Zak Irvin finds shooting touch against Minnesota


bilde[1]“Here’s what I like: I like that Zak Irvin didn’t stop shooting even though he couldn’t make a shot, because he hit a huge one for us late and in the first half.”

That was John Beilein after Michigan’s disappointing loss to Charlotte in the championship game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off earlier this season. Saying Irvin “couldn’t make a shot” may have sounded harsh, but it was generally true: the freshman made only three of his 14 attempts from the floor in that game.

Even then, after a game that was a perpetual struggle for Irvin on both ends of the floor, Beilein stressed the need for him to keep shooting. At that early point in the season, Irvin’s light was already surprisingly green.

In his first Big Ten game, a 63-60 win in a hostile environment against Minnesota, Irvin proved why.

The freshman scored 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting from behind the 3-point line on Thursday. As Michigan’s season progresses and Nik Stauskas takes on an expanded role that calls for him to serve as more of a playmaker than last year, Irvin’s role has become clear: he is Michigan’s designated 3-point shooting specialist.

John Beilein sees Irvin as a “microwave” coming off the bench — a player who can enter a game and immediately heat up the offense. And while he may have exhibited some East Coast bias in not acknowledging the true “Microwave” — former Detroit Pistons guard Vinnie Johnson — Beilein expressed that general idea in his post-game comments.

“I don’t think my team knows who John Havlicek was but he was that guy who would come off the bench and hit a jumpshot in the middle of the night and that’s what Zak Irvin does for us,” Beilein said. “He just comes off and can make jumpshots.”

Comparing a freshman that has only played 13 college games to a 13 time NBA All-Star is obviously high praise but it’s clear that Michigan’s head coach has the utmost confidence in Irvin’s stroke. The 6-foot-6 wing didn’t just make shots — he made them when the Wolverines badly needed them. In the second half, Michigan lost Glenn Robinson III to an ankle injury. The sophomore’s absence seemed to hinder the flow of the offense for a while, and after falling down 36-30 to the Gophers, the Wolverines were reeling.

After some timely buckets from Derrick Walton, Irvin sank his first three of the second frame to pull Michigan to within one point. Later in the half, Irvin sank two long-range shots in a row to give the Wolverines a two-point lead. Michigan would hold that lead the remainder of the game.

When Irvin got hot, it was clear Michigan was running specific action for him. The Wolverines ran him through off-ball screens and played a two-man game with him and either Stauskas or Caris LeVert for a couple possessions.

Beilein, for one, had the utmost confidence in Irvin’s ability to come in and make plays with Robinson out.

“Zak Irvin has practiced for that opportunity,” Beilein said. “We rarely took him out after that. We lose some rebounds, we lose some experience, but Zak came in and made shots.”

With the extent of Robinson’s injury unknown at this point, it’s possible that Irvin could be more heavily-featured in the lineup. At least for one night, the freshman eased some of the trepidation that naturally comes with such a prospect.

But with every night like the one he just had, Irvin will attract more attention. Opposing teams will work to shut down his openings and tail him in a similar way to how they defended Stauskas in the Big Ten season last year. Stauskas saw his production dip during the conference season, and he was a far more prolific shooter in the non-conference than Irvin has been this year.

What’s certain is that Irvin caught the attention of Minnesota guard Andre Hollins. Hollins admitted the Gophers weren’t entirely prepared for Irvin coming in.

“I think the only part of the scouting that we missed was not paying more attention to Zak Irvin and his shooting ability,” Hollins said after the game. “We didn’t chase him off the line and he hit five three-pointers. He was a big difference for them and caused us to get on our heels a little bit.”

Irvin has come a long way from his dismal shooting night in Puerto Rico. In Michigan’s first Big Ten contest, he came up big and was a major reason the Wolverines escaped the Barn with a victory despite the loss of Robinson.

  • Dr_ZC

    Like we all said in the past, Irvin is our new Tim Hardaway. When the full scouting report is out on him, he would be defended much closer, but I am not sure if this would make a difference in his shooting mentality. He can really elevate and take contested 3’s. The good news is that defenses will not know who to guard, him or Nik. The bad news is that when he does not have it, it is brick city USA. So he needs to mix it up a bit, just like Tim did. Drive to the hoop and make athletic plays. He has the ability, and he does not lack in confidence.

  • Chris De Sana

    I like the THjr comparison and have little doubt he will be as good if not better in time lets hope we have him for at least 3 solid years.

