Let's Start Again: Small Forward Comment Count

Brian April 13th, 2018 at 1:27 PM

An irregular series about next year's basketball team. Previously: point guard, shooting guard.


[Marc-Gregor Campredon]


Charles Matthews (Jr.*): 25% usage and 102 ORTG has to be some sort of somethin' for Beilein-era players. NBA athlete, superior defender. Not currently on NBA radars because of shooting deficiencies.

Ignas Brazdeikis (Fr.): 19 YO Canadian would be top 40 recruit if folks ranked him. Gets buckets.

Adrien Nunez (Fr): Just A Shooter but at 6'5" can plausibly defend the 3.


How close is Matthews to his ceiling?

The last time Michigan had a starter with an ORTG around Matthews's 101.6, Zak Irvin was scuffling through a 48/30 season; the team trundled to a 23-13 record and a First Four tourney bid. The most recent edition of Michigan did a lot better… but it would be nice if Matthews could turn it around. Irvin added ~8 ORTG points as a senior, for a target. There's good news and bad news here as Matthews attempts to match that.


1 TO vs Houston and most of the rest of the tourney schedule [JD Scott]

The good news: "Turnover" Matthews may have run steps when redshirting and frustrated fans to no end during his rough stretch in the middle of the season, but… actually, a 16.5 TO rate from a 25% usage guy isn't horrendous. God Himself Donte DiVincenzo had a TO rate of 16.9 on 23% usage. Various Big Ten non-Cs with a worse TO rate than Matthews last year include Jae'Sean Tate, Cassius Winston, Jaren Jackson, Brad Davison, Bryant McIntosh, Trent Frazier—none of whom matched Matthews's usage.

Matthews's problem was that at one point his TO rate was horrendous and his vector was pointing the wrong way:


A series of increasingly disastrous games pushed his season TO rate to 19.2 by late February, and it got uglier once you dropped the tomato cans. It was around this time certain bloggers started pleading to move whatever usage was available from Matthews to Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman, a man so allergic to turnovers that he explodes if he enters a bakery.

Michigan did this, and things immediately got better. The MAAR Accessories game against Maryland saw Mathews use 21% of Michigan's possessions, his lowest output since early January. Michigan blew the doors off, Matthews turned it over just twice, and the stage was set. The graph above turned into this:


And even the five TO blip against Montana came about largely because a desperate Michigan funneled Matthews 31% usage in terrible end-of-clock situations. (Also one of his three TOs against Villanova should been charged to Ibi Watson.)

This looks like a genuinely changed player. 11 games against tourney-ish competition (and Iowa!) is probably the toughest stretch of Michigan's season, and while Matthews's usage did drop into role player territory during the Big Ten Tournament he re-emerged into a >20 player in the Large Dance without ill effect despite Michigan playing Houston, Texas A&M, Loyola-Chicago, and Villanova—all top 20 Ds.

Another year in the same system and with the same relentless attention to detail should only improve Matthews's ability to not boot the ball into the crowd. While his finishing run is optimistic it's closer to what he should do in 2018-19 than his previous output.

[After THE JUMP: (relative) bad news and backups]


eh [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

The bad news: there wasn't a whole lot of evidence that Matthews had taken a similar leap with his shooting. Various studies that attempt to project shooting usually find that FT%, 3P%, and sometimes 3PA rate are about equally good at predicting future success, and only one of those showed a even a slight move up as the season closed.

Even that was pretty weak evidence. With the sample sizes here it was easy to see an improvement seriously dented, and that happened when an 0/4 performance from the line in the title game brought the Matthews' postseason free throw rate from 67% to 61%. That's still a much better rate than the 51% he was averaging previously. Unfortunately "I might be a 60% FT shooter now" needs support if we're going to project anything and Matthews's three point shooting remained stuck at the GRIII level it had been at all season during this span.

All hope will have to be directed to the offseason. This is a reasonable thing to do. Players make advances annually, especially Beilein players, but some guys just take a while. After going 31%, 32%, 31% at Michigan the aforementioned GRIII is hitting 39% from NBA range on his last ~200 attempts. But he was always a tier above Matthews as a free throw shooter. The NCAA's most recent breakout shooter, Mikal Bridges, seems to be an 85% FT shooter.

Matthews probably needs to walk before he can run by getting his FT rate up for the duration of a season. Never say never; the most likely outcome is that Matthews's shooting doesn't budge much.

