Mailbag: Most indispensable, guard minutes, go-to guy, more

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan 78, VCU 53 - 2The UM Hoops Mailbag is a collection of questions tweeted (@umhoops), e-mailed or sent via our Facebook page. Submit your questions and we’ll answer as many as we can.

TheMikeMcCarty: McGary’s injury has me wondering if he is the most irreplaceable part of the team. If not him, who?

Mitch McGary changes Michigan’s identity. He raises Michigan’s ceiling from being a very good team to a great team. The NCAA tournament proved as much and McGary should be even more poised to lead the Wolverines.

You can make a case for Derrick Walton at point guard but he’s yet to play a college game while McGary has shown the ability to carry Michigan to the Final Four. Michigan has other big men to lean on if McGary were to be injured, so I think the Wolverines can tread water without him. But Michigan is not the same team without McGary as he’s the one player that can completely change the dynamic of a game.

mistersuits: Who’s going to get the most minutes playing the 2 this year?

If you believe Nik Stauskas, John Beilein and Jeff Goodman, it might be Stauskas:

“In a normal set, the 3-man goes through the play and then stands in the corner,” Stauskas said. “You wait and get the ball when it’s kicked to you.”

Now the plan is for Stauskas to play the majority of his minutes at shooting guard. In the span of two practices last weekend, Stauskas attempted a total of just two shots in the 5-on-5 segment.

“It’s still taking time for me to get used to it,” Stauskas said. “I’m still trying to find my spots.”

While I think it’s important that Stauskas be able to play both the two and three spots in Michigan’s offense, I’m not sure it’s the best fit. Any position on the floor where he’s shooting less doesn’t necessarily make the most sense. He’s a good passer and an underrated driver but his specialty is shooting.

The counterargument to that point is that the two guard might be a harder position to play in Michigan’s offense. Stauskas is more experienced than Irvin which could make the transition easier for Irvin to learn the three spot first (just like Tim Hardaway Jr.) rather than the two.

Caris LeVert and Zak Irvin are two other guys that have the opportunity to play serious minutes at the off-guard. Stauskas, LeVert and Irvin will split their minutes between the two and three positions this year. How many minutes are available for them to split will depend on how Glenn Robinson III’s minutes break down between the three and the four.

It’s also important to remember that this discussion sticks to the offensive side of the ball. The better defender will guard the better defensive player regardless of where they are positioned offensively.

Reid20B: Can Derrick Walton match the productivity of Trey Burke’s FIRST year?

No. Burke averaged 15 points and five assists per game as a freshman and was arguably the best player on a Michigan team that shared the Big Ten crown that season.

Walton is very capable of a having a big season but he’s not going to have a season like that for a number of reasons.

  1. He’s surrounded by a lot more talent. Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas and Zak Irvin will be surrounding Walton. Not Tim Hardaway Jr., Zack Novak, Stu Douglass and Jordan Morgan. Trey Burke had to carry Michigan as a freshman, Walton won’t.
  2. Walton is a complete point guard but he’s not wired to score like Trey Burke. He’s a distributor at his core and he’s unlikely to come close to scoring 15 points per game.

Michigan needs Walton to hit open shots, run the offense and get his teammates involved. In terms of role, Yogi Ferrell’s impact on Indiana last season would be something of an equivalent. While Yogi’s numbers didn’t match Burke’s freshman year, they were still good enough for a spot on the All-Big Ten Freshman team.

wgl2424: Who will be Michigan’s top scorer this year?

This seems like it should be a straight forward question. Michigan returns a couple of lottery picks, is ranked in the preseason top-10 and things should be fairly crystal clear. It’s not.

Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas both averaged 11 points per game last season. Mitch McGary averaged over 14 per game in the NCAA tournament.

All three returning sophomores are prime candidates but don’t overlook freshman guard Zak Irvin. Irvin has proven his scoring ability at the prep and AAU levels and while scoring at the high-major college level is a big adjustment, he is wired to create his own offense. Irvin’s comfort shooting off of the bounce and catch could prove critical early and often.

I would put the safe money on Mitch McGary for leading Michigan in scoring, assuming he’s healthy. However, No. 2 might just be Zak Irvin as I think he could be the most comfortable taking on a volume shooting role within Michigan’s offense.

jlustig22: UM had the good fortune of having Morris & Burke control the ball at end game & clock situations but who will handle that role now?

Similar to the scoring question, there’s no great answer here.

