Pre-BTT Hoops Mailbag, Part One: Yaklich Praise, Slump-Bust Odds, Poole Comps Comment Count

Ace February 27th, 2018 at 3:10 PM

This mailbag, basically. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

No time for an intro, the BTT is coming. This is the first of a two-part all-hoops mailbag.

The Yaklich Effect

Let's start here: I'm never going to be able to bring myself to not say Jordan Poole. I just can't.

With that out of the way, Yaklich has been phenomenal; while Michigan's defensive improvement has been widely noted I still don't think he's getting his due. Despite working with a lineup that has some defensive limitations, he has M up to 11th(!!!) in adjusted defense on KenPom, a significant leap from last year's finish of 69th. No John Beilein team has finished higher than 34th, and that was in his last year at Richmond in 2002.

TrueBlue2003 had a great look last week at one adjustment Yaklich made to better accomodate the team's personnel. That's been indicative of a wider trend. He's introduced multiple variations on the 2-3 zone—you could see him adapt from a wide spread to a tightly packed zone in the PSU game—and they've been remarkably effective as a changeup; per Synergy, Michigan has the best zone defense by points per possession allowed (a paltry 0.692) among high major teams. They've only played 78 zone possessions (a fast-paced game's worth), so the sample is small, but there's much more in the way of numbers that indicate Yaklich is doing a remarkable job.

The main source of Michigan's defensive prowess comes from their ability to keep opponents out of high-efficiency scoring situations, especially transition. We've discussed M's ability to both prevent and shut down opponent fast break opportunities before and the numbers just keep getting better.

The Wolverines are in a league of their own among high major teams at combining those two skills. They rank second among high majors in transition PPP, allowing 0.845 PPP—rather incredibly, an ever-so-slightly better mark than they allow in halfcourt defense (0.858).* They rank first among high majors (and fifth in all of D-I) at preventing transition chances in the first place; they comprise only 11.0% of opponent possessions. Only three other high majors allow less than 0.90 PPP on transition opportunities; they rank 182nd (Louisville), 271st (Cincinnati), and 345th (West Virginia) at preventing those transition chances. That is, in a word, bonkers.

Michigan's analytics-minded approach to defense extends well beyond keeping opponents from running. I put together Synergy stats last night comparing the play types Michigan's offense runs and their efficiency versus the same numbers from opposing offenses against M's defense. This table could be a lot prettier but it shows how well the Wolverines have forced opponents into shots that generally aren't very efficient (while the offense is, as usual, doing the opposite):

click to embiggen

Michigan generally forces pick-and-roll ballhanders to finish themselves, allowing Zavier Simpson to harass guards into tough shots while the rest of the defense stays home and prevents more effective scoring chances: passes to the roll man and kickouts to open shooters. Opponents funnel a ton of their possessions through the post, and even though M is downright bad at post defense, it's still not very efficient offense. They're really good at contesting the rare putback opportunities they allow.

This is a Moneyball defense and I can't wait to see what Yaklich does when next year's team gets an infusion of athleticism while the majority of this group comes back. He's entered the conversation, at least in my mind, as a potential Beilein successor; combining Beilein's offensive principles with Yaklich's defense could produce remarkable results. Of late, is already is.

*A note on these numbers: Synergy counts putbacks as their own possession for PPP so they can properly separate out each scouting category, which is why these numbers are lower than Michigan's actual PPP allowed.

[Hit THE JUMP for discussion of Simpson's and Matthews' respective Achilles heels, Jordan Poole's comparable players, and a reader-submitted photoshop.]

Slump-Breaking Chances?

Z's free throw woes are indicative of larger shooting issues. [Campredon]

Early this season Matthews was playing so well that we wondered about him leaving early and Simpson shocked us all with a 46% stroke from outside.  Now Simpson's shot is a ghost of itself and Matthews looks like he's playing on 12-foot rims with blinders on.  Do you think there's any hope for some improvement in the downtime before the tournament?  How much optimism do you have for both slumps going into next year? - AC1997

Unfortunately, I believe both problems brought up here are going to require an offseason to fully address, though I'm optimistic Charles Matthews can settle into a role that best suits him this year.

Let's start with Simpson. The hot three-point start was certainly a shock even though he almsot exclusively took open spot-up looks. In retrospect, we should've anticipated the fall back to earth. Free throw shooting is a great indicator of a player's true shooting ability; a player's college free throw percentage is actually a better predictor of NBA three-point shooting than his college three-point percentage. Simpson, of course, is still trying to crack 50% at the line and has recently changed his pre-shot routine to try to fix the issue.

The main issue, as I believe Dan Dakich pointed out on a recent broadcast, is Simpson often allows his shooting elbow to flare out instead of keeping it under the ball; he loses power that way and it makes it harder to consistently get the right distance on his shot. You can see the elbow problem quite clearly in MG's photo at the top of this section.

