Season Recap: Zak Irvin Comment Count

Alex Cook April 13th, 2016 at 11:38 AM

[This is a series reviewing last year's primary contributors]

irvin vs northwestern

via Ace

It’s worth remembering that Zak Irvin entered the season at less than 100% after losing months of practice and workout time to a back injury. He struggled to return to form early in the season, shooting an abysmal percentage from three – no doubt due at least partially to the lingering effects of the injury. Then, just like last year, he was thrust into a prominent offensive role due to injury and had to stay on the court for nearly entire games in conference play (only Yogi Ferrell played more minutes in B1G games in each of the last two years). After LeVert’s injury, Irvin was forced into much tougher shots, much more offensive responsibility, and a critical leadership role with both seniors injured.

While there were some notable highs – Zak was the best player on the floor in wins against Purdue and Maryland, and he hit a couple huge late-game shots like the one gif’d above – there were struggles as well. Because of his low shooting percentages (over three-quarters of his shots were jump shots, which had an incredibly low eFG% of 41.9%), his efficiency numbers were dragged down, and were the worst on the team:

total poss vs ortg

But, as the chart shows, Zak used more possessions in sum than any other Wolverine. While his usage rate itself wasn’t abnormally high, the sheer amount of minutes he played drives his total contributions close to what you would expect from your lead guy – or at the very least, to within the range of the most critical of your offensive pieces. As you can see, Irvin is near the bottom of the pack efficiency-wise of those types of players.

[After the JUMP, how Zak handled the alpha role]

Michigan clearly wasn’t ready to thrust him into a lead role (because they had an All-American potential player in LeVert), and there’s no doubt that both his recent injuries and heavy workload (especially on defense, where he was physically battling with bigger players) affected his level of efficiency. The types of players he was on the floor with were very rarely shot creators: Derrick Walton’s assist rate of 24.4 is the only one higher than Irvin’s 18.0 in the main rotation,* and players like Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Duncan Robinson, and Aubrey Dawkins contributed very little in terms of creating good looks for Zak.

When Michigan ran lackadaisical offense and was leveraged into late-clock pick-and-rolls or isos, Irvin was often the one with the ball in his hands in difficult situations. With Walton’s frustrating inability to convert opportunities inside the arc, it was Michigan’s best option. While others on the roster are seemingly hesitant to seize open looks, Irvin (who, deep down, is a guy who loves to hoist shots) became the de facto alpha dog down the stretch in Michigan’s improbable postseason. With Irvin shooting jumpers as inefficiently as he did, it was far from an ideal arrangement, but Beilein’s injury-depleted rotation had to make it work. It sorta did.

*LeVert’s was 32.9 before he went down with his foot injury, which would have been in the Top 50 nationally. His last game was a points-assists double-double. Oh, what could have been…



Irvin’s missed offseason is surely a factor in him being pretty much the same player as he was a year before, save for his worse 3-point shooting (35.1% in 2015, 29.8% in 2016) and far better assist rate (10.4 improving to 18.0). The development in his playmaking – from a black hole as a freshman to a solidly above-average passing wing – has been very encouraging; the steady decline in his 3-point % has been equally discouraging. Save for those two factors, his statistical profile was pretty close to identical.

And his shooting splits this past year were quite poor. His hot-shooting freshman year feels like a distant memory – his injury and his unorthodox form are partially to blame and the quality of looks has definitely gone down, but ultimately this is just not ideal for an offense’s go-to option:

irvin shooting splits

His early-season 3-point % was so bad that it had to be due to the injury, and after LeVert got hurt, Zak was forced into far more mid-range shots off the dribble than he should have been taking. It was slightly disappointing to see his percentage at the rim drop in Big Ten play (no doubt due to the far better rim protection than most of Michigan’s non-conference opponents), but he just wasn’t getting there enough at any point this season: he took 397 jump shots and 90 shots at the rim. How much of that was due to a lack of conditioning entering the season is anyone’s guess, but he has a slow, long first step and just isn’t the type of player who can get a ton of looks at the rim. Even though he was often guarded by  more traditional power forwards, Irvin was frequently taking shots from outside or trying to pass the ball when he got too deep into the paint.

