2011-12 Player Preview: Jordan Morgan

20 March 2011: Forward Jordan Morgan (52) of the Michigan Wolverines during a game between the Michigan Wolverines and the Duke Blue Devils in the Third Round of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, NC.

Last year at this time, expectations for Jordan Morgan were low. He battled through two major injuries – rehabbing knee and shoulder surgeries – during his redshirt year, didn’t necessarily impress on Michigan’s European tour and wasn’t highly regarded out of high school. When he committed to Michigan as a sophomore at University of Detroit Jesuit High School, he was unheralded and unknown with his only other notable scholarship offer coming from Xavier. Scouts questioned his athleticism, skill and motor and wondered aloud whether he was a Big Ten caliber player. As Morgan enters his sophomore season, perception couldn’t be more different than it was four years ago. He’s turned baby fat into muscle and put together a redshirt freshman campaign that many wouldn’t have deemed possible until late in his career.

Before last season started, there were questions whether Morgan could contribute at this level, let alone make it through the season healthy. At season’s end, he started every game, scored in double figures 16 times – with three games over 20 including a career high 27 against Northwestern – and led the team in rebounds and blocks.

Morgan has made it clear that he has what it takes to be a successful Big Ten center. The question now is just how good can he be? Here’s a look at what to expect from him this season.

Reasons to be Excited

Rebounding: The reason Morgan got the starting nod from Beilein last year was clear – Michigan needed help on the glass and Morgan provided more muscle down low than Blake McLimans, Evan Smotrycz or Jon Horford. Morgan grabbed over five rebounds per game and,more importantly, he turned Michigan’s guards and wings into above average defensive rebounders by holding his box outs down low.

Finishing inside and utilizing the pick-and-roll: It’s no secret that the majority of Morgan’s offensive production was assisted. His dunks always seemed to spark a jolt of energy into his teammates, on the road or at home, and they became more frequent as the year progressed. Obviously a significant portion of the credit for Morgan’s makes goes to Morris, Hardaway or whoever else assisted them but Morgan also showed a tremendous feel to the game. He rolled at the right times, slipped the right screens and always seemed to be in the right spot offensively.

Shot-blocking: Although his shot-blocking numbers weren’t great (he had 19 total), one statistic stands out: 11 of those blocks came in the final 11 games of the season. As the season went on, Morgan’s defensive confidence grew and he began to block significantly more shots. He made his rotations quicker and rather than just contest shots, he was more active trying to block shots. Almost more important than actual blocked shots, Morgan’s assertiveness and aggressiveness bodes well for his development on the defensive side of the ball.

Reasons to Worry

Defensive consistency: While his shot-blocking ability did improve as the season went on, there was still plenty of room for improvement on the defensive end. There were times when Morgan looked great defensively – holding Jared Sullinger to 12 points in Columbus – and there were nightmares like Concordia’s Rocko Holmes scoring 29 points. Morgan’s progression throughout the year was clear but there’s still room for improvement.

Foul trouble: There were several times when Morgan found himself on the bench because he committed bone-headed fouls early on in games. Morgan was whistled for 3.2 fouls per game, third worst in the Big Ten, or 5.3 fouls per 40 minutes. Last year it was clear that Michigan needed Morgan on the floor, often looking to Evan Smotrycz for minutes backing up the five position. This year, with Horford’s development, there could be less pressure for Morgan to avoid foul trouble but staying on the floor longer is the first step toward improving as a sophomore.

Offensive repertoire: While Morgan exceeded expectations, averaging over 9 points per game, most of his scoring opportunities came in transition, on put backs or off of the pick and roll. He rarely scored away from the basket, in isolation scenarios on the low block or created his own offense. 72% of Morgan’s field goal attempts last season were within 6-feet of the basket. He won’t transform into a different player over the summer but if he’s able to consistently knock down a 10-foot jump shot or add a solid drop step to his post arsenal he will add another element to the Michigan offense.

Outlook

Morgan’s improvement during his redshirt freshman year was remarkable. If it weren’t for his former roommate and pick-and-roll partner, Darius Morris, it probably would have been a bigger story across the conference and even the country. However, Morgan’s role will change as a sophomore and there are questions that need answering:

  1. What sort of chemistry do Morgan and new point guard Trey Burke have during pick-and-roll situations? Or, how does Tim Hardaway Jr. develop as a playmaker in similar situations?
  2. Can Morgan develop a mid-range jumpshot to diversify his offensive game?
  3. How does the development of fellow big men Jon Horford and Evan Smotrycz affect his role on the team?

As a freshman, Morgan proved that he can be a serviceable and effective big man at the Big Ten level. It’s unreasonable to expect similar improvement between Morgan’s freshman and sophomore seasons but he should continue to improve defensively and on the glass.

Bottom line: Morgan’s two-point shooting numbers will regress from last season’s astronomical 63% as he tries to expand his offensive game. I’d expect a slight uptick in his per game averages with a moderate increase in minutes. Something around 10 points and seven rebounds in 25 minutes per game sounds like a reasonable expectation at this point.