Beilein routinely works magic with shooting forms, and Simpson has already made some strides in that regard, but I don't think something as baked-in as this mechanical issue appears to be gets worked out in the course of a few weeks. Simpson could still be a decent outside shooter this postseason simply based on shot selection; I don't expect him to catch fire, and free throws are probably still going to be an adventure even with the new routine.

Matthews also has a significant mechanical issues holding him back: his dribble is far too high and loose for a player whose main deal is attacking the basket, and he also really needs to work on his footwork, especially keeping his pivot foot. Again, I doubt this is something that gets resolved in a month.

At the same time, we saw a very different Matthews earlier this season, and while he's struggled all year against good teams, there should be a significant role that suits him this postseason, especially with MAAR emerging as the lead dog. Matthews is still the team's best athlete, top non-big rebounder, and most versatile defender; if he can settle into more of a GRIII role on offense and better pick his spots for drives, he could bounce back in a hurry.


definitely not a future lottery pick he's actually 4-foot-2 [Campredon]

After getting this question, I went to Bart Torvik's site to play around with some numbers. Using conference-only stats, I looked at high-major freshmen between 6'2" and 6'6" dating back to 2008 who played at least 35% of their team's minutes with a 22% usage, then sorted by ORating. I will repeat: DO NOT LOOK AT THIS, NBA SCOUTS. Those parameters spit out a list of lottery picks:


Other players in the top 35: Brandon Knight, James Young, De'Aaron Fox, Melo Trimble, James Harden(!!!), Victor Oladipo, Stanley Johnson, Eric Gordon, OJ Mayo.

The only difference with Poole? The minutes. He's the only player in the entire top 100 of this list who didn't get at least 40% of his team's minutes in conference play, and several of those who even approached that low-water mark had injury or off-court issues limit their minutes. (For example, Allonzo Trier.) That's changing lately: Poole's played 19, 26, and 22 minutes in the last three games, respectively. Here's a Beilein quote for you:

Of the players who fit Poole's statistical profile, I like Malik Monk and Bradley Beal as the closest comparables in terms of style. Monk went 11th in last year's draft out of Kentucky after playing one year there. Beal went third overall out of Florida in 2012, also leaving after a lone college season.

Perhaps we should be glad Beilein kept Poole under wraps for so long. He's got skills the NBA drools over these days and infinite confidence in his ability. I'd be very, very pleased to get two more seasons out of him.

A Thing From My Last Mailbag Call

think i might've misinterpreted your request...

Context seems unnecessary.



February 27th, 2018 at 3:48 PM ^

If we can get some athletes, shore up the shooting, and combine Beilein's offense with this kind of defense...

I'm not saying, I'm just saying. The future is very bright, whether our opponents are eligible to compete in the tournament or not. *checks the location of the next couple of Final Fours*


February 27th, 2018 at 6:06 PM ^

or a starting C that is a shot-blocking rim protector, I don't think we lack athleticism this year at all.

Of course, we'll improve in both of those areas next year, and MAAR to Poole might be a slight uptick in athleticism at the 2.

So the question for next year will be shooting because that is the only thing keeping us from being a Beilein Offense.  Losing Duncan and Wagner would hurt in that regard, and we'd need Z and/or Matthews to improve their shooting and/or have someone emerge to take minutes from them which I can't see happening without a major decline in defense.

It's possible that we'll be even more of an anti-Beilein team next year, i.e. an even better defense and a similar or worse offense.  Another anti-Beilein possibility: Poole emerges as a near 30% usage guy to leverage his abilities.  He'll likely be starting with Teske, Z, Matthews and Livers.  That sounds like a lot of Stauskas-and-Jmo-like pick and rolls with Poole and Teske. 


February 28th, 2018 at 1:47 PM ^

I'm not sure where people get the idea this team isn't athletic.  Or at least the starting lineup.  Compared to the standard for high majors:

Matthews and Livers: Great athletes with great size

Z: Great athlete with below average size (makes up for it w/ wingspan a little)

MAAR: Good athlete with good size

Wagner: Slightly below average athlete with good size.  He moves well and has improved athleticism over the last couple years, but I'm not ready to say he's an above average athlete.

Off the bench, Robinson is below average, Poole is probably slightly above average, Simmons is above average.

Really the only thing holding this team back from being elite athletically is having a big time shot blocker (miss you, Mo Bamba).  


February 27th, 2018 at 6:16 PM ^

every position on the floor extremely well, which NBA teams drool over.

I don't know how well NBA teams think that would translate since he's not super long like DJ was, and for that reason, I definitely don't think he's in danger of leaving after next year, but he is already a really good 3 and D college player.

I do agree that as good as he's been, Johns could be just as good or better eventually. I don't know how legit his 6'8 listed height is, or if he's still growing, but I could see him getting some minutes at the 5 if Castleton isn't ready from a size and strength standpoint.