Weirdly, his shooting was extremely one-sided:

irvin shot left right

Right-handed players usually shoot better from the left side of the court, but this disparity is extreme. The breakdown of shots by side is pretty even and suggests that perhaps Irvin should have spent more time as the “three” in the Michigan offense – starting on that left side of the floor – than he did. That he made only 1 of 16 right corner threes is baffling, frankly.

* * *

With the new 2016 player data in my similarity score database, there are over 1,000 potential comparisons for a given player. Let’s check out Irvin’s:

irvin player comps

Not a great list. Tre Demps was a combo guard with the reputation of a chucker for Northwestern during his career in Evanston, and he was often the man with the ball in his hands for (typically unsuccessful) late-clock situations. William Buford was a disappointing senior swingman on a very good OSU team; Durrell Summers was a disappointing senior swingman on an equally disappointing MSU team. Then there’s Tim Hardaway, who was drafted in the first round after that successful junior season – and the difference in their offensive ratings is directly correlated to their difference in three-point %.

irvin v hardawayirvin v demps

Zak needs to shoot better from three next season. Hardaway is a promising comparison as he was a secondary scorer on an elite team, but Irvin would need to make enough jumpers to drive up his efficiency considerably.

* * *

Life with Irvin as Michigan’s 1A or 1B option (depending on who you think is more crucial between he and Derrick Walton) hasn’t been as bad as the above numbers would suggest. He averaged 14.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game in Michigan’s five better-than-expected-on-the-whole postseason games. At his best, he can be the difference in dragging a worse team over an upset over a bigger and stronger opponent:

Despite these wins over two enormous teams, Michigan can still struggle with size – look no further than the State game – but it’s fascinating that they were able to get their two biggest wins against Maryland and Purdue, teams that should theoretically punish Michigan inside for 40 minutes with ease. The wins came in different ways, but the MVP for Michigan was the same in both games: Zak Irvin.

And, really, it’s Irvin’s potential at the four that does so much for Michigan: against Maryland, he forced them to go away from their best lineup and avoid playing their three most effective players at the same time; against Purdue, Matt Painter decided to stick with Swanigan on Irvin and paid for it dearly as Irvin decisively won that matchup. As a guy who can play the two, run the pick-and-roll very patiently, and shoot well enough [ED: later proven to be untrue] – over 40% in Big Ten play – Irvin is a matchup nightmare at the four; because of his improvements on the defensive end, he’s game enough to handle bigger players and make them work for their buckets.

This recap hadn’t even mentioned Irvin’s defense, which has undeniably improved since his freshman year. While I’m reluctant to give much defensive praise to anyone on the roster because of how bad they were collectively, I don’t think that Zak was among the most responsible for Michigan’s struggles on that end. And I don’t think that Michigan is hampered much by playing him at the four on defense for significant minutes – very rarely would you want to give a college power forward around a dozen post-ups per game in today’s day in age and more and more teams are moving away from a post-up-heavy offense anyways. When guarding other wings, Zak often seemed a step slow, but wasn’t as bad as the other wings. His rebounding on the defensive end of the floor is much better than he’s commonly given credit for.

It will be interesting to see if he looks like a completely different player next year. Instead of spending an offseason getting stronger and more athletic, he was sidelined, and as a result, his progression plateaued. You evidently can be an NCAA Tournament-level team with Irvin as your top option, but the ceiling didn’t seem to be that much higher. With Irvin (and Walton) slated to lead the team again in their final go-round as seniors, I really wouldn’t be surprised to see Zak look quicker. The biggest question is his three-point shooting: if he can get up a ton of jumpers this summer and correct his form to the point where he’s shooting even a middling percentage, he’d be a strong candidate for a breakout season as a senior.



April 13th, 2016 at 12:11 PM ^

To seeing what a full offseason spent working on his game, rather than health, will do for Zak.