  • http://www.umhoops.com/ Dylan Burkhardt

    Let’s hear your take. What do you expect from Morgan this season?

    • Guest

      badassery…

  • Bosstothemax88

    11ppg and 7rpg, and 2.5 fouls per game

  • DingoBlue

    Great piece Kevin.  I’m enjoying these and the Intros very much as November gets closer.  I think Morgan will be just around double digits in ppg (slightly over hopefully) and 7 rebounds per game also sounds good.  

    I’m worried though that the addition of the charge line will negate any improved basketball IQ Morgan has on making stupid fouls in favor of taking charges and getting the wrong end of the call.  Here’s hoping I’m wrong on that!

    • http://www.umhoops.com/ Dylan Burkhardt

      That’s actually a great point with the charge circle, although I think that might have more of a negative effect on Zack Novak who gets away with a few more charges under the basket.

  • kevin

    honestly, i have overlooked morgan when thinking about the upcoming season.  if the upcoming sophomores (morgan included) can make even half the leap morris made we will be in line for an extremely fun season and probably exceed my poll prediction of 20-22 wins this year.  

  • kennyYe

    I am worrying about Morgan not getting the ball the way he got from Morris, mostly easy baskets. However, Hardaway and Morgan connected more than a few times too off the pick and roll as well. Hopefully Burke can do the same. What I expect from Morgan this year is a reliable midrange jumper.  

    • BMorant

      Don’t forget that Burke played with Sullinger for many years so he obviously knows how to play with BIGS…

      • http://twitter.com/C_Stock20 Casey Stock

        With the coaching of Beilein I believe Trey can develop close to the same connection with J-Mo that Darius had running the pick and roll and finding him under the basket. Darius had a knack for making spectacular passes in traffic though which I don’t see Burke being able to do (Very few PG’s have the same ability Morris did). 

    • BlueRev

      I actually have Morgan scoring a little less this year for the followig reasons:
      *No mo DMo–Burke will be fine but he will not “replace” Darius, not that good, that fast;
      *Hardaway will have ball more and tho can pick–roll is more score first;
      *Smots is another score first guy that may have ball more–I expect big improv from him;
      *Playing time will stay similiarly low as Horford demands more pt.

      However I think his rebounding, shot-blocking, taking charges all improve and he could even have an uptick in scoring if his FT% improves or especially if he gets significantly more pt.

      I’ll say 24mpg, 8+ppg, 6+rpg, 1bpg

      • BlueRev

        Also meant to mention Morgan’s excellent reverse lay-ups. Seemed to have a very high percentage when he got those attempts–good body balance with hops often in transition–so he helped DMo assist numbers at times nearly as much as DMo helped him. Morga may never be a bigtime scorer but he is efficient at what he does.

  • UofMFangirl

    He is a strong player with lots of heart.  I expect he’ll only get better this season and do great things!

  • Kool Breeze

    If he can develop a mid -range game with the ability to knock down the jumper from 15 feet and in, I see him up around the 12-13 ppg.  I agree his post defense was horrible early on, but he was vastly improved by the end of the year.

  • Guest

    Morgan had a good year and was certainly a pleasant surprise.  If he can improve his post play, he’ll be more effective and will force defense to pack it in to give shooters space to shoot three’s.  Morgan’s post play is non-existent since he looked mechanical and awkward.  Hopefully, he’ll improve on it.

  • Josh Dulberg

    I dont know about being a good finisher in the lane (hands, no left, footwork, relatively short)  — but I do know he is a deceptively good dunker —- FUN player to watch and expecting a solid solid season from a tough player.  He will hold his own out there and won’t be a negative in the starting 5. Hopefully he can pull down 8 boards/gm for us, play good D and stay in the game w/out fouling

    • Mattski

      I’ve had that thought a few times, too–he administers his dunks quickly and efficiently. There’s a performative thing that sometimes accompanies a dunk–some extra movement–that often sees players get derailed, or gives defenders a half second to derail them. 

      Those were often beautiful passes that set up Morgan’s dunks last year–I will be anxious to see if Burke can find him for more of them. I expect more assurance in the paint, and also want to see him hit, from time to time, from outside. I also want to see him emerge as more of a team leader. 

  • Quick Darshan

    I’d like to see him work on his left.  He’s got a nice touch with the righty half hook.  He looks comfortable with the footwork there.  I’d like to see a counter move off that when the defender takes it away.

    To me, that’s more important than the jumper.

  • SamGoBlue

    As has been mentioned, it would be great to see Morgan develop a little 12-15 foot jumper. I recall one game last season (I want to say it was either at Indiana or at Illinois, but I could be way off) that he made two or three good-looking jumpers from the elbow. If he can make that shot consistently and take it with confidence, I really think that would help him a lot. Having said that, I think he will be around the same numbers. I’ll give him 11ppg, 6.5rpg, 1.5apg, .5bpg, and 23mpg as Horford improves and demands a few more minutes.

  • V.O.R.

    EXCELLENT review!!!

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