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]
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 is just carrying Michigan today. pic.twitter.com/FYVkP1vx4U
— Big Ten Geeks (@bigtengeeks) March 17, 2016
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.
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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.
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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.