The first of many season review features.
Jordan Morgan committed to Michigan before Zack Novak, all the way back in December of 2007. Morgan was John Beilein’s third verbal commitment at Michigan but by the time he stepped onto the floor to begin his career, after Novak had played well over 200 minutes, he was all but forgotten. Morgan wasn’t highly rated in high school, despite occasional solid performances, and had two significant injuries during his redshirt freshman year.
The Jordan Morgan that we saw this year surpassed even the most optimistic preseason prognostications. To be brutally honest, I figured that the chances Morgan made it through the season uninjured were less than 50%. I certainly didn’t expect an extremely efficient big man that averaged 9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game while providing Michigan’s lone reliable low post threat. And this wasn’t his junior or senior season, Morgan accomplished all of this as a redshirt freshman.
- Two point shooting: Morgan made 62.7% of his two point attempts on the year and 66% in Big Ten play. This isn’t just good, it’s one of the best figures in the country. I can’t find complete 2-point shooting stats but, by my estimation, Morgan’s 63% would rank in the top 15 in the NCAA. Had Morgan played just a few more minutes this year (he played 59.4% of U-M’s minutes and KenPom qualifies players at 60%), his effective field goal percentage would have ranked 2nd in the Big Ten – behind only Jon Diebler – despite shooting all twos. A lot of Morgan’s finishes were of the easier variety but to finish as effectively as he did, especially at 6-foot-8, is impressive.
- Pick and roll: When Darius manages to wire some perfect pass to Morgan rolling to the basket, it looks easy. Morris earns most of the praise for a great pass, but Morgan deserves more credit. He did a tremendous job of reading the defense and slipping screens early to provide a great target. As mentioned above, he also did an adequate job catching the ball and excellent job finishing once he had it in the paint.
- Toughness and attitude: I don’t have numbers to justify this (Morgan was just an O.K. rebounder) but there’s no doubt that Morgan added toughness to the Michigan roster. With all freshmen big men on the roster, the worry was that Michigan would be Downy soft and not have an answer for bigger and more physical teams. Morgan battled in the post and improved in this regard as the season progressed. By the end of the year he wasn’t just taking punches and standing tall, he was delivering the blow too. Whether it was taking a charge, grabbing a tough rebound, or dunking the ball with a roar, Morgan seemed to change the momentum of several games with his attitude.
Room for Improvement
- Back to the basket game: I would estimate that roughly 80% of Morgan’s scoring production was assisted, with another 10% coming off of put backs. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it means that Morgan has room to learn to create his own scoring. I don’t think he’s ever going to be a guy that Michigan dumps the ball to 7 or 8 times per game and isolates on the block, but as Morgan’s offensive game develops he will become a more complete player.
- Fouling: Morgan’s propensity to pick up cheap fouls crippled his productivity. John Beilein doesn’t play players with two fouls in the first half (a debate for another day) and Morgan would routinely pick up a pair, sometimes in less than a minute of game time. Morgan committed 5.3 fouls per 40-minutes and it’s almost impossible to quantify how much more productive he could have been by avoiding foul trouble. A quick run through of play-by-play data yields 19 games (of Michigan’s 35) where Morgan was forced to sit with two fouls in the first half. Discipline, film study, experience and added strength should all go a long ways toward keeping Morgan on the floor.
- Foul shooting: Morgan was 41 of 73 (56%) at the free throw stripe, a lower mark than his field goal percentage. Morgan shot an improved 63% (19/30) over the last 11 games which could be a good sign for the future. Big men always seem to struggle at the line but they get fouled quite a bit, it would be encouraging if Morgan could get this number up over 70% next season.
Shining Moment: Morgan stepped to the free throw line in Iowa City with :12 seconds left and buried a pair of freebies to send the game to overtime. Morgan finished that game with 18 points (6-7 fg) and eight rebounds but those two free throws probably saved Michigan’s season. A patented “bad loss” likely sends Michigan hurdling toward the NIT, instead the Wolverines ended up in the second round of the NCAA tournament. You expect a guard that shoots 80% at the line to make those shots but for Morgan, a 56% free throw shooter, to hit both is even more impressive. (Second: 27 points on 11 of 13 shooting in a home win over Northwestern.)
Morgan surpassed even the most optimistic expectations for his freshman year. He quite obviously put in significant work on his game and in the weight room. He was efficient, solid on the glass, and played more physically and aggressively than most expected. The question now is where does he go from here? Darius Morris’ return is paramount for his development, as Morris facilitates a majority of his offensive production. It’s also important that Morgan continue to develop his offensive game and learn a couple basic post moves. No one expects him to turn into Jared Sullinger with an endless array of post moves, but becoming a threat on the block is important. At the very least, he should become more disciplined defensively and cut down on the silly fouls, allowing him to stay on the floor longer and become a more productive player.