Is this the year for a DJ Wilson breakout? [Eric Upchurch/MGoBlog]
The offseason transfers of Kam Chatman and Aubrey Dawkins have left Michigan surprisingly thin on the wing. After starters Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Zak Irvin, and Duncan Robinson, there are only two scholarship players who slot into the 2-4 spots: DJ Wilson and Ibi Watson, who have only 182 career minutes played between them, all belonging to Wilson.
Both will play—even with Derrick Walton covering a lot of minutes at the two with Xavier Simpson running the point, John Beilein will need to deploy both Wilson and Watson to keep the starters fresh. What the two will contribute is anyone's guess. Wilson is a big, athletic redshirt sophomore who's still figuring out how to function in Beilein's system; Watson is a true freshman without much in the way of recruiting hype. Both are intriguing players with potential; both have something to prove before they can be relied upon.
[Hit THE JUMP for player breakdowns.]
Wilson has plenty of upside as a finisher and defender. [Patrick Barron]
Year: Redshirt sophomore
Measurables: 6'10", 240
Base Stats: 6.1 MPG, 2.7 PPG, 60/30/73 2P/3P/FT%, 0.7 REB/G, 8 assists, 9 turnovers, 10 blocks, 5 steals
Key Advanced Metrics: 24.6% usage, 102.1 ORating, 11.9 def. rebound percentage, 8.4 block rate, 6.2 fouls committed/40 minutes
We've seen very little of DJ Wilson on the court in his two years at Michigan thus far. He logged 24 minutes in the first five games of 2014-15, looking skinny and lost at center, before taking a redshirt year. After moving to power forward, he got into 24 games last season, never logging more than 15 minutes in a game against a D-I opponent.
Here's what we know of him: he's lanky (his Twitter handle is Lanky_Smoove), he can jump very high, and he's made a permanent move to the wing. At media day, John Beilein laid out his hopes for Wilson, comparing him to ex-Indiana human pogo stick Troy Williams:
He’s got to keep doing what he’s doing right now [to get consistent minutes]. He’s had a really good offseason in the weight room. He’s understanding who he is. He’s an athlete who can shoot, he’s not a shooter who’s an athlete. I want him to be a guy that’s a great defender, a guy that is always giving the opponent fits. I told him Troy Williams is a great example, what Troy was able to do just cutting and slashing to the basket without the ball, and use your length. He’s had a really good offseason, a really good fall, and he’s going to have a great chance. Sometimes, just as all our transfers happened last year, you emerge with people—we had a lot of options at that position the last couple years if something didn’t work. We have options still, not as many as we’ve had. He’s going to get a great chance to prove himself, both in practice and games.
If you're looking for a Michigan comparison, the obvious choice is Glenn Robinson III, whose athleticism, feel for when to cut to the hoop, and superlative finishing more than made up for his iffy outside shot. Wilson doesn't have GRIII's five-star, son-of-a-#1-pick pedigree; he does have an extra four inches of height and more upside as a shot-blocker.
It's a huge if, but if Wilson starts scraping his ceiling, he's one of a handful of players in the rotation who could entirely change the outlook of the season. That's especially the case on defense; he blocked ten shots in only 154 minutes last season, and could provide an intimidating level of weakside help we haven't seen at Michigan in a long, long time. His length can also make it tough for opponents to get shots up from the perimeter; after a students-only practice yesterday, that aspect of his game stood out to UMHoops's Orion Sang:
DJ Wilson's length and quickness caused a few problems for the blue team; he was able to get out on Robinson two or three times and prevent Duncan from getting a shot off.
The hope is Wilson becomes an impact defender who converts the occasional backcut with authority, sinks enough of his hopefully rare three-point attempts to open up those backcuts, and helps out on the boards. He's got the ability; we'll see if it comes together. I'm expecting his defense to outshine his offense as he gets 10-15 minutes per game as the backup four, and while his game will still be a work-in-progress, there will be a lot of excitement building for his redshirt junior season.
Measurables: 6'5", 190
Recruiting profile: Three-star, #43 SG, #240 overall (247 Composite)
Nike EYBL Stats: 19.8 MPG, 12.0 PPG, 53/32/87 2P%/3P%/FT%, 4.2 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.5 TOPG
You don't have to go too far back to find the last under-the-radar Pickerington Central product to find success at Michigan. Ibi Watson hails from the same high school as Caris LeVert (and Taco Charlton), and their coach favorably compared Watson's athleticism to LeVert's at the same stage:
"He can really shoot the lights out - really shoot it, score it, and is a great athlete, a much better athlete than Caris," he said. "He's very bouncy and athletic around the rim and in transition. He can really get up. But he's more Tim Hardaway or Zak Irvin than Caris LeVert, more a 3/2 than a 2/1 from a basketball standpoint. He can shoot, score and he's getting better defensively. He has great length - a long, lean body and might be pushing 6-6 now, and just think if he gets to 6-7 or 6-8 …"
He's got room to grow, of course, but he's becoming a lot better passer, Krueger said, and has been more aggressive with the ball in his hands.
"But again, he can shoot the lights out, and he's a great athlete in transition," Krueger said. "A lot of times he's gotten up and dunked on someone's head. Caris wasn't doing that at the same time.
"Ibi is a very good fit for Michigan and their style of play, the offense they run. Coach Beilein did a great job. He's been a little under the radar similar to Caris, but Ibi has got a chance to be special."
While Watson's athletic ability is nice, it's his shooting that will determine his role this year; Michigan could really use a wing off the bench who can knock down spot-up threes, and Watson is essentially the only guy who can fill that role. A January evaluation from Scout's Brian Snow gives hope he'll do just that:
Still what Watson does best is shoot the basketball. He is especially good in catch and shoot situations, and has improved some off the dribble. If he can continue to improve off the bounce Watson is a kid who could make an impact before too long in Ann Arbor.
There is a red flag, and it's Watson's 32% mark on 102 three-point attempts in AAU ball last season. That could be explained away by a combination of high volume—well over half of Watson's shots came from beyond the arc—and shot selection, as scouting reports indicate he took a lot of off-the-dribble threes he almost certainly won't take as a freshman.
Everything else, for now, is secondary; Michigan needs Watson to knock down threes in the 35% range, and he appears capable of doing so. If his defense is up to par—true freshman, so who knows—then he could even eat into some of DJ Wilson's potential minutes. I'm expecting Wilson to play more than Watson, but that's a wild guess—there's a lot of uncertainty here, and Michigan has enough lineup flexibility that the better player, or better matchup in a particular game, will see the most time even though they're very different players.