Overall this is fine. Matthews's shooting doesn't have to move much if the new turnover rate is real. Matthews's ORTG over the last 11 games—a quarter of the season and a third of the non-tomato-can season—was 11 points higher than his previous standard without much, if any, shooting improvement. Spend the offseason practicing FTs and threes and get even a few points in both categories and the new version of Matthews is a 110-115 ORTG gent, which is championship level for a guy with his rebounding and defense skills.

Brazdeikis? Yes?

Yep. The previous post noted a few positive tweets about him from the Hoops Summit, which aren't surprising since Brazdeikis spent his last two years on a Canadian Prep team that spent most of his time playing the various Notfake Success Academies that house our nation's brightest basketball prospects. He will be ready to go.

UMHoops has a post on him today breaking down his shooting; it does an excellent job resolving the disparity between "is the best shooter on the World team at the Hoops Summit" and "only hit 33% from deep on the season":

A deeper dive reveals that Brazdeikis was significantly better shooting off the catch than off the dribble over the last year. That implies that his shooting stroke is fine, but his shot selection might need work. He routinely takes deep off the dribble jumpers and other shots that probably aren’t going to be as necessary at the Division I level.

He touted a 62% effective field goal percentage on catch and shoot jumpers compared to just a 41% effective field goal percentage on off the dribble jump shot attempts.

Catch-and-shoot Brazdeikis is a lethal threat in the corners and all right from the wings; off-the-dribble Brazdeikis is pretty meh. The frequency of his off-the-dribble shots can be filed under High School BS. Beilein will no doubt tell him to knock that off so he can focus on the bits of his game that make him elite: getting to the bucket and shooting on a catch.

Unless he works his way into the starting job at the 4 his role is going to be as a sixth man who plays a bunch as Michigan fits pieces around him. He'll play the 3/4 on offense since those roles are very similar and guard whoever it makes sense to guard given the flexibility Matthews and Livers provide.

The overall effect is going to be a lot like a 6'7", 220-pound version of freshman Poole: guy who takes some bad shots and drives into trouble sometimes because his self-conception is BALLER BALLER BALLER; when not doing that he looks like a future, or possibly current, star.

Did you forget about someone in the last post and want to shoehorn him in this one despite his more natural fit as a shooting guard by gesturing towards position-less basketball?

Sure? Sure!

As this site's primary Adrien Nunez booster I felt tremendous shame when the SG version of this post went up and I had somehow contrived to omit Nunez entirely. Nunez is Just A Shooter, but at 6'5" he's plausible defensively as a wing and might fit better next to Poole than Matthews, depending on how those two develop. When he's on the court this is what is going to happen:

He will cut to the basket, he'll launch threes, and he'll let everyone else do the ball handling. He'll replace Duncan Robinson, more or less, and there's always room for a Duncan Robinson on a Beilein team.

How quickly that happens is anyone's guess. Nunez took a prep year because he was buried on his high school team, and did well with it. He's got an excellent, repeatable, quick release from three and is comfortable taking a single bounce to reposition himself past a closeout, or stepping back. On the other hand, defense and athleticism are unknowns and probably not assets given Nunez's profile.

Nunez might have to wait a minute here. Realistically, Beilein is not likely to play more than one or two backup wing sorts and he's fighting for playing time against Brazdeikis and Johns. But he looks like an excellent candidate to absorb a bunch of three point looks down the road. Or he could be freshman Zak Irvin immediately.


Matthews still has considerable upside to explore since he's a guy who made a lot of mistakes and then seemed to have a moment where things went "click." The biggest reason freshmen make a bigger leap year-to-year than older players is they cut down on mistakes; Matthews might be old but he went from little-used Kentucky backup to the alpha dog on a top 25 team. He was as freshman-like as a third year player could be. It says here that Matthews's TO avoidance is real and he has incremental shooting gains at all three levels.

The backup situation is hard to project because it's all freshmen but between Nunez, Brazdeikis, and the possibility of dual-point lineups someone should emerge to become a solid 10-15 MPG option.



April 13th, 2018 at 2:00 PM ^

Huh? In this article, a "Way Too Early" Top 25 which went up on April 2nd, they had Michigan as the #12 team in the country. They had us behind MSU, which is the ridiculous part, and certainly enough bulletin board material in its own right, but they definitely included us.