Trey Burke took 84 field goals in late clock scenarios, Tim Hardaway Jr. took 45. All numbers from Hoop-Math. We examined some of these numbers for Synergy Sports earlier this offseason but the bottom line is that Michigan doesn’t have a proven option.

Name FGA eFG%
Stauskas, Nik 29 38%
Robinson III, Glenn 24 50%
McGary, Mitch 23 70%
LeVert, Caris 11 59%
Morgan, Jordan 10 30%
Albrecht, Spike 9 78%

Source: Hoop-Math

Throw Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton into the mix as well but I suspect it will be closer-by-committee. I suspect Irvin will get more opportunities than many might expect (he’s already earned a mention from Bacari Alexander) but Stauskas and Robinson will also be key options.

kevinwilliams07: What kind of impact do you expect the freshman to have this season?

Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton are almost guaranteed to be rotation players, I would bet that both are starting by Big Ten season. Mark Donnal has a unique skill set – a big man that can shoot the three – but the frontcourt appears crowded with Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford and Max Bielfeldt. Donnal has a lot of potential but Michigan could get away with red-shirting him this season.

BrentAccurso: who do you expect to be the PG at the start of the year? What about at the end?

At the end of the year I would be shocked if anyone other than Derrick Walton is starting at the point guard spot. He has too much talent and eventually that will prevail. Depending on Walton’s adjustment in the early season, I could see John Beilein leaning on Spike Albrecht in early season games as a more trusted option

andy19il: How often do you think we’ll see Spike and Walton on the court together?

John Beilein proved that he isn’t scared to play two (small) point guards at the same time last season – as long as they bring something to the table.

Albrecht can shoot it and he can pass it, which is good enough to get him on the court in a tight spot. You have to question how often Beilein could get away with playing two 6-foot and under guards though given that Albrecht isn’t a great defender.

The main reason we might not see a lot of this is because Michigan has a multitude of options at the two and three positions, there’s no need to stretch Albrecht or Walton beyond the 40 minutes at the point guard spot.

tomgritter: Who will have the better NBA season, Trey Burke or Tim Hardaway Jr.?

Trey Burke, who scored 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting in his preseason debut, seems like the easy choice despite his summer league struggles. Burke hasn’t been officially named the starter but it would be surprising if he didn’t eventually win the job.

Tim Hardaway Jr. could make an impact for the Knicks but he’s not likely to have the same opportunity. Iman Shumpert is likely to start at the shooting guard and reigning sixth-man of the year J.R. Smith was re-signed. Hardaway and Beno Udrih will provide additional options on the wing. Despite more limited opportunity, Hardaway could be in a perfect role. He scored 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting in his preseason debut against the Celtics including knocking down a game winner with 8.2 seconds remaining.

I’ll stick with Burke as I’m confident that eventually he’ll find his groove at the NBA level but Hardaway should have a strong rookie year as well.

  • CDeSana

    I would like to see Nik play a little point guard; he has better ball handling skills than he is given credit but he does need to cut down on crazy passed. This could give him the chance to knock down the open 3 from straight away if they play off him much like Trey did now and then. Not to mention if he can hit them it will open up the lane for cutters like GRIII and Irvin.

    • kam

      would be interesting, but not likely to happen since we already have 2 PGs

  • Brad S

    I’m going to guess that Stauskas will be our leading scorer this year. He’s the best offensive player we have and I think he will be more consistent than he was last year. We know he has the ability to score in bunches though.

    • mikey_mac

      If Walton catches on to the offensive system and the pace of B1G play, I really like this call. Walton will be Stauskas’s best friend in the half court.

  • Indiana_Matt

    Ball handling and the ability to get to the rim on his own is what Hardaway Jr. really improved on between his sophomore and junior years. It is what made him a first rounder, I think. I really hope that Robinson makes the same kind of jump with that aspect of his game. If he does I think we could see his scoring jump quite a bit.

    • Definitely. If Robinson makes that jump he could be the guy. As you saw in our video yesterday.. He hasn’t proven it yet.

      • mattD

        If GRIII is able to match THJ’s current ballhandling ability, he’s almost guaranteed to be a top 10 pick. His potential is virtually unlimited.

        • Retiredat23

          GRIII may start to score in bunches, especially if that jumper starts falling w/ consistency. He’s got a better chance of being leading scorer and I think we’re probably a better team if he’s our leading scorer.