For the people who keep saying "he is who is at this point in his career", I say "Not So Fast!". I see Zak taking a huge step forward in his shooting % both behind the arc and at the rim. I also see his handles improving. 

I'm really just hoping that both him and Walton can enjoy an injury free summer and senior year. I see a deep tourney run if they can both stay healthy. 


April 13th, 2016 at 12:39 PM ^

how can anyone possibly say he is who he is, when he's played such different roles in his three year career with differing levels of success?  He was a 42.5% 3 pt shooter his freshman year.  29.8% his junior year.  So if he is what he is, then what exactly is he? A great 3 pt shooter or a terrible one, because he's been both at time.  And he has become a significantly better distributor each year.  He is probably one of the most unknown entities in college basketball going into his senior year. The possibilities are highly variable, but let's hope he's healthy and puts it all together as a great shooter, solid defender and distributor.  


April 13th, 2016 at 1:20 PM ^

Because he's entering his senior season. Most players see their greatest improvement between years 1 and 2. Irvin averaged under 7 PPG his freshman season and over 14 PPG his sophomore season. This year his numbers dipped. So it's pretty safe to say that Irvin is who he is at this point.

Also keep in mind that Irvin played a 6th man role during his freshman season (and played that role very well). When he was on the court he was probably the 4th or 5th option at any given time. Irvin could rely on just shooting threes because Michigan had multiple options to go to for scoring.

In his sophomore and junior seasons, Irvin became the third option and once LeVert was injured both seasons, the second option. When Walton was injured his sophomore season, he became the first option. While other parts of his game developed, his 3 point perccentage dropped precipitously. 

Next year he is easily a top 3 option, but unforuntately Irvin is best suited to playing a complementary role. Now it's possible that Robinson and Wagner all make big improvements next year thus lessening the load on Irvin, but those are big question marks.


April 13th, 2016 at 1:36 PM ^

It's interesting that you note all these major differences in context between seasons but then just look at ppg and conclude Irvin is done improving.  How about the significant improvement in assists?  How about what an outlier the non-conference performance from 3 point range was?

In a vaccum it's true that many (but certainly not all) players improve most from freshman to sophomore years.  Tim Hardaway is only the nearest example of a guy who did not.  THJ tried to do too much his sophomore year, figured out he wasn't going to be Kobe, worked hard to become a well-rounded player, got a bunch of help his junior year, sacrificed his numbers to fit in around his teammates, and now he's probably the best Michigan alum playing in the NBA.

Irvin's not the athlete THJ is but he has better size and, luckily for us, he'll be around for his senior year to see if his game can go to the next level.

And on that note -- the last time Michigan had significant senior leadership of the caliber of Walton/Irvin it was Douglass/Novak.  Those two improved dramatically from their junior to senior seasons.



April 13th, 2016 at 1:46 PM ^

I did say that he improved other parts of his game.

I also believe that Michigan will be better off if he's playing more of a complimentary role, like he did during his freshman season. If Michigan is counting on him to be the main guy, then I don't think Michigan will be too successful next year. I base this on the previous two seasons when Michigan has turned to Irvin to be that guy.


April 13th, 2016 at 2:04 PM ^

Michigan made the tournament this year with Zak as the main guy.  Now imagine they do that again but add the following:

  • Basic offensive effectiveness from the center. We saw flashes of this from Wagner but Doyle and Donnal were awful as roll-men in the pick-and-roll. Having a threat on that play would open things up for Irvin and others.
  • A functional bench (against Notre Dame Michigan collapsed in the second half because the bench for the starting wings was 7 minutes of Dawkins and 2 minutes of Dakich).  Simpson alone will be a significant upgrade.
  • Incremental improvement from Walton and Rahkman.  Rahkman already improved significantly and even made progress on his biggest deficiencies (turnovers and 3 point shooting).  Walton stagnated a bit, but we have the example of Novak/Douglass making major senior year strides.
  • Defensive improvement.  Doyle's the only significant departure and Dawkins, defensively, is addition by subtraction. The defense can and should make strides forward due to experience alone.