  • guestavo

    Does anyone have any thoughts on maybe pairing one on-ball player (Caris/Walton) with one shooter (Spike/Zak)? I think the redundancy of both Caris and Derrick is hurting each other. Neither are good off the ball shooters. Think Caris should be a sixth man but still get the same minutes.

  • jkuofm27

    I think we have seen Zak dribble around the close out guy and pull up with a 17-15 ft jumper this year. I know he has missed some of those, but I believe he has hit a few as well. If he can hit those consistently a la Hardaway Jr, he will be very hard to stop.

    • Zak is 5-of-17 on 2-point jumpers this year, two of the makes were assisted. He only has five FGAs at the rim (5-for-5) with three assisted.

      • geoffclarke

        Despite the stats, I do think he’s close to having a mid-range game in his reportoire. He needs more reps and freedom, which I think he’ll get next year.

        • AlwaysBlue

          I wonder if it’s a question of freedom. JB has talked about wanting him to get to the line more so it seems he has the freedom to put the ball on the floor to either drive or get that mid-range shot. Hopefully he’ll look to do more of that as he gets more comfortable in the offense..

          • geoffclarke

            Yeah, good point. He probably has the freedom, but I’m sure it’s also stressed that it should come in the flow of the offense and not to turn the ball over, and shooting 3’s is what he is most comfortable at this point. We’ve got a couple other guys who can drive to the basket and the 3-point shot is probably Irvin’s best spot in the offense now – which I’m sure he realizes. His game at Michigan might be following Stauskas’s trajectory.

  • Dr_ZC

    Did any of you guys caught an ad on the BTN about the 1989 Michigan championship team? I thought I saw Mills, Rice and Higgins talk about the miracle run to the NCAA championship. Will they have a documentary?

    • JVS

      Saw that too. I think its the night of 1/14 at 8 or 9pm. If i’m off on the day its +/- 2 days from then.

  • Joel_C

    I don’t expect it to keep up at all but hopefully I am wrong

  • Chezaroo

    Love his desire to compete, cold blooded. Word will get around quickly now that League play is here, and he will be accounted for. Good thing is he has shown the ability to make contested shots. Production without high volume attempts can never be overlooked. Interested to see how he grows from here and how his game evolves.

    • guestavo

      It will be a good thing that defenses start to overplay him, get our ballhandlers an easier time penetrating.

      • Chezaroo

        Definitely a by-product of him continuing to make shots, I agree.

        • Dr_ZC

          Not sure I am qualified to judge Irvin, but his 3-point shot is a “rainmaker” as compared to Nik’s and even Tim’s. As such, he should be less consistent as it is evident from his misses. Whenever he takes a shot I cringe worrying that it is a “banker” or a brickola. On the other hand, when Nik takes a 3-pointer I am shocked if he misses it (and he has been missing a few lately). So, if JB needs to have a sniper, I would be more comfortable with Nik. Given that Nik is looking for driving, dishing, etc, I would be happy if he continues to do what he does.
          I am not sure if I really saw what I saw yesterday, with Max taking a 3 pointer in crunch time. I bet JB was livid, and I am sure he explained Max why they left him so open.

          • To be fair, Max’s three was in the first half. Not really ‘crunch time’

          • guestavo

            Why can we only have one sniper? We have too many ballhandlers in the starting lineup and one shooter. It wouldn’t hurt to balance it out and add another shooter to the starting lineup. Last year we had 3 snipers starting.

          • Dr_ZC

            We can have as many as 5 snipers, but when the chips are down, you want the ball in the hands of your best shooter, assuming that you need instant points.

          • guestavo

            Curious as to who our five snipers are in the starting lineup? Surely not Caris or Derrick and GR3 is pushing it and would give last year 4 snipers. If you include Spike, well he played last year, too, and he doesn’t start. We lack shooting in our starting lineup than we do ballhandling. I agree that Nik needs the ball in his hands this year with maybe GR3 growing into that role as well i.e. Stanford.

          • Dr_ZC

            Well, when I mentioned 5, this is the maximum number of shooters a team can have in the starting lineup. In our case, I would not want Derrick or one of our bigs dialing long distance. Having 2-3 downtown threats in the lineup (at the time) is ideal, and it keeps defenses honest. Did you notice that our bench during the game shouts “shooter” if the ball is passed to a 3-point threat?
            I agree that last year we had more shooters in our lineup.

          • guestavo

            You think we have more than one consistent 3 point threat in the starting lineup? My point is that Irvin gives another sniper and he compliments Walton better than Caris. We need to maximize talent but also fit.