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.
I HAVE SOME QUESTIONS
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.
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?
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.