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
Is Luke Yaklich actually the best member of the 2017 class?
— CT in TC (@CT_In_TC) February 27, 2018
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):
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.]
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.
NBA SCOUTS DON'T READ THIS
definitely not a future lottery pick he's actually 4-foot-2 [Campredon]
What are some noteworthy players that Jordan Poole compares to statistically as freshmen and what kind of player can we expect him to evolve into in the future? #mgomailbag
— Cheechmo (@cheechmo) February 27, 2018
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:
HOT DIGGITY DAMN
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:
Beilein asked about what’s changed with Jordan Poole: ‘I think the coach is playing him more. That’s one thing.’
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) February 24, 2018
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.