Offseason storylines: Who will start at point guard?

Michigan 61, Syracuse 56-11Over the next two months we’ll rundown some of the biggest storylines facing the 2013-14 Michigan Wolverines. In this edition we look at the point guard position battle as the Wolverines look for an option to replace Trey Burke. Previously: 2013-14 expectations

The past few seasons have left Michigan feeling like “Point Guard U.” From Darius Morris leading the Wolverines to the second round of the NCAA tournament to Trey Burke’s ascendance to the heights of college basketball superstardom, the success of Michigan’s point guards over the latter portion of John Beilein’s coaching tenure is impossible to deny.

And now, with Burke playing for the Utah Jazz this season, Michigan’s coaching staff again finds itself in the familiar position of breaking in a new starting lead guard. Fortunately, it appears the Wolverines have two talented players to choose from.

Incoming freshman Derrick Walton arrives at Michigan this season with all the credentials to make an impact for the team immediately. The talented point guard was a four-star recruit and a top-100 player nationally. Walton appears to have all the tools: he was a prolific scorer for Chandler Park Academy and has always had great vision. Quick and athletic, Walton has all the tools to be a solid option at point guard, even as a freshman.

Walton’s competition will be sophomore Spike Albrecht, he of NCAA title game fame. While Albrecht may lag behind Walton in natural athleticism and ability, he gains ground in his revelatory play last season. He didn’t play much, but he played well: in limited minutes Albrecht proved to be a reliable shooter and less turnover-prone than post freshmen, hitting over half of his attempts from downtown last season. During the NCAA tournament, his minutes trended upward to about 10 minutes per game and made at least one 3-pointer in every game after the first-round matchup with South Dakota State. And then, famously, Albrecht scored an improbable 17 points on four 3-pointers against Louisville in the national title game.

All of this adds up to what should be an interesting competition at the point guard spot. Walton has the talent, but Albrecht has the experience — and one year under Michigan’s coaching staff, along with following their strength and conditioning program, should help Albrecht close the gap as far as physical tools go. Walton has been dubbed “Spike Albrecht on steroids” by assistant coach LaVall Jordan but Albrecht could be the more trusted option early on.

Here’s my best guess: I think we’ll see both players log minutes at point guard early in the season as Walton gets acclimated to the college game. I’m of the opinion that Albrecht’s success last season was no flash in the pan and that he can be a player for Michigan — but after splitting time early on, Walton will emerge as the choice at point guard.

I don’t think the decision will necessarily mean Walton is that much better than Albrecht at running the point. However, I do think Albrecht has more flexibility as far as where he can play because of his experience and shooting ability. Albrecht will surely see the court next season in some capacity, but Walton is a pure point guard and he has enough on his plate adjusting to the college game without learning a new position. Albrecht will have an easier time settling into a different role because he has a year of experience and also played alongside Burke at times last season. I also think we could see both Walton and Albrecht playing at the same time in a similar look.

RELATED: By the numbers: Making the case for Spike Albrecht

Albrecht will undoubtedly see time at point guard early on and will continue to spell Walton at the point as well as fill other roles in the offense. While playing Albrecht at shooting guard would likely be a defensive liability, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if we see that look next season – at least in late game scenarios where ball handling is at a premium.

Michigan actually finds itself in a more favorable position at the lead guard spot than in recent years. The Wolverines are bringing in a talented freshman with an experienced, somewhat proven point guard ready to teach, lead and compete for playing time. In previous years it was boom-or-bust for Michigan’s newcomer. While that worked for Trey Burke, there were growing pains during Darius Morris’ freshman season. It’s a nice problem to have, and while I think Walton will be the team’s starting point guard, you can bet Albrecht will force to the coaches to play him elsewhere.

  • guestavo

    Spike cannot initiate the offense. He can dribble against pressure and shoot, that’s about it. It would be dumb not to throw Walton in the fire.

    • mikey_mac

      While I think you’re selling Spike a little short here, I would agree that if the coaches quickly see that Walton has the potential to be better than Spike this year, that they would be better off to get Walton experience early and often, at the expense of Spike’s minutes.

  • geoffclarke

    Albrecht definitely has some “swagger”, as the kids are saying, is a very good shooter and solid, if even a bit unorthodox, ball handler. For me, it remains to be seen how effective he is as a decision-maker or passer from different angles. I think Walton will be the starting PG from the beginning and will set himself apart with his defense and playmaking ability.

  • geoffclarke

    “Michigan actually finds itself in a more favorable position at the lead guard spot than in recent years.”
    Which is why they could, if they wanted to, skip on a pure point, IMO, until 2016 Derryck Thornton. Especially if they can get Blackmon, who seems to have some Trey Burke-like scoring abilities, in 2014, and P.J. Dozier, who I think is the premier combo guard (except maybe Tyler Dorsey) assuming he recovers well from injury, in 2015.

    • guestavo

      I agree. 2015 is weak for lead guards. Jalen Brunson would be okay but not a homerun.

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

        Brunson would be a great get, IMO. Beyond that, it starts to make a lot of sense to wait until 2016 where Michigan is in with a guy like Derryck Thornton Jr.

      • Wayman Britt

        Jalen Brunson would be a home run in my book. He is the real deal.

    • DoubES

      The picture will change as the coaches learn more about the talents and interest of the 2015 and 2016 PG recruits as well as Walton’s progress, but if we wait until 2016 to grab a PG, and Walton leaves before his senior year, we would again have a frosh lead guard who would be asked to run the show.