While I agree with you that Michigan would be better off with a guy like Burke/Stauskas/Levert in the lead role with Zak on the wing, I don't at all agree that Michigan can't be successful with Zak as the focul point of the offense.  They need to tweek some things to focus on Zak's strengths, but it's absolutely doable to win a lot of games with Zak in the lead. He is good enough.


April 13th, 2016 at 3:12 PM ^

then you explain away any evidence of regression you see in Zak's game pretty easily.

Michigan may or may not be adding a Burke-caliber freshman next year, but we can expect improvement from the rest of the roster.

In general, players get better.  It's not just a feshman-sophomore year thing. I think the Morris-Burke-Stauskas examples skewed some perspectives.  That isn't normal.


April 13th, 2016 at 4:43 PM ^

But his freshman year wasn't nearly as good as his sophomore year.  Walton actually had better freshman ORtg and DRtg than Burke, though obviously a smaller usage. I could have said Walton and meant the same thing; without the connotation of greatness.

The point is that going from Dakich and Dawkins to a starting-caliber talent similar to Morris/Burke/Walton as Freshman should help the team significantly.  Not an unreasonable expectation for Simpson though of course there are no guarantees.  Simpson also looks significantly shorter than Walton/Burke so that may affect his transition.

Stringer Bell

April 13th, 2016 at 3:27 PM ^

Some players just also hit their ceiling and I think that's the case with Zak. He's not particularly athletic, good but not great 3 point shooter, good passer, not good at attacking the rim, good defender given he's playing out of position. Really the only area he excels at is pull up mid range jumpers. I think his lack of athleticism will prevent him from improving much and becoming the star player we need him to be.


April 13th, 2016 at 5:07 PM ^

There's just not much evidence to back it up.  Zak got better this year compared to last and much better from the year before.  Clearly on defense and in generating offense for others he has made massive strides each year.  Less clear is the marginal improvement across the board that is evident in his per 40 minute stats in Big Ten play (this year vs last). 

He may be pushing up on his ceiling as a scorer (the improvements were marginal) but he has become a better rounded and more productive basketball player each of the last 2 years. I don't know why anyone would think that improvement would stop. I'm wondering if there are examples of Beilein guards that got worse as seniors.  Some may have gotten less productive but I struggle to think of examples beyond maybe Vogrich or some other fringe player.

I agree that going to the rim is something he is not good at, but the injury could well be a factor in that.  Regardless, there is a lot of value in being 'good' at all those things while playing the 4 in Beilein's system, PLUS being a really good mid-range shooter and well above-average 3 point shooter (assuming he is around 38% that's a major asset to this team - a lot of people write fawning praises of Robinson's shooting and the spacing he creates - while Irvin draws WAY more defensive attention.) Not many players offer the range of skills that Irvin does.

As with Novak, Beilein is making the most of the athleticism Irvin does have by putting him in mismatches at the 4.  With better help, incremental improvement in skill, and improved health Irvin can offer an excellent mix of skills:

  • 65% Hardaway / scoring and well-rounded skillset
  • 25% Novak / senior leadership and small-ball 4 versatility
  • 10% Stauskas / shooting and creating 

Nobody should be sleeping on his potential to be all conference next year.

Stringer Bell

April 13th, 2016 at 9:23 PM ^

I hope you're right because I am an Irvin fan. And maybe having better talent around him (especially at center if Wagner can make that jump) will increase his numbers to all conference levels. But I still don't see him improving significantly to the point that he's a star. The Hardaway comparison is a good one, but Hardaway was a complimentary player in college. Zak can't be that if this team wants to go far.


April 14th, 2016 at 12:25 AM ^

Hardaway was the #2 scorer for 3 years at Michigan and declared early for the NBA draft. He was a star.  He didn't have the efficiency or passing that a ahem...certain segment of the fanbase appreciates .. but he was far more than a complementary player.  That's like calling Scottie Pippen a complementary player.


This team was a hair away from being a sweet 16 team, loses very little (Dawkins will be missed but 4 freshman should replace him more than adequately), and will have 2 core seniors for the first time since they won a big ten title  The track record of Beilein seniors is pretty strong.  I expect this team to contend for a conference title, regardless of it Irvin is more Batman or Robin.


