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.
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:
- 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?
- Can Morgan develop a mid-range jumpshot to diversify his offensive game?
- 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.