roll, for instance, would allow Walton, Irvin, and Robinson to hunt for shots while opposing defense have to deal with scoring threats on both ends of the screen.

If MAAR's outside shooting progress holds and he continues to elevate the rest of his offensive repertoire, his previously low usage rate could take off this year. He should see a lot of run; right now, he's the team's best finisher, most reliable perimeter defender, and a good bet to be the third primary ballhandler after Walton and Simpson.

Duncan Robinson

Robinson's torrid shooting cooled as opponents started gameplanning around him. [Fuller]

Year: Senior
Measurables: 6'8", 215
Base Stats: 28.9 MPG, 11.2 PPG, 48/45/89 2P/3P/FT%, 3.5 REB/G, 65 assists, 36 turnovers, 23 steals
Key Advanced Metrics: 17.4% usage, 123.6 ORating, 12.1 assist rate, 11.6 turnover rate, 12.2 defensive rebound percentage

We all know the main reason Duncan Robinson is out there: he's a deadeye marksman whose practice exploits have surpassed even those of Nik Stauskas. His quick, consistent release and seemingly endless range make him a devastating three-point shooter:

For a healthy portion of last season, Robinson's first as an eligible player after transferring from D-III Williams College, he looked like he'd finish with a three-point percentage above 50. Conference play saw that figure fall back to earth, however; he shot a (relatively) disappointing 36% from beyond the arc in Big Ten games as foes hounded him off the ball, doing anything possible to prevent him from getting enough room to comfortably rise and fire.

Last year, that was enough to effectively negate Robinson. While he posted a respectable two-point percentage, his looks inside the arc had a stark contrast to those of, say, MAAR—Robinson's mostly came on blow-bys when opponents closed out way too hard or wide open backcuts when they overplayed him off the ball. He temporarily lost his starting job to Aubrey Dawkins, who was posting similar shooting numbers from outside the arc while bringing an entirely different level of athleticism.

Oddly enough, Robinson's much-maligned defense helped him earn that spot back, but only because Dawkins was even worse on that end of the floor. John Beilein said at media day that he's looking for Robinson to give more of an effort on that end; the main focus, however, is working to free him up for open looks again:

I’d like to play him in a couple different positions, so at 6’7”, 6’8”, he can play off the ball screen. Duncan’s whole thing is now, every year has been this great step. The next step is, I’ve got to run a little faster, I’m a marked man. This is not a game of HORSE, I’ll tell him often in practice. You’ve gotta be—watch Kyle Korver, you’ve gotta be running at high speed, because the scouting report is out on you. You are maybe the best shooter in the country. They’re not gonna get you open, you’ve got to get yourself open. That’s that nice, next progression. Guarding his yard, diving on the floor, becoming a more rugged defender. That’s another step.

With Dawkins gone, Robinson won't be looking over to the bench whenever he makes an error; he should be locked in at ~30 minutes a game barring a huge breakout year for DJ Wilson.

As Beilein's quote indicates, Michigan won't be looking for Robinson to expand his game as much as refine it. His exceptional shooting, when he's on, opens up space for the rest of the team—space that slashers like Walton, Simpson, and MAAR will be happy to work in. If he can improve his off-ball movement and become a passable defender—c'mon, Billy Donlon—then his absurd non-conference numbers from last year could become the norm. At worst, he should be a consistent double-digit scorer who occasionally goes off and swings a game or two by himself.

Zak Irvin

Irvin worked his way to the rim more often last season. [Eric Upchurch]

Year: Senior
Measurables: 6'6", 215
Base Stats: 32.9 MPG, 11.8 PPG, 48/30/66 2P/3P/FT%, 4.5 REB/G, 107 assists, 65 turnovers, 27 steals
Key Advanced Metrics: 22.7% usage, 97.7 ORating, 18.0 assist rate, 15.2 turnover rate, 15.1 defensive rebound percentage, 1.4 fouls committed/40 minutes

Much like Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin is a bizarrely difficult player to figure out given he's a three-year contributor heading into his senior season. As a freshman, he was an unabased and effective long-range gunner, hitting 43% of his 146 three-point attempts. That percentage fell to 35% as his role expanded in his sophomore year, then plummeted to 30% last year as a back injury plagued Irvin for the first half of the season.