April 13th, 2016 at 3:55 PM ^

The explanation for the shooting numbers is very straightforward when you actually consider context: as a freshman all he was asked to do was to be a spot up shooter. When he was in the game he was usually about the 4th option and had plenty of others to create shots for him. As often happens, once the burden gets shifted and a player has to create his own shots, catch and shoot open looks drop dramatically, so efficiency and shooting drops unless you're a very high caliber player a la Burke, Stauskas, maybe Caris.

Bottomline was, Irvin was not very effective at being the #1 option this year. He was inconsistent, shooting suffered, and he was poor at finishing at the rim and drawing fouls. Since we've seen literally nothing to indicate that he's going to make a big jump in these aspects, the hope should be that his improvement is incremental and his load is greatly lessened to free him up to play off the ball where he's clearly more comfortable. 


April 13th, 2016 at 5:23 PM ^

Has produced pretty similar numbers for Stauskas, Irvin, Dawkins, and Duncan Robinson.  All these guys can shoot, the variable is what else they can do, and IF they are asked to do more.

As for next year - Irvin has made a big jump in his passing and defense. I don't think we can rule out a big jump in other areas.


April 13th, 2016 at 12:28 PM ^

Irving seems like a really good kid and I hope he can step it up next year. It was very frustrating to see him get the minutes he got this season and be asked to be the offensive answer for the team; it certainly raises some doubts in my mind about Beilien's ability to see what's going on.  The team just relied on him way to much for a role he's not suited for.  He's not a great ball handler and he's not an elite scorer.  I would like to see him enouraged to share the basketball and become more of a role player.


April 13th, 2016 at 12:48 PM ^

it's always hilarious when people think they know better than Beiliein. Sure, the team would be better if Irvin could be the second banana to a true alpha dog, but that requires the team to have a better option.  That didn't exist last year and unless MAAR improves his ability to distribute significantly or Walton improves his ability to finish significanly, Irvin is still going to be the best option when the offense breaks down. He had a very high assist rate for a 4 last year (second highest on the team, only behind the PG) and has improved GREATLY in his ability to share the basketball.

Everything you just said makes no sense in the absense of alternatives.  If your frustration is that we don't have better players, fine.  That's a recruiting issue.  But given the roster, Beilien did exactly what he needed to do with Irvin.


April 13th, 2016 at 1:15 PM ^

Yeah? Well, that's like, my opinion, man.  I have eyes. I see him turn over the basketball and take bad shots when there are open shooters.  And he's not an efficient scorer. So, yeah, obviously Beilein knows more than me about baskeball (way to go out on a limb), but if someone needs to create, in my opinion Walton and MAAR are both more effective, and Irvin was more effective when he was willing to make the pass rather than jack up horrendous threes. And comparing him to other 4s is idiotic given his role. 


April 13th, 2016 at 1:41 PM ^

You don't have much statistical backing.  While MAAR dramatically cut down his turnovers, he still didn't generate offense for others (1.7 apg).  MAAR takes it to the hole very efficiently but he doesn't pass.

Irvin was the best option. It should have been Walton, but he wasn't up for the job, so it fell to Irvin.


April 13th, 2016 at 4:57 PM ^

and since your opinion is that you doubt Beilein could see what the most effective use of his players should have been, and that since you have eyes, you can see better ways to utilize his players, it is my opinion that your opinion is hilarious and wrong.  Nothing personal, just opining over here.

Comparing him to other 4s is not idiodic and I'm not even comparing him to other 4s.  I'm comparing him to the starting 2 and 3 on his team, because he had twice the assist rate as each of them.  That was not a result of an arbitrarily (and incorrectly, in your opinion) assigned role.  That was the result of him being a better distributor than MAAR and Robinson.