Anyway, to your larger point: HELL YEAH, so fired up for next year already!


April 13th, 2018 at 2:08 PM ^

This past season when Matthews would have one of his bad moments during games and came out of the lineup, it was POOLE who replaced him.  The option of doing that next year still exists for the 10 or so minutes Matthews will need to rest.  For that reason, I think there are a bunch of minutes available at the 2 & 3 for whichever guy (DDJ, Nunez, Iggy, Brooks) shows they deserved them.  

My current prediction is that Iggy wins the starting PF job to get more offense into the starting lineup and Livers turns into an energy guy off the bench.  I also think that DeJulius and his shooting + ball handling are going to earn minutes.  So my prediction is this:

  1. Simpson (30), DeJulius (10), Brooks (as needed)
  2. Poole (25), DeJulius (10), Brooks/Nunez (as needed)
  3. Matthews (30), Poole (5), Iggy (5)
  4. Iggy (15), Livers (15), Johns (10)
  5. Teske (25), Davis (10), Livers (5)



April 13th, 2018 at 5:59 PM ^

I think your take is very fair.  The sophomore leap for Beilein PGs is working heavily in Brooks favor.  I think Beilein will trust him a lot more too.  DDJ may come in with a bit of Poole swagger to him that will take time to endear itself to Beilein.  

I think Brooks still has untapped potential and could easily work into those 10-20 minutes at the 1&2 spots.  However, I think what Michigan will be searching for most often next year is offense and specifically outside shooting.  The reason I think Iggy will start over Livers is because I think they want to mix offense/defense more in the starting lineup.  That's the same reason why I could see DDJ getting some minutes in a 2-PG lineup because he can light it up.  Brooks hasn't shown that in high school much or college ever.  

I think it will play out like this year.  Brooks gets a lot of back-up PG minutes to start the season and maybe a few at SG since he knows the system and won't make a lot of mistakes.  But if he doesn't hit shots or initiate offense you'll see the door open for DDJ.  If he's as good as we think, he'll serve the Freshman-Walton role of "park in the corner, nail 3s, be a secondary ball-handler as needed."  


April 13th, 2018 at 5:38 PM ^

He's probably looking at 30-35 minutes as MAAR's replacement and the only time he'll not be playing the 2 will be when he needs rest.

I highly doubt DeJulius plays 10 min at the 2 but it'll be interesting.

I also can't see us splitting time so evenly at the 4.  It could be a 60/40 thing like this past year with a defense/offense combo with Iggy/Livers.  I think Johns is looking at a developmental/get bigger year before becoming the backup 4 and 5 his Sophomore year.

One thing is for sure: we'll have a lot of pieces and a lot of depth and it'll be interesting to see how it shakes out.


April 13th, 2018 at 5:55 PM ^

I think Johns/Livers is going to be interesting.  I think they are somewhat similar so they will fight for minutes.  Both are very talented and may be primed for more minutes than you think.  Livers clearly has the edge being a sophomore, but he didn't really show anything that cements him into 20-30 minutes.  I think he'll probably get those minutes, split time with Iggy, and then Johns will be that "extra big" role at the 4 or 5 when we need it for ~5-8 minutes here and there.  


April 13th, 2018 at 6:51 PM ^

undervaluing what Livers did as a freshman a little bit.

It is hard to overstate how good Livers was at guarding multiple positions on defense.  He got lost on switches and some actions like a freshman would, but he did a remarkably good job of keeping just about anyone out of the paint/forcing tough shots. 

He was also the best offensive rebounding 4 Beilein has had since GR3 (and he actually has a higher career OREB rate but GR3 was slightly better than Livers his freshman year and then dropped his So year).  There is a reason he took the starting job from a 5th year senior and he was playing extremely well for a stretch in the middle of the season.

His shooting kind of left him at the end of the year but it's hard to get into a rhythm when you know there's a guy coming in for you if you miss your first one.

He wasn't a world beater but he was really good for a freshman and if there's any sophomore leap (more consistent shooting, better knowledge of the defense and offense he'll be an even more valuable role player.  Add a dribble drive and he could be a star (I'm not sure that's in his game though). 

I like Johns but I don't think he gets nearly as many minutes as Livers just from an experience perspective. FTR, when I said 60/40, I meant to put the order as Livers/Iggy because I think Livers is going to play at least 25 min a game at the 4.

