Season Review: Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman

Submitted by Alex Cook on April 18th, 2016 at 3:02 PM

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Sherman / Dressler / Upchurch

Previously: Zak Irvin

After last season, I wrote this in MAAR’s recap:

(I know Abdur-Rahkman is from Allentown, which is a little more than an hour from Philadelphia.)

While not the basketball Mecca that New York used to be or Chicago and LA are now, Philadelphia has still contributed immensely to hoops culture, producing greats like Wilt Chamberlain and Kobe Bryant, and – more relevant to college hoops – the series of rivalries between the “Big Five” of Villanova, Temple, St. Joe’s, La Salle, and Penn. Among other smaller Philly hoops stories, there’s the idea of the “Philly Guard” archetype.

As far as I can tell, the construct of a “Philly Guard” exists somewhere in the intersection of Allen Iverson and Rocky, an attacking combo guard bestowed with toughness and competitiveness platitudes. Though Abdur-Rahkman is 6’4, his high school film (and flashes of his play at Michigan) suggest that he could very well be a traditional Philly guard… despite not actually being from there. Only 20% of his two-point field goals at Michigan were assisted, he can play the one or the two (though Beilein’s system makes little distinction between the two), and he often injected life into a lost season with occasional bursts of physical ability – my favorite was when he pretty much made Jake Layman run and hide instead of contesting a dunk attempt.

Rahk is one of my favorite players on the team, mostly due to his uniqueness – there’s something about his game that can’t be replicated by anyone else. Since we’ve only seen half a season of him, it might be a while before I can pin down that essential quality about him, but I’m firmly on the bandwagon. Maybe this label will fit him in time, maybe not.

It’s clear what that quality is: more than anyone else on the roster, MAAR can create his own shot and get buckets. Before the season, he was the fourth guard on the depth chart, but by the end, he’d become the best member of the five-man 2014 class and ranked third in team MVP voting. Moving forward, it’s clear that Rahk has locked down the two-guard spot, and – as someone who’s mature for his class – he projects to be at least a solid starter as an upperclassman in the next two seasons.

Often, Michigan’s offense had to work hard for quality looks – instead of seeming effortlessly devastating, the Beilein offense more frequently was run through the ringer, using every constraint and trick to get the smallest windows of opportunity. While they were the most capable creators on the team, going through Derrick Walton or Zak Irvin usually came difficultly, especially against quality defenses. Very rarely were either able to take defenders one-on-one for a bucket, and even though both are above average passers, neither were quite explosive or agile enough to get open at the rate to routinely set up others (in contrast to Caris LeVert, for example). While both are good out of the pick-and-roll, neither are able to attack aggressively in those sets on a consistent basis.

Enter Abdur-Rahkman, a guy who wasn’t able to sustain a high-level usage rate, but someone who was able to do some of the things that Walton and Irvin couldn’t.

[After the JUMP, more on MAAR]

rahk unassisted

Data via hoop-math

[As a quick aside, the four Michigan centers combined for 200 makes on 311 2-point attempts (64%) and 72% of the makes were assisted – I’m guessing putbacks made up a large portion of the remaining 28%]

Rahkman is a two-guard who can create looks for himself. While his improved three-point shooting (36%, up from just 29% as a freshman) has made him a more valuable asset in terms of floor spacing, his ability to put his head down and get to the rim is what makes him a valuable part of Michigan’s offensive attack. MAAR improved his assist rate a little bit from his freshman season, but he was rarely deferential once he decided to challenge his defender. At 6’4, he doesn’t have the type of issues finishing that Derrick Walton does, and his flurry of little jabs and jukes get him to the basket often. Even though he played less than Irvin, he almost had as many unassisted two-pointers, and he was the least reliant on others to get two-point looks in the half court.

Shot creation is something that’s hard to gauge statistically, but it’s unmistakable. When Michigan’s offense was unable to run well through Irvin and / or Walton, Rahkman was able to make something out of nothing and exert pressure on the defense by himself. Consider how rare that is on Michigan’s roster: Walton often looked to pass out of the pick-and-roll and was best spotting up off the ball; Irvin was also able to create his own shot but those – more often coming from the mid-range – were inefficient; Duncan Robinson and Aubrey Dawkins had to have their looks created by others; Michigan’s big men were pretty much incapable of generating offense themselves unless they were attacking the glass well. Because of general team issues on offense, Rahkman was sometimes tasked with putting the team on his back – and he not only took tough shots, but often made them.

MAAR's stats in Big Ten play were very encouraging. He played 80.4% of available minutes (and, as a reminder, Irvin and Walton were in the top six of minutes played in the conference) and was significantly more efficient than Walton and Irvin (116.4 offensive rating vs. 105.7 and 95.1, respectively) – though it should be noted that the ability to handle higher usage is something that Walton and Irvin evidently have, as opposed to Rahkman. He shot 57% from two in league competition, which mitigated his middling three-point shooting (31%) to the point where he was still shooting one of the Big Ten’s  better eFG% (53.4). He was more effective than Duncan Robinson after getting significant playing time (after LeVert’s injury) in conference play, and maintained that quality level of play through the postseason, where he averaged 15 points over 5 games.