April 13th, 2016 at 12:32 PM ^

I, and another user, went back-and-forth with Ace over his comments about Zak's turnovers. This analysis shows that he's basically the same as Jr. year Tim Hardaway in that regard, and Tim is having a nice NBA career for himself. I don't recall people bashing Tim about turnovers. This analysis shows that the BAD part of the 2015-16 season is Zak's three point shooting from the right side of the court and his ORTG.

By the way, the ORTG graph also shows Donnal exceeding Wagner in ORTG and usage. I wouldn't be so quick to ink Wagner into the starting lineup next season. (Pencil, maybe. Ink? No.)


April 13th, 2016 at 2:07 PM ^

everyone. That's the license, in the internet age, that fandom gives you. Time and again we throw the baby out with the bathwater, but that's okay. You just always have to hope that ADs and presidents have a rational take on matters.


April 13th, 2016 at 12:38 PM ^

I think one of the biggest keys to next season is putting emphasis on making Irvin the number two or three option and not the first. The offense just does not run smoothly with him running the pick and roll and had the added consequence of killing his shooting numbers. Walton and Xavier need to be the ones in control. This will open up both shots and dribbling lanes for Irvin and Robinson. So the key is, can Beilein get what he needs out of the PG spot, or will we have to fall back on Irvin playing the superman role that he's not very good at.


April 13th, 2016 at 12:53 PM ^

I don't think "steady decline" is accurate. Irvin's 3% didn't actually get worse if you consider the injury factor in the early season.  In Big Ten play he shot 38% which was an improvement on 34% the previous year in conference play, and better than Duncan Robinson too.

I would expect Irvin to shoot 37%-39% from 3 next year based on his track record.  Maybe better if he gets help.  There's no question that his shooting % and efficiency would look a lot better if he wasn't forcing things late in the shot clock.

There have been 2 extended periods where he shot worse than 35%- last year in conference play as he adjusted to a much bigger role than expected, and this year in non-conference play as he recovered from back surgery.  Neither should be a factor and no one should worry about Zak's ability to make 3s efficiently.  Zak Irvin is probably the best in-game shooter on the team.



April 13th, 2016 at 1:02 PM ^

As Alex points out, the big difference is that Hardaway shot 37% from 3.  Irvin should match that, at a minimum next year.

To Irvin's credit though - he's a much better passer at this stage than Hardaway was.

Also worth consideringt that Hardaway was playing beside Burke, Stuaskas, Robinson, McGary (4 NBA players) while Irvin is playing beside Walton, Rahkman, Robinson, Donnal (0 NBA players, probably).  Hardaway was getting much less defensive attention (nor was he taked with as much defensive responsibility).


April 13th, 2016 at 12:55 PM ^

Was the left-side of the floor disparity in shooting percentages evident in Zak's numbers from previous years?  I wonder if this is something that is just part of his DNA or a one-year outlier due to injury or usage within the offense.


April 13th, 2016 at 1:24 PM ^

Interesting. I wonder what is driving the numbers.

My hypothesis would be that a lot of those shots on the right side of the floor were generated off the dribble. 

Would also be interesting to see if it changed in Big Ten conference play (when he was healthy).

In case it's not obvious I'm bullish on Zak. I think Beilein will do more next year to get him shooting in 'his spots' and his efficiency numbers will rise dramatically.

It seems obvious that there's a an opportunity here to focus the offense around things Zak does well and limiting what he does poorly (which at this point is pretty much just getting to the rim).


April 13th, 2016 at 5:06 PM ^

a 6 percent rate is shockingly low, it came on a low sample size (16). It's possible that the offense was putting him in that spot under poor circumstances, but I would think it's more of an anomaly than anything else.


April 13th, 2016 at 1:03 PM ^

Sometimes you just have to admit to yourself - that dog don't hunt.  Zac Irvin is not a starter on a Big Ten Championship team or a team making the Final Four.  Zac Irvin is not a 4 and his lack of size and athleticism is a big reason Michigan has such poor defensive and rebounding efficiencies.  Zac Irvin is not going to play in the NBA and will struggle to even make a D-League roster and certainly not at the 4 position.  Michigan should do him a favor and play him at the 2 his senior year - coming off the bench behind MAAR.  He can show his leadership by accepting this role and knowing that it is for the good of the team.

