Zak Irvin’s unorthodox delivery gets results

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Michigan vs Purdue_19Michigan fans have seen this from Zak Irvin before. The exaggerated elevation, the awkward — yet somehow smooth — release, the long arm holding its follow-through high in the air before falling in sync with the ball sailing through the net. They’ve seen this process repeated four, five and even six times in a single game this season.

Six threes earlier this season against Coppin State. Five bombs on the road against Minnesota in Michigan’s first Big Ten game. Irvin has shown that when he gets hot, there are few who shoot it better — or with more reckless abandon.

But the four 3-pointers Irvin hit in Michigan’s 79-50 win over Nebraska felt different, somehow. They felt more permanent and somewhat premonitory, less a freshman arbitrarily going off than a player satisfying his role with confidence and clarity. Maybe because he has a few nights of similar production under his belt, it felt repeatable.

Irvin hit four of his nine 3-point attempts against the Cornhuskers on Wednesday night, and three of them came in the span of less than a minute. And it wasn’t just on threes — the freshman also hit a smooth jumper to blow up the zone at the free throw line as well as a long two off the dribble. Irvin finished with 16 points. But in a game with a margin of victory that Nebraska coach Tim Miles called “fortunate” because it should have been even wider than its 29 points, his raw production doesn’t matter as much as the fact that Irvin is becoming an increasingly reliable facet of Michigan’s offensive attack. (Photo: Scott Mapes)

After the game, John Beilein articulated just how valuable — and rare — it is to have a weapon like Irvin come off the bench and consistently hit tough shots.

“With people who have been the star of their team, it’s a rare quality to have, to have a guy come off there and just make shots like he does. His value to this team’s success thus far is immeasurable,” Beilein said last night. “I watched Trevor Cooney last night get, like, 40 or something (he scored 33). Him coming off the bench as a freshman at Syracuse, he wasn’t doing these things. … this kid’s coming off the bench and making shots. As a freshman that’s very rare. So it’s huge for our team.”

Because of his penchant for scoring in bursts, as he did against Nebraska, some hold the mistaken view of Irvin being a “streaky” shooter. The truth is, he’s one of the more consistent shooters on a team full of them — it’s only his playing time that varies. Irvin is shooting at a nearly 41 percent clip — the highest success rate from deep of any Wolverine besides Nik Stauskas.

And he making his threes in spite of — or perhaps because of — a particularly unorthodox release. Irvin, who’s right-handed, actually seems to release the ball toward his left side as he brings it up through his shooting motion. For Beilein, who’s something of a shooting guru, watching Irvin shoot often leaves him with little to say.

“He just has the ability to make shots,” Beilein said with a bemused chuckle when asked about Irvin’s form. “Truthfully, that ball goes in the air and because his delivery is so unique, it’s like you don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s been going in at 40 percent, so I just close my mouth and say, ‘keep shooting it, Zak.'”

It’s not just Irvin’s shot that’s unorthodox — his mentality is perplexing for a shooter, as well. Nik Stauskas, Michigan’s other shooter-in-residence, has a classic marksman’s mindset: confident bordering on cocky. Irvin, on the other hand, says that he thrives on the encouragement from his teammates and will occasionally get down on himself if shots aren’t falling.

Glenn Robinson III said during a practice leading up to the Nebraska game, Irvin was doing just that after missing a shot in practice. Robinson told him to keep his head up and predicted accurately that Irvin was “going to get hot in the game.” Stauskas said he and his teammates tell Irvin to shoot when he’s open “every time he gets in the game.” You get the sense nobody has ever had to say that to Stauskas when he checks in.

Irvin himself is constantly mentioning the lift he gets from the encouragement from his teammates.

“Once I made the first one, my teammates were telling me to keep shooting it,” Irvin said after the game. “That gave me a lot more confidence and one fell after another.”

Irvin’s unorthodox mentality, combined with his unorthodox release, have somehow produced one of the most dangerous freshman shooters in the Big Ten. Regardless of how he gets it done, he gets it done. And if Irvin can keep getting it done in his own unique way — and it’s looking more and more like he can — Michigan will have a weapon off the bench that few other teams possess.

  • Jay Z

    Hopefully he becomes our version of Shurna

    • JGiebz

      When he was hitting those three shots in the span of a minute he reminded me of Diebler. I thought for sure he was going to hit 10 in a row.

  • ajerome33

    I think too much is made about mechanics sometimes. If a player has repeated a motion for a long time that is comfortable and allows them to be confident and the results are good, don’t mess with it. Now if the release is too low or too slow and is getting blocked, that’s different. I grew up watching Vinnie Johnson and Bill Laimbeer have plenty of success with what I would describe as awkward looking releases.

    • Champswest

      Mechanics only matter if you aren’t any good.

  • Champswest

    I don’t think shooting percentage indicates if a player is a “streaky shooter” or not. You can shoot 50% half of the time and 30% half of the time (that would be streaky) and still average 40%.

  • rlcBlue

    Well, encouraging Zak to shoot seems to be working – he takes over a quarter of the team’s shots when he’s on the floor, the highest percentage on the team; if he keeps this up for the rest of the season, he’ll make the top 10 in the Beilein era:

    Player Year %Shots eFG%
    Sims 2010 32.0 51.6
    Sims 2009 30.7 53.4
    Sims 2008 29.9 45.2
    Burke 2013 28.3 53.0
    Harris 2010 28.2 47.7
    Harris 2009 28.2 47.5
    Harris 2008 28.1 43.2
    Hardaway 2012 26.6 48.4
    Irvin 2014 26.6 57.8
    Burke 2012 25.8 50.2

    Of course he’s only playing half as much as any of the other guys on the list, so the number of shots he’s taken is much smaller – but that effective field goal percentage really jumps out at you. He’s a heck of a weapon to bring off the bench.

    Edit: The citizens of Hiland Lake do not approve of disqus’s nanny…

    • guestavo

      Difference is that those other guys could score off the bounce, too.

    • Dr_ZC

      Interesting news about Harris. The Lakers are totally depleted and did not have six available players in their win against Cleveland. When their Center fouled out he stayed in the game due to some new rule. The interesting part is that the Lakers decided not to extend Harris’ 10-day contract for the third time. And Harris was playing pretty good for them…This is the NBA.

      • guestavo

        They signed him to two 10 day contracts and to sign a player to a third contract, you have to sign him for the season, which they did not want to pay.