While the season-long numbers don't look good, Irvin got much better in Big Ten play, making 37% of his threes. He still posted an ORating below 100, however, because the rest of his offensive game remained a work-in-progress even as Michigan relied on him to be their highest-usage player. Irvin was featured as the ballhandler in the pick-and-roll for the first time in his career with mixed results; while his assist rate nearly doubled, his turnovers rose too, and his inability to finish with force at the rim led to a lot of layups getting batted into photographers row—Irvin shot only 43% inside the arc in Big Ten play.

On the other hand, Irvin added a lot to his repertoire last year, including an off-the-bounce pull-up game that came through in the clutch a couple times:

As a wing masquerading as a power forward, Irvin also frequently drew the toughest assignment on defense against much bigger players, and he generally held his own. The taller Robinson could provide some respite there, as Beilein mentioned, as could DJ Wilson; at the very least, not having to guard burly post players should help him expend more of his energy on offense.

At this stage, it's unclear what Irvin will be as a senior. If everything comes together, he's an all-conference player, but first he needs to rediscover his shot. This stat from UMHoops is alarming:

The injury clearly affected Irvin last year, but his shooting fell off the previous season, too. At this point, I don't expect him to return to his freshman-year mark—opponents weren't gamplanning around him with all the surrounding talent that season—but a jump back into the mid-to-high 30s would be huge for this team. Not having to shoulder as much of the offensive load should help, and I don't think he'll have to with Walton hopefully at full health, MAAR improving, and Simpson stepping into the rotation.

To be perfectly honest, though, I have no idea what to expect of Irvin this year. His collegiate career could end with a boom or a thud; neither would come as a shock.



October 31st, 2016 at 5:50 PM ^

I'm excited to see how this year progresses, especially with Donlon taking over as the DC. My best guess is that Irvin slightly improves his conference numbers from last year. I'd love to see us go with Rahk at the 3 for stretches as I think that might help our defense.


October 31st, 2016 at 6:13 PM ^

Those tire marks on the uniforms . . . what on Earth was Adidas thinking?  Otherwise they would have been perfect.

And now Nike's made the "MICHIGAN" on the front too small.  Grrr.  It's not that hard to get it right...



AA Forever

October 31st, 2016 at 6:40 PM ^

where is our 3 point shooting going to come from?  If we're going to play a typical Beilein small ball lineup, we probably need to be shooting 3's at about 38-40% in the Big Ten, and have at least a couple guys over 40%, to have any chance of competing against the upper tier.  Beilein's system depends very heavily on the triple, and much less so on rebounding and inside scoring and defense, so at least two returning players have to ramp their shooting up signficantly from what they did last year, or else Simpson and Watson have to make an impact there.


October 31st, 2016 at 7:57 PM ^

I think this is Irvin's year. He had to carry the load a year early last year due to Levert's injury. And let's not forget he was coming off a back injury. I think he'll have his best year. Same with Walton. Our seniors will lead us. I think we'll be much better than a lot of people think.


October 31st, 2016 at 9:23 PM ^

year comes down to senior play and our bigs.  Xavier and the other freshman will add some depth but they will hardly be the difference in making it to the second round or sweet 16.  If Zak and Walton can step up and play like seniors and add two points per game and a few assists each to their stats then I think we have a good shot at running for the Big Ten title.  If the bigs play like juniors instead of like weak little freshman then again, I think we can challenge for the title.  

We have the exact same team as last year (obvi less the transfers but they didn't add much) and they made it.  Our defense will be loads better and my guess is our offense will improve slightly, though not by much.  Last years offense and an improved defense should be the difference.  11-7 seems totally reasonable.  That stretch of IU twice, MSU twice and OSU and Wisconsin will be ridiculously hard.  3-3 through that is more than satisfactory.  I think we'll make it to the round of 32, maybe the Sweet 16 if we can good matchups.  If we make it that far, it'd be a surprise and I'd welcome it.  Go Blue.