Indiana Blue

April 13th, 2016 at 1:18 PM ^

with average college basketball skills of players in the B1G.  I doubt there are statistics on the following, though IMO he led the team in "airballs" for the season & had the most blocked layups of any Michigan player EVER in a single season.  Anyone that thinks he's a "shooter" needs to just look at his FT %, which is miserable.  

Bottom line is that Michigan will compete for the upper half of the B1G next year, but no way are they challenging for a B1G title.  And given that premise, Zak will still be a contributing member of the team and a starter at the #2 spot.

Go Blue!


April 13th, 2016 at 1:53 PM ^

But it's hardly miserable.  The comp to Hardaway is worth noting here again - 68% vs 72%.  Given how few FTs Irvin takes, it's hard to call his FT% a major weakness.

Zak's an excellent shooter when healthy and given good looks.

I agree Michigan's unlikely to win a Big Ten title if he's the primary ball-handler, but they absolutely CAN win one with Zak as the leading scorer.  Surround him with a quality cast and this team will go far.


April 13th, 2016 at 1:17 PM ^

I think defense and shot creation improved dramatically.  To go up that much in assists while keeping turnovers nearly neutral is a massive step forward.

The 3% going down is a statistical mirage. Zak's a very good 3 point shooter, just like Hardaway was. He's probably a bit better even.  Both can be streaky from long-range, but both are going to come out pretty good in the long-run.  When left wide open Zak is far more dangerous, as we saw his freshman year, when his shooting stats were Stauskas-like.  If Michigan can generate looks for him like that again - watch out.

There's no question he's not Stauskas or Levert in terms of generating offense.  But he's not bad at it, despite his relative inability to get to the hole. His mid-range shot is good to excellent, especially if they can get him in his spots on the left side of the floor.  His passing is no longer a deficiency. His efficiency can reach those levels if he has teammates around him playing at a high level.

The best case scenario for Zak is that either Walton, Rahkman (or maybe even Simpson) develop into the primary ball-handler and generator of offense and that he can be the secondary option.  It's Zak who will likely lead the team in scoring again, but he can't defend the 4 AND generate offense AND shoot at an elite efficiency level.  Zak needs help.  Hopefully next year he gets it, puts up more efficient numbers, and builds his resume to for an NBA career.



April 13th, 2016 at 6:13 PM ^

It would be great if he could become the secondary option, but it should be clear by now that no one else on the current roster is likely to make that happen. Walton has a lot of attributes, but he's been here three years now. Hoping he'll become that kind of player is wishful thinking.

For me, this issue and the tram's prospects as a whole come down to Simpson. If he's an impact player as a freshman, we're in business. If he isn't, we're looking at much the same dynamic as this past season.

Michigan is a bunch of parts in need of an engine.

Sent from MGoBlog HD for iPhone & iPad


April 13th, 2016 at 7:57 PM ^

Both are excellent as complementary players, both have shown flashes of being alphas, both have been inconsistent, neither finish at the hole with regularity.  Neither has that "you can't stop me and you don't want to try" swagger.

Who will step up next year?  We'll have to wait to see.

I don't think Simpson is going to be the man, as it's really hard to be an alpha as a freshman in Beilein's system - even Burke and Stauskas were deferential at first.  MAAR is more likely as dark horse if he can make a leap in finding open teammates and continue to improve his 3 point shot.  It's almost certainly going to be Walton or Irvin who will the main guy.

Walton has shown a higher ceiling at times, but Zak has more consistently been aggressive.  Zak has shown improvement every year while Walton stagnated a bit. Both have overcome injuries that may have slowed down their development. Walton seems like the more natural option to lead the offense but his finishing is a real problem.


April 13th, 2016 at 1:36 PM ^

   Thanks for an excellentt article.  The only other things I would have liked to see are splits to show whether Irvin's shooting picked up over the season as he felt better (see comment that it did) or where he had to guard a much bigger player as with Purdue (where Irvin lost his posiiton battle two out of three times against a forward who can both shoot and post up).

