Jordan Morgan’s offensive production regressed in his redshirt sophomore season after the early departure of his point guard Darius Morris. He scored fewer points and was slightly less efficient offensively but that’s not to say his season was a disappointment. In many ways, Morgan was one of the most mission critical pieces of the 2011-12 Michigan team. He was the only true big man and best rebounder on a rebound-anemic squad. His importance is amplified by his teammates’ lack of rebounding chops. His seven points and six rebounds per game certainly don’t overwhelm the statsheet but it’s painful to imagine either of the last two Michigan teams without Morgan in the starting lineup.
2012-13 will bring a new set of challenges for Morgan, who goes from being the only true big man on the roster to one of many in a suddenly crowded Wolverine front court.
Reasons for Excitement
- Experience & Toughness: Morgan is the second most experienced player on Michigan’s roster (only Tim Hardaway Jr. has played more minutes) and he’s been through two grueling Big Ten seasons. He’s learned to play physically, battling against the league’s top big men. He’s taken his fair share of defeats, but he’s also won head to head match-ups with some of the league’s best. He knows what to expect on any given night and having someone like that to anchor the roster in the middle could be invaluable as John Beilein tries to combine a number of young players.
- Rebounding: Morgan improved as a rebounder in his sophomore season and was the focal point of Michigan’s defensive rebounding approach. He returns the second best offensive rebounding rate and sixth best defensive rebounding in the Big Ten this season – and should be one of the league’s better rebounders once again. Michigan struggled at times on the boards last season but Morgan is more than competent and has become tougher and more aggressive when looking to clean the glass.
- Opportunistic Offense: The 6-foot-8 junior has proven that he can score points consistently in three ways: running the floor in transition, rolling to the basket on the pick-and-roll and grabbing offensive rebounds. Morgan’s chemistry with Trey Burke appeared to improve as the season went on, and that improvement should continue this season when running the pick-and-roll. Morgan has the ability to get out and run the floor and some of Michigan’s more impressive comebacks or big runs always seem to revolve around getting Morgan’s offense clicking. Running the floor, hustling for second chances and making himself available for drop off passes are often overlooked but have the ability to change a game, here are two great examples against Arkansas and Ohio State last season.
Causes for Concern
- Offensive Diversity: Morgan’s strong 2-point shooting numbers (62%) are a bit of a misnomer. He’s done a pretty good job of finishing the opportunities he takes, as mentioned above, but he hasn’t diversified his offensive game. He hasn’t proven to be a consistent offensive player more than a couple feet from the hoop. No mid-range jumper or go-to move on the block has materialized in his arsenal and he still struggles at the free throw line (now 54% career). Morgan will finish looks created by others but as he redshirt junior he’s yet to prove he can create his own offense.
- Front Line Depth: This is both a blessing and a curse. For year’s we’ve written how Morgan needs to stay out of foul trouble because he was one of Michigan’s only options. (He actually improved significantly in that area, being called for 3.9 fouls per 40 minutes down from 5.3 the year before.) Now, we have to worry where Morgan fits in the suddenly crowded frontcourt. Mitch McGary, Jon Horford, Blake McLimans and Max Bielfeldt are all vying for minutes on the block and incorporate very specific skills. Add in the small lineup possibilities with Glenn Robinson III at the four and the equation gets even more crowded. How John Beilein manages all of these pieces after playing a front court that measures 6-foot-3/6-foot-8 for the last couple seasons will be fascinating.
- Shot Blocking & 1-on-1 Defense: Tim Hardaway Jr. (8), Trey Burke (7), Evan Smotrycz (5) and Stu Douglass (3) blocked as many or more shots than Jordan Morgan (3) in Big Ten games last season. Morgan has proven that he can play consistent and physical defense but he’s not a shot blocking presence and isn’t a great one-on-one defender. One area he has improved defensively is his ability to take charges around the hoop and he’ll have to continue that effort in the paint.
Jordan Morgan’s career has taken an interesting path. His recruiting merits were fairly underwhelming and when his redshirt year was marred by harsh knee and shoulder injuries it was tough to expect much of him going forward. Fast forward to the present and he’s started 65 games in two seasons while emerging as the steadying force in Michigan’s interior on two NCAA tournament teams, one that won the Big Ten.
In many respects, Morgan’s improvements during his first three years at Michigan have been extraordinary. He’s transformed his body, stayed healthy, and produce in ways that many wouldn’t have imagined until later in his career. On the other hand, he’s reached a cross roads. Morgan needs to either take the next step or risk getting passed up on the depth chart by more versatile options. McGary is bigger with more athleticism, McLimans has more offensive skill and Horford is a better shot blocker. Morgan is much more of a jack of all trades, master of none. There’s always a spot for a consistent rebounding big man but for the first time in his career, he’s going to have serious competition for playing time.
Morgan’s production is one of the bigger mysteries surrounding the upcoming season because it’s rooted in so many fundamental questions about the entire roster. The questions for Morgan are both internal (how much can he improve?) and external (how good is Mitch McGary, et al.?). It will be hard for Morgan to improve on his pure statistical output given the addition of depth for the Michigan front court but he has plenty of room to improve his game.
I expect Morgan to begin the season in the starting lineup. Whether he sticks there for the whole season is another question. Morgan should still be the rebounder and finisher that we’ve come to expect but I’m taking a wait and see approach to any offensive improvement. His playing time is likely to decrease as the season wears on (opposite of the last two years) and John Beilein narrows his rotation. I actually hope his 2-point shooting numbers fall a bit below his career mark of 62% as that will mean that he’s expanded his offensive repertoire, It’s tough to assume improvement in free throw shooting (sub-60% both seasons) but expect his offensive (11.9%) and defensive (17.8%) rebounding rates to remain steady in his junior year.