* * *

rahk comps 2016

It feels as if the player comparison algorithms assess Rahkman poorly. Sam Thompson is the closest statistical analogue – and as an above average role player on mostly good teams, it’s a promising sign for Rahk – but he fed off of others for his field goal attempts. In fact, most of the names that Rahk’s statistical profile spits out are random swingmen, but hardly any of them were able to create their own looks. It’s worth noting that – relative to the sample of 20 of Rahkman’s closest comparisons – he’s a better two-point shooter and generally more efficient. The only Michigan player that was even close to him was Stu Douglass (as a senior) at #12. Oh, and out of the 1,000+ names in the Big Ten player database, Rahkman’s is by far the longest.

As for defense, MAAR is probably not the most culpable in terms of the team’s widespread problems, but he’s often late rotating defensively and has the same off-ball bugaboos as most Wolverine guards and wings. Of course, his level of playing time wasn’t ideal and probably contributed to some of those issues (like I’m guessing they did with Irvin and Walton). Rahkman theoretically could be a pretty decent defender in time, and that will probably hinge on who Beilein hires as an assistant this offseason.

* * *

The gem of what will ultimately look like a disappointing 2014 recruiting class – Chatman, Wilson, Doyle, Dawkins, Rahkman – is MAAR, the least heralded. As a player who’s older for his class, he could be one of those physically mature 23-year olds that overwhelm younger players during their senior seasons – right now, he’s a promising scorer that could go in a few different directions from here. If his outside shot continues to improve and he’s able to increase his usage without sacrificing too much efficiency, MAAR could be an All-Conference player with the potential to be the best player on a good team. Of course, he likely won’t be able to shoulder that responsibility unless he improves his ball distribution – something that’s more unnatural for a lead guard with an inclination towards attacking with the intention of shooting. And of course, as with everyone, his ceiling is lowered unless individual defense improves.

With his first offseason as a starter, Rahkman hopefully will be more aggressive in terms of seeking out his shot, even if it seems like he’s forcing things at times. While he’s much more efficient than Zak Irvin, he’s deferential towards him, which probably means that we won’t see him take on the alpha dog role until he’s a senior. But, as Michigan moves forward with uncertainty at some roster spots, they’re secure at the starting two – Rahk will continue to get his buckets no matter what.

Comments

BDFGOBLUE

August 5th, 2016 at 5:11 PM ^

i been watching this kid play since he was a freshman in highschool..and one thing ive observed is that he was he has been consistantly getting better. i think he the best player on the team. irvin is good but i think he reached his ceiling..walton as well. but rahk can still get better.

 

Yo_Blue

April 18th, 2016 at 4:51 PM ^

It seemed at times like MAAR fell in love with the dribble when there were passing opportunities.  Too many times though there were NO passing opportunities and he was forced to try to get to the rim.  There is definitely a place for a MAAR-type in Beilein's offense, but I don't believe the usage should be as high as it was at times this year.

MAAR should be fun to watch in the next two years.

OkemosBlue

April 18th, 2016 at 5:13 PM ^

For sure, many kudos to MAAR for improving his game greatly last year.   Without him, MIchigan would not have made the NCAAs.  The key thought in the article was that he was a solid/excellent 6th man playing as a starter in a limited number of games where he was the 3rd-4th option, but also that he was able to create points when the offense bogged down and needed help.  

What happens next year is anybody's guess.  He could continue to blossom in an offense that is disrupted by injuries and loss of shooting touch (Walton) or he could stay about where he is.  Somehow the author finds a way to compliment him on his defense by comparing him to the atrocious defense played by others with more responsibility.  Faint praise indeed. 

If he and the team are to be what we hope--legitimate contenders for the Big Ten title--he needs to improve in all areas but especially three point shooting and defense.  Once the offense is redesigned, his assists should go up too.  If all this happens--and I think he has shown that it might--then he is an all-conference player.   Maybe not first team, but second or third team.  Pretty darn good for someone who barely got a scholarship at a Big 10 school.  Congrats for progress made so far.

 

 

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Lanknows

April 19th, 2016 at 1:03 PM ^

Walton:  Generates offense for himself and others but struggles with finishing.  Most natural candidate to assume alpha role but maybe better off the ball.

Irvin: Generates offense for himself and dramatically improved at generating for others.  Not consistently getting to the hole but he's been the defense's focus for 2 years now and has produced.

MAAR: Generates offense for himself, not others. Elite finishing, woeful passing. Made big strides in turnovers and 3% but defenses weren't focused on stopping him.

Simpson:  Nobody knows.  Is very short, so there may be a transition necessary to this level.

Mullins:  Preliminary obviously, but if you're talking about a 6'4 kid who excels in PNR and hits 44% of his 3s, that's a guy Beilein will give the ball to.

 

Beilein may change the offense to better suit Walton and Irvin as primary scorers because neither is a major threat to score at the basket.

The other roles all depend on who establishes themselves as the alpha.  MAAR is still not a major asset without the ball in his hands.  His minutes are the ones that will disappear if Simpson, Watson, or Mullins emerge as rotation players.

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