  • http://twitter.com/sharialawfan Steve Lawrence

    It was LaVall Jordan who made the quote about steroids.

    • Dr_ZC

      That was a Bacari euphemism.

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

      Sorry, that’s my mistake.

  • Dr_ZC

    Having spike on the floor, is like having an extra coach close to the players. Spike can see things other players can’t, and he anticipates extremely well on defense. On offense, he might not be the most physically gifted player, but he can shoot and pass extremely well (remember that long bounce pass to GR3 in transition). He is a great foul shooter, a floor leader, and he can take a charge on defense. If Michigan is in trouble, there is nobody else I want to see on the floor, other than Spike.

    Walton brings speed and hopefully a good court vision. If he can beat other guards off the dribble, he could and should start. But I would not take Spike out of the equation any time soon. Having both Walton and Spike on the court at the same time when the chips are down, would be the right thing.

    • guestavo

      Spike cannot initiate the offense. Re watch the UL game, after he cooled off, the UL guards quickly exposed his inability to get us in our sets and get us good shots. He can dribble against pressure and shoot. That’s it.

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

        Worth pointing out that Louisville was the best defense in the country…

        • Adam St Patrick

          Agreed. That was an unreal display of various types of ball pressure by Louisville. Ball pressure as high art. I don’t think Spike gets any points docked at all for his performance, even though it was clear with 5 or so left in the half that the whole thing wasn’t sustainable until halftime.

          (Still so frustrated over this. They had to take Trey out of the game to win it, but the refs wouldn’t send Deng or that Luke guy to the bench with foul trouble. And then, The Block. FFS…)

        • guestavo

          While that may be true, It should be noted that the Big Ten is probably the overall toughest conference, defensively. I think Spike is the perfect lead guard to spell a starter but nothing more. That isn’t a bad thing. Good insurance policy if we don’t get James Blackmon Jr as well.

        • Chazer

          Hey Dylan, spot on. Bleacher is reporing Walton is wearing a boot….any truth to that? Is he injured?

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

            Bleacher? I know Walton was nursing an ankle injury (Goodman reported he was sitting out of practice when he was on campus). I don’t think it’s any cause for serious concern going forward though. A boot is a pretty normal precautionary measure with any sort of ankle sprain.

            We should know more about everything next week at Michigan’s Media Day.

      • Retiredat23

        Spike is a great player in his own right, but his way of beating pressure defense is to use quickness to get by the defender – not use position to defend the ball as he dribbles. Morris had size to defend the ball against pressure; Burke developed the strength to defend against pressure; Spike needs to use quickness to get by the defender, sometimes preventing UM from being able to run its sets. I recall a number of different times Spike sped by his defender and got close to the baseline with nowhere to go and got bailed out by Tim or Nik hitting corner 3′s. Whether its Spike or Derrick, one of them will have to handle ball pressure without needing to constantly beat their man.

      • ndqe2023

        Spike came off the bench and did more than he was expected to do, not only did he set them up for a win in the National Championship game but showed great poise in doing so. With that said with what Spike lacks in pure athleticism he makes up for in pure play maker ability, shooters stroke, and a mature knowledge of the game that makes him a great floor general, the fact is that this can straight up ball as shown in his great fresh season for a kid who wasn’t supposed to be playing big time D1 ball according to his offers prior to John’s offer to him.

  • Chezaroo

    There is no doubt that both will play a lot this year. The inevitable growing pains of a Frosh assures this. Dylan you make very salient points about situational opportunities that would allow both to play simultaneously. The most obvious being late game necessities to exploit Spikes free throw prowess. As someone who saw Walton play a lot in HS I am no doubt impressed with his “winning” mentality and his toughness. I believe his physical attributes may be a little bit over stated, as he is much smaller in person than his bio would lead you to believe. That said, I believe he is the inevitable long term choice to garner most of the minutes come Big Ten time. It seems obvious that we will heavily pursue a PG for the future, whether it be in 15 or 16. The dream scenario would be for Walton to develop successfully, and Thornton Jr. To become enamored with point guard U. He is a absolutely exceptional talent! We would be fighting all of the heavyweights for him however. Dylan, is it just me, or could you see Caris as a PG option for some minutes? He oozes potential to me, and could very well shock a lot of fans if he continues to develop. Still quite young.

  • Chezaroo

    Joe, please accept my acknowledgement on a very well written article. I mistakenly credited Dylan on a few of my impressions. Can’t wait for hoops to start!

    • Joe Stapleton

      No problem, thanks!

  • toblav

    Sure is fun watching people continue to under rate Spike. I don’t know that he’s better than Walton, but the kid can play. If Walton beats him out we can be sure we have a really good PG.

    • Dr_ZC

      I guess Spike can always get steroids to compete with Walton, but this would be against the NCAA drug policy :)

  • rlcBlue

    I expect Spike to be the starter at the beginning of the year, with the PT split being something like 25 minutes for Albrecht and 15 for Walton. The roles will probably be reversed by the time conference play begins. I doubt we see the team play without one or the other on the floor for very long – Stauskas and LeVert may be able to bring the ball up when the defense isn’t pressing, but it would hardly be ideal. If we were to run into a team with big guards, though, we might need Caris to defend the opposing point.

  • ndqe2023

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9ItkSNuXp8 high school tape, spikes no scrub

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