      • Indiana_Matt

        No, not yet. I actually wince at some of his drives to the basket from the “weakness” portion of the video. But the kid is a hard worker. Can’t wait to see what he’s added.

  • UMHoopsFan

    Thanks as always for the insights. I wouldn’t worry about Nik getting shots from the 2. Timmy got plenty from there last year, and the ball won’t be as PG dominated with the Walton-Burke switch. If you believe that Nik shot better from the corner, that’s a reason for concern, but I think that was more a function of the sets than his long term shooting %. Both to get the ball in his hands and to ease Zak’s transition (and to get GRIII minutes at the 3), moving Nik to 2 at least part time makes a lot of sense.

    And I will be surprised if Irvin is the 2nd leading scorer, though I expect a great season from him. I’d peg GRIII and Nik as more likely to be in that spot.

    Less than 3 weeks until the exhibitions start.

    • mikey_mac

      I agree about Irvin. This is a crowded situation if GR3 will really play some 3. Maybe his PPG for the final 5 or 10 games of the season is in the team’s top 2, but unless he forces himself into a lot of minutes with his early play, it’s hard to see his total points on the season being top-2.

  • Champswest

    If healthy and in shape, McGary will be the leading scorer. Who can guard him?
    If Nik and Walton/Spike can hit their 3s, it is going to really open up things in the middle for the other three.
    I expect Donnal to play.
    With our depth, will anyone average 35 minutes per game? 32? 30?

    • Depth is an interesting debate. Beilein usually plays a tight rotation and has rarely wavered from that, especially with a good team. It seems like he usually plays a lot of guys when he’s grasping for answers.

  • Dr_ZC

    Hard to match Nicky three-ball point-for-point. You score 2, he scores 3. And he is a great foul shooter. Our opponents will employ the hack-a-Mac strategy, to make Mitch earn it from the stripe, and that won’t do. Walton is a passer first, so I will not be surprised if Spike is unleashed. Now, Glenn used to get his points by being a janitor down low. If his role is changed and he has the ball in his hands facing the hoop, he will not be as successful, unless he develops a killer mindset and his shot.
    So, hands down Nick, with Spike as a second gun.

    • kam

      spike wont be close to leading the team.. and Glenn apparently has a very good jumper so far in practice. Spike doesn’t have the tools to be a leading scorer

      • Dr_ZC

        I thought he had the tools in the NCAA tournament. And every time Burke was in trouble, who came to the rescue? I hope you are right and Glenn can transition his jumper into a real game. If I am not mistaken, Nick can score 72 our of 79 threes in practice, but when there is a defender up on his grille the story is different.
        There is no question JB trusts Spike and his IQ in game situations. Spike is a solid free throw shooter, and his 3-pointer is deadly. Last year he complemented Burke, but this year his role will be expanded, as he knows JB’s guard oriented system, he is a floor leader (Novak mini me) and let us not forget that he can play.

        • kam

          spike cant beat his man off the dribble. He makes open jumpers(which he wont get as many this year) because people didn’t know about him. Walton will start imo because the coaches even called him spike on roids. And yes i hope it translates too. But at all the camps people were saying glenn looked great. Spike has a very high IQ but when UL put siva on him instead of the walk on he couldn’t get by him. Torching a walk on is not the same as Craft or appling or yogi.

  • maquih

    It’ll be McGary to lead the team as he will be benefitting from pick and rolls. He’ll be our first choice on offense. Stauskas and GRIII will score a lot as well, but I see McGary getting the first-look in our gameplan.

  • guestavo

    GR3 will be our leading scorer, no question.

  • Mattski

    Last year we had a long string of games where three, four guys a night were in double figures. THAT’s what I’m hoping for again this year. I get that Walton may not be among them (how many points will Beilein NEED him to get, to keep opposing teams honest?). But given how open this debate looks to be, and given Beilein’s emphasis on versatility among his players, I won’t be at all surprised if it’s a different guy leading the charge on any given night.

  • JVS

    I have no idea what the right answer is on who leads the team in scoring, but 1) it seems reasonable to expect that again we have 4+ guys end up in double figures given distribution of shots/roles, and 2) if the top guy, even if just 15/16ppg is GR3 it bodes well as it means he’s taken well to his expanded creator role. GR3/Stauskas/McGary all in the mid-teens, Irvin/the 2-headed PG (combined) high single digits/low double figures, Horf/JoMo/Caris low-mid single digits would be my guess.