February 27th, 2018 at 10:19 PM ^

he has the whole offensive package.  Go back and watch some his drives to the basket.  And he's an above average passer.  He has a shoot first mentality as he should with his skillset but he has had some amazing passes despite his minimal opportunity on the floor.  And defensively, he has shown quick hands on some steals.

He's a future NBA player - a lottery pick or a steal with a lower pick.  He may be the best Michigan player since Webber.



Shop Smart Sho…

February 27th, 2018 at 5:13 PM ^

I was pretty much comparing them directly to the Fab 5, as it's, in my opinion, the most athletic team at Michigan. And I think we can all agree that Howard was way more athletic than Teske can ever hope to be. Obviously nothing wrong with that, as Teske brings a completely different skill set because of his size.

I am, however, wondering if top to bottom next year's team might not be more athletic. Just from watching the videos that have been posted, it seems like all of them have a Stauskas/Burke-level floor on their athleticism. 


February 27th, 2018 at 5:50 PM ^

You may want to go back and re-watch some highlight reels of the Fab Five.  They were ridiculously athletic.  E.g., Rose -- 6'9" PG that can literally do everything and Webber -- 6'10" PF that was a monster down low but could also lead transition and shoot 3s.  Will be really hard to ever top that.


February 27th, 2018 at 6:32 PM ^

Next season’s team will be unusually athletic for the Beilein era, but there’s no comparison to the Fab Five.

Even if you set aside Webber, you have to remember that King (for instance) was more explosive from a purely athletic standpoint than anyone his size. Charles Matthews is nice but King in the open court was outrageous.


February 27th, 2018 at 6:32 PM ^

was easily the least athletic of the Fab Five, though. 

Howard was a lot more heady and skilled than athletic.  He used is size well, was in the right spots.  That's how he had a 20 year NBA career.  He didn't have much athleticism to lose so he aged really well.

He wasn't much more athletic than Teske.  Besides Teske has the height and quick hands that allow him to be a shockingly good steal and block guy despite not having much for hops and having just average quickness for a seven footer.


February 27th, 2018 at 11:20 PM ^

Of course the Fab Five was ridiculously athletic, but the National Championship team had some great athletes (Rice, Robinson, Mills, Higgins, Vaught, Riley, Hughes, Calip).

Some mid-80's teams were really athletic too (Rellford, Tarpley, Grant, Wade, Henderson, Joubert, Hughes and Rice were on the '85-'86 team, for example). Rellford could jump through the roof, and Grant was built like a mini-Jordan-spider, all arms and legs, quick as lightning. Tarpley (sigh) was great, athletic and talented - too bad his gifts were wasted in the pros due to drugs.

Back in the days when superstars stayed 4 years, college hoops was ridiculously good. Imagine if all Beilein's guys who went pro stayed here for 4 years - wow.


February 27th, 2018 at 5:18 PM ^

That line about Yacklich as a potential Belein successor...I don't know man.  I feel like we are setting ourselves up for disappointment if we think anyone is going to take the reigns and run Beilein's offense.  I'm sure the assistants are learning it, but I'm not convinced anyone knows the system as well as him, or can adjust on the fly during games.    Yaklich may be a fine coach, and a great defensive mind I just hope we don't measure Beilein's successor against the measuring stick of probably the winningest basketball coach in Michigan history.


February 27th, 2018 at 6:42 PM ^

for most of his tenure.  We had some mediocre (7th in conference play in 2013) and worse (9th in B1G in 2014) defenses in some of his best years. Those teams had elite offenses and won despite meh defenses.

So yeah, totally unreasonable to expect our offense would be as good after he leaves, but if we keep having top 25 defenses, we'd already be well ahead of most Beilein teams on that side of the floor which means for equal success, they wouldn't have to be as good as they've been under Beilein on offense.


February 27th, 2018 at 10:26 PM ^

Yea as TrueBlue honestly will be easier to win more games with better defense and rebounding than it is to outshoot and outscheme other teams.  Matching Beilein's offenses will be tough but being quite a bit better (and much better compared to some of his teams) will make the need to be that good on offense unnecessary...or when it is really good, a legit top-10 team


February 27th, 2018 at 9:52 PM ^

I've also been really high on Poole since I saw him in a high school all star game.  Believe it or not, I predicted he would be a future lottery pick at that time.  I had the same feeling about Stauskas when I first saw him in high school.  I've been impatient with Beilein bringing him along slowly.  I thought he should be getting more minutes.  Over on UMHoops, the main criticism seems to be a lack of consistency.  But I pointed out early in the season, this only comes with more minutes.  The silver lining is that he likely will play two years in colllege rather than one - although he's more talented than most of the one and dones - unless he has a major breakout in the NCAA tourney.  I honestly think he may be a better prospect than Trae Young.  He's more athletic, has similar ball skills and similar range on his threes.  If you doubt this, he showed that range in high school.  He was nicknamed "Baby Steph" for a reason.  I'm hoping to see him play starter's minutes and light it up next year.