Sharing the ball leads to balanced, efficient Michigan offense

Michigan 80, Penn State 67 - #11
Scott Mapes

Last season, with the Player of the Year at point guard and a first-round NBA draft pick at shooting guard, Michigan’s offense was one of the Big Ten’s best: the Wolverines ranked second in offensive efficiency, first in effective field goal percentage and first in 2-point field goal percentage.

This season, after losing Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. to the NBA, and Mitch McGary to a back injury, Michigan finds itself among the best offenses in the Big Ten once again. The Wolverines are ranked second in offensive efficiency (119.8), first in effective field goal percentage (60.8) and first in 2-point field goal percentage (64.4).

After losing arguably two of its most important offensive weapons to the draft, not to mention its best offensive big man, Michigan was expected to, at best, take a small step backward in offensive production. Instead, four games into the Big Ten season, the Wolverines find themselves in a very similar position offensively as they did last year.

How has Michigan accomplished this despite its heavy losses entering this season? Mostly, it’s because the Wolverines share the ball more — and more effectively — than any other team in the conference.

Of Michigan’s made field goals thus far in Big Ten play, 62.5 percent of them are assisted — that’s the best in the conference.

At no point in the season was this more starkly displayed than in the first half of Michigan’s 80-67 victory over Penn State at the Crisler Center on Tuesday. The Wolverines made 14 field goals in the first half, 12 of them assisted.

Even John Beilein seemed impressed with his offense during his post-game presser.

“I’m proud of our guys — six turnovers, all those assists on all those baskets,” Beilein said. “We only took 50-some shots and scored 80 points. That’s an efficient offense.”

Three players have had the biggest hand in distributing the ball for Michigan in Big Ten play: Nik Stauskas, Derrick Walton and Caris LeVert. This trio of guards is responsible for the majority of Michigan’s assists and has improved steadily from the non-conference season up to this point.

That’s a major difference from last year when Trey Burke accounted for nearly half of Michigan’s assists. Michigan’s offense has become much more balanced without Burke and Hardaway in the mix. Borrowing a concept from Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn, the following graphs show the distribution of offensive possessions (5 game running average) over the last two seasons.

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Last season, roles were clear. Trey Burke was No. 1, Tim Hardaway Jr. was No. 2, Nik Stauskas was No. 3 and Glenn Robinson III was No. 4. Mitch McGary would fit somewhere in the middle of everyone until he went on his NCAA tournament tear and emerged as Michigan’s No. 2 option.

This year’s graph shows more bunching and more variability. Nik Stauskas has been Michigan’s primary option for the most part but Caris LeVert (earlier in the season) and Glenn Robinson III (currently) have both been very involved. Walton has settled in as a lower usage option for most of the season.

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The Wolverines don’t have established roles. Instead, Michigan’s balanced approach has resulted in a number of players hovering around 20 to 25 percent usage rates. The balanced offense has allowed Michigan’s off guards, Caris LeVert and Nik Stauskas, to make a more significant contribution when it comes to spreading the ball around.

Over Michigan’s 4-0 start to the Big Ten season, Michigan’s three guards have combined to average 11.8 assists per game.

Walton and LeVert each have extensive experience playing in the lead guard spot, with LeVert playing for much of high school and it being the only position Walton has ever known. But for Stauskas, the transformation from being a spot-up shooter last year to a player carrying the assist load for his team has been something to behold.

“If you look at (Stauskas’) assist numbers right now, after a 5 (assists)-0 (turnover) day, he’s showing he can really play the guard position,” Beilein said. “Because of his height, because of his shooting, because of his feel. His improvement has been good for us.”

Five assists sounds impressive, but it’s par for the course for Michigan’s sophomore guard. Stauskas is averaging five assists per game in conference play, the second best per-game average in the Big Ten.

Beilein also mentioned seeing improvement in LeVert’s passing ability after the game.

“I’ve seen Caris find people,” Beilein said. “Earlier in the season, he would get in the lane but didn’t find people, but he is now. That’s cut down his scoring numbers, but our efficiency has gone up. There are a lot of things out there that allow us to continue to improve our offense.”

This season’s Michigan team — down a Player of the Year, a first-round draft pick and its biggest star in the post — has been nearly able to keep pace with last season’s Final Four team on the offensive side of the ball. But these Wolverines know as well as anyone that they are coming up on the meat of what will be an exceedingly challenging Big Ten season.

Michigan is 4-0 in conference play and playing as well as it ever has offensively. But with three games upcoming against Wisconsin on the road, Iowa at home and Michigan State on the road, this group will soon find out just how good they are.

“We’re going to find out a little bit about where we are and what we need to do to get better,” Beilein said. “It’s going to be over this game, the next game and next game. It’s going to be a very difficult stretch. … There are going to be three games where it’s just going to be very difficult. If you can get wins in any of those games, it’s a big step.”

  • kam

    I REALLY like this team.. You can tell they all really like each other! players are sacrificing things for the team.. As long as they keep playing hard i cant ask for much more. They lost Mitch and didn’t give up on the season.. Irvin being a starter his whole life to playing off the bench.. Spike letting a freshman start.. Jon and morgan being smaller roles on offense as upperclassmen. As JB said up there on the quote, caris is looking to pass more in the lane which sacrifices his shot attempts and points. Glenn really embracing the 4 spot even though he wanted to be a wing. Walton understanding he wont always have the ball in his hands unlike his high school days.. And Nik isn’t forcing things even though it seems like he can get his shot whenever. You rarely see everyone buy into their role but this team has. Sad we lost mitch but ill enjoy watching this team!