     As far as next year, I have great hopes for him and the team if the whole team continues to make steady and noticable improvement.  I don't expect he will become a superstar, but Irvin willl likely be the number one scorer and leader of the team because he is senior but also because there's no one else who is likely to be able to fill the role.  No one else has both the experience and the high level of skill & athleticism.

     But what the team needs most is steady improvement from everyone: Walton find his shot. Robinson, Wagner and Donnal add strength & athleticism in the weight room plus knowledge and skill.  MAAR needs to work on his shot and his distribution.

      Walton is our best hope of become a top tier Big 10 player because he's been injured and is a senior, and then I think Wagner and maybe Donnal.  Wagner because he seems to have the most talent and was a freshman playing his first year of US ball.  Donnal because I like the underdog and am hoping that a taste of success has made him hungry.  I think Robinson and MAAR are both limited by their body types.

      D.J. Wilson has a shot because he was really a freshman last year, but I think he will probably need two years before he will become a strong option in the middle.  Who knows about Chatman? There are flashes there, but he has to shoot the three much better.




The Denarding

April 13th, 2016 at 2:13 PM ^

I think Zak Irvin is THJ with a better mid range and passing game but with less efficiency going to the goal. I think we didn't see the best Zak we could this year due both to injury and our inability to run the curl very effectively. I think coming off curls especially with a pass shoot option Zak will be lights out. If the screener on the curl can actually catch the ball it will be great. Notice how wide open Ricky Doyle is off the curl.

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April 13th, 2016 at 2:30 PM ^

I believe Irvin will have a really good season in '16-'17 as long as he's healthy.  He was a pretty good player the last seven games of his sophomore season (17.3 ppg), and I don't know why he can't replicate that as long as he's injury-free. 

I had a back problem in college that didn't require surgery but that limited me in every way athletically.  I think Irvin's back injury is a very plausible reason - and, yes, excuse - for many of his problems this year. 

He sees the game fairly well now.  He probably just needs his health.


April 13th, 2016 at 5:04 PM ^

Comparisons to THJ are natural, but lest anyone forget, Jr was way more athletic, and that's important in this case. Jr could drive and dunk and catch lobs. Irvin only has a couple total dunks under his belt. Dunking isn't necessarily the mark of a good player, but it does reflect some athleticism (or lack thereof).

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April 13th, 2016 at 6:11 PM ^

I guess it had to have been the surgery and granted that is one of the hardest surgerys to have...He had a great sophmore season, besides the fact that the team did not have a fun time at all.  He clearly does not have a problem being the lead guy, last year he was just that, averaging 14ppg and 5rpg.  This year it seemed like he wasn't really ready for it.  I imagine he'll be back up to averaging around 15, assuming he can get over this back thing.

I get frustrated that no one can drive except Rahk.  Walton and Irvin are not good at driving the ball, save a few times when they had good games and drove well.  I know Beilein is not a drive kinda guy but please, get players who can at least make attempts at it. From the tapes it looks like Simpson will be a step up from Walton getting to the dish which will be nice.  I miss Burke driving to the basketball and finishing, not to mention all the other things he did perfectly.  Get well Zak and Walton, we need you at 15ppg next year and leading this team!!!!


April 13th, 2016 at 6:23 PM ^


I've been on record stating if Irvin is our go to guy we are not going to be a very good team.  I like Zak but I've never seen a player that is supposed to be a "sharp shooter" shoot so many airballs or complete bricks...just head scratching shots.  I know people say it's because he was coming off an injury but he's been shooting ugly shots since he arrived at UM.  I can't recall a former player that one game actually hits most of his shots and the next game is so off he has a hard time hitting the rim.  I don't like the comparison to THJ because THJ has text book form while Zak's form is simply not very good....and most likely the reason he is so inconsistent with his shooting.  Furthermore, he's not a very good ball handler for a wing player...I literally saw players steal the ball from him when he was dribbling the ball up the court or driving to the basket.  I hope Zak has a great senior year but on a good team he should be at best the third scoring option.