What I do think Johns will be by his sophomore year is a guy that can play the 4 and the 5 (needs a little more bulk for the 5).  Definitely a wildcard but I could see him as a small ball 5 as much as a stretch 4.


April 13th, 2018 at 8:53 PM ^

Livers is gonna take a big jump forward next year, and Johns, Iggy and DDJ, while talented, are still freshmen.

Time in Beilein's system is really important, and so many guys have improved dramatically over time. Livers is gonna be really good, and the frosh are gonna fight for PT. 

Livers showed flashes of a jump shot and an ability to attack the basket; IMO he's going to make a soph leap.

By tournament time, hopefully the young guys will be real contributors, but I think Livers is gonna be a very important part of this team.



April 14th, 2018 at 8:57 AM ^

I have high hopes for Livers.  I was always hyping him up in the comments last summer when I didn't think Ace and Brian were talking about him enough.  I would argue he's the best true Beilein-4 recruit depending on how you compare him to DJ and Kam as recruits.  

I thiink Livers was good on D, he avoiding any bad mistakes, he rebounded pretty well, and he did a lot of the hustle stuff you want from a role player.  But he needs to step up and show more next year.  His shot was broken to start the year and to end the year and that's critical for a 3&D guy.  

The reason I think Iggy is going to take his starting spot is less about Livers and more about roster management.  Z, Matthews, and Teske are not shooters.  I think if you put Iggy on the floor with them, even if he plays the 15mpg that Livers did this season, helps you get some floor spacing out there.  Then when you need some stability, defense, or size you bring in Livers.  

I would also like to see LIvers work on that small-ball-5 role since I think they will want that for a few minutes per game.


April 13th, 2018 at 3:12 PM ^

I think I know what play Brian is referring to. Matthews passed to Ibi, the ball deflected off of Ibi's fingers and went out of bounds. IIRC, the defender deflected it first. If I am correct, that TO is definitely on Matthews. There is no way you should expect someone to catch a pass that is deflected 3-4 feet from them.


April 13th, 2018 at 4:16 PM ^

I'm curious why you think he would pair better with Poole than Matthews?  I would be inclined to think it'd be nice to have a better shooter for spacing next to Matthews, whereas Poole forces the defense to extend to the three point line.


April 13th, 2018 at 4:40 PM ^

but I think the idea here is Michigan may need to get as much shooting out of the 2 and 3 spots as they can, especially if Wagner goes pro. Poole in the pick-and-roll with Nunez spotting up could be an explosive combination (or Z/Teske running the P&R with Poole/Nunez really spreading the floor).


April 13th, 2018 at 6:57 PM ^

to the backup three spot that Iggy doesn't so I can't see Nunez playing the 3 next year.  The wildcard is if he proves to be a superior perimeter defender than Iggy.  That'd be his path to backing up the 2 and 3 ahead of Brazdeikis.  I haven't heard/seen anything about either of their defense.


April 13th, 2018 at 5:53 PM ^

That picture of Charles Matthews is a perfect shot to show what he'll need to work on in the offseason.

His arm is almost fully extended but the ball is still resting on his fingers. That means most of the action on his release comes from his wrist, not his arm/elbow. At that point the ball should be out of his hand or at least nearly out.

More wrist = less accuracy. That will be job number 1 for him. He is very fluid and coordniated obviously, so hopefully it is just a matter of repetition.


April 13th, 2018 at 7:09 PM ^

you have no idea where his hand/elbow bend started.  So it doesn't at all necessarily mean most of the action is coming from his wrist.

But even if that's at the beginning of his shot motion, that's a pull up 2pt shot over a guy that can jump really high and block shots.  It's common to extend the arms and shoot more of a wrister from 10-15 feet to make your shot less blockable.  The tradeoff is usually worth it, especially if you can get good at the wrist shot.

So we don't know from this photo how much arm-to-wrist he's using, and we also don't know how good he is at the wrist-heavy shot that he's able to get off in traffic. The coaches will make sure they optimize how he's shooting shots from where.

I thought he displayed remarkably good form from 3 and from the FT line despite being not great at those shots (as opposed to Z whose form is not good).


April 13th, 2018 at 7:37 PM ^

I've seen him shoot many jump shots, covered and uncovered. IMO he uses his wrists too much, which is partly a result of his arm motion. I just thought that picture was a good example of it - and consistent with his general shooting motion.