  • Fab 5 Legends

    they seem like they play more like a team & know each other role WITHOUT mitch in, the offense looked stagnet when mitch was playing this year – they had plays designed for him and tried to work the offense through him which didn’t workout – it seems like our pg/c know their role and our offense runs through our wings – that being said mitch would still be a big help if he gets healthy by march….
    any1 have info if his officially out for the season? or still chance of coming back?

  • guestavo

    Mitch’s value was in his defense and rebounding primarily and his passing. We tried to make him into a consistent scoring option which was where the stagnation was coming from imo

    Caris is finally learning how to penetrate in kick out but I’d still like him to put it all together and be able to score at high clip and pass. Maybe next year? An efficient perimeter jumpshot would do wonders for his all-around floor game.

    • kam

      yup and hopefully he adds 10 more pounds of muscle. that would put him at 200.. thats tims old weight and thats where he said he wanted to be

    • Chezaroo

      Agree about Mitch’s value last year. Who knows how he would have progressed as a viable scoring option if healthy? He has had a very limited amount of actual court time, which makes his potential unknown. I would tend to agree that it probably wasn’t ever going to be as productive as everybody envisioned and hoped. His value is just as you said, with an addition of energy and passion for the game. Does anybody know how many actual games that Mitch played 20 or more minutes in in his career? IMO, once his status was determined this year as being out, the team has accepted it and grown. The reality is they have spent much more time without him than with him. Practices included.

      • guestavo

        I mean Mitch had a high AST% STL% REB% BLK% and the highest DRTG on our team. On offense, he could handle the ball and pass plus hit the occasional 15 footer. Maybe he would have been a volume scorer this year but it’s all the other things he did at an ELITE level that would have made us a top team.

  • kam

    Chad Ford’s lastest big board has Gary Harris #13, Adreian Payne #21, Glenn Robinson III #28 and Mitch McGary out of the 1st round.

    on Robinson

    Robinson is in the same boat with most of the other hyper-athletic small forward wannabes on our Big Board. If only they could shoot. Alas, Robinson, like Gordon and Grant, can’t hit a shot right now and is stuck in “tweener” land until he develops a reliable jumper. —————————————————————————– just posting this to see peoples thoughts.. some don’t care but its just interesting to see where they mark our players imo

    • guestavo

      ehhh Chad Ford speaks only cliches. I can assure Robinson is in another stratosphere as a shooter than Gordon or Grant.

      • kam

        true but he isnt a great shooter.. just average. Ford does talk to GMs so he does know what he’s saying.. I agree He is far better at shooting than Gordon and grant but he isn’t a consistent shooter by any means.. Hopefully Glenn proves him wrong

        • guestavo

          He isn’t a great long range shooter but can shoot it to keep the defense honest.

          His mid range game seems to be above average, however.

          He has come along was since last year as a shooter and I’m not sure why a GM wouldn’t think it wouldn’t keep developing? Good form and good lift.

          • kam

            thats the one thing… glenn has a very pretty shot.. it would shock me if it didn’t improve. with mitch falling out of the first round of every board I’ve seen i wonder if he comes back..same with Nik, if he is a second round i wonder if he stays

          • kam

            Nik could easily be a mid round first pick next year in the weaker class.. if jimmer was 6’3 average athletically also not a great defender and went lottery Nik could go top 20

          • guestavo

            Next year isn’t “weaker” after the first 7 or so spots. Draftexpress tweeted out that the depth in this draft might even be subpar. Jimmer Fridette had insane usage and volume scoring that Nik won’t get on a high major team, plus Fridette was a better passer and had all those “clutch” Sportscenter highlights.

            I don’t think Nik is going to rise. I just don’t see where he can improve his weaknesses to turn them into positives at the pro level. He is a fringe first rounder this year and next year regardless.

            San Antonio and Miami would scoop up Mitch in a heartbeat. I don’t see him dropping out of the first round.

            Workouts are going to be the key. Glenn is going to rise just off of his combine and one-one workouts alone. Mitch has to prove that his back is healthy and Nik needs to not be stuck in quicksand on his speed/agility testing.

      • guestavo

        Gordon 52% TS 52% eFG 33% 3 pointer on 1.2 attempts

        Grant 55& TS 50% eFG 0% 3 pointers on .4 attempts

        Glenn 59% TS 56% eFG 32% 3 pointer on 3.4 attempts

        Let’s not forget that his horrible shooting was at the beginning of the season against cupcakes and if you look at his percentages since Arizona, it’s in another planet.

  • bluefromtheburgh

    I think it is awesome how this shows that sometimes having the offense rotate around a couple of players (albeit amazing ones) does not necessarily maximize offensive output. It seems Beilein has realized that this team has a bunch of players that play well when not having too high of a usage rate. This is the sort of Beilein team I imagined when we hired him, since I can’t remember any players on his WVU teams with super high usage rates.

  • mikey_mac

    How are they doing this? Great passing and team concept, for sure, but we can’t ignore the easiest B1G schedule to date, by far. PSU is not playing defense anywhere near a B1G level. Newbill and Frazier looked absolutely allergic to defense.
    I love the usage charts, though. Irvin has really fallen out of the rotation, even with his 40% 3-pt rate on the season.

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