When Michigan needed points in a hurry this season, Zak Irvin was the man springing to action off the bench. The talented freshman was Michigan’s very own version of “the microwave,” providing instant 3-pointers on demand. Irvin’s unorthodox delivery combined with his length and elevation made for a nearly unblockable perimeter jumper he could get off over just about anyone.
And that is truly the story of Zak Irvin’s season. The Indianapolis native was the inverse of the cliche of the ‘not just a shooter’ cliché spouted about Nik Stauskas on nearly every national television broadcast of a Michigan game. Irvin was truly “just a shooter” — and while he was extremely good in that role, he left something to be desired in other areas of the game.
This is only the beginning for Zak Irvin. He displayed a diverse set of offensive skills in high school and was known as a lockdown defender. In all likelihood, Irvin will develop in those departments as his career goes on. This year, he was stunningly one-dimensional — and the perfect fit for a very specific role Michigan needed filled.
2014 Stats: 6.7 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 0.4 APG, 117.8 ORtg, 19.4 %Poss
- 3-point shooting: Irvin was a 3-point shooting specialist, and he earned the title. Irvin was the second-best 3-point shooter on the team, and if he played for a team that didn’t have Nik Stauskas, he would have likely been the best. His 42 percent shooting from beyond the arc was critical for Michigan in multiple contests, and his reliability from 3-point land was evident early on in his career. It was also the vast majority of what Irvin contributed on the offensive end – 93.4% of Irvin’s shot attempts were jump shots.
- Knowing his role: This is a somewhat underrated strength. Michigan knew just what it needed from Zak Irvin this season, and it got it. While the coaching staff would have liked to see him be better in some areas, Irvin never tried to do too much or play outside of himself. Just as Nik Stauskas bit the bullet and inhabited the role of spot-up shooter nearly exclusively last season, Irvin looked for his opportunities within the offense and let the game come to him. Irvin attempted over three two-point field goals only twice, and only took a lot of threes when he was especially hot — games at Minnesota (5-for-8), against Coppin State (6-for-10) and against Nebraska (4-for-9) come to mind other than his forgettable performance against Charlotte in Puerto Rico.
- Feel for transition: This may sound strange, but Irvin was one of the best transition scorers in the country. A majority of his few made two-point baskets were in transition, but he was especially adept at finding space on the wings or as a trailer on the break and burying transition threes. Irvin had a 80.7 eFG% on transition attempts and scored 1.68 points per transition field goal attempt. Irvin was heady and filled the lanes when he was on the floor and — as always — knew how to find his scoring opportunities.
Room for Improvement:
- Rebounding: This was an are Michigan definitely would have liked Irvin to be better in. The coaching staff mentioned it on numerous occasions and everyone knows how John Beilein loves players who can rebound and start the break right away. Irvin did not seem to have much interest in boxing out. He grabbed 3.3 percent of offensive rebounding opportunities while he was on the floor, and while that isn’t good, it wasn’t the worst on the team — Nik Stauskas and Spike Albrecht both offensive rebounded at a worse rate. But his defensive rebounding — where he really could have made a difference — was the worst on the team at 7.7 percent. Compare that to Derrick Walton’s 12.4 defensive rebounding percentage, and it just doesn’t cut it for someone that played most of his minutes at the four.
- Defense: In high school, Zak Irvin was routinely matched up with the other team’s best player — not out of necessity to his team, but because he relished the challenge. But in his freshman year, Michigan fans saw little of that defensive reputation. While Irvin was a fine one-on-one defender, throw another player into the mix, say in the form of a screen, and he experienced serious difficulty staying in front of his man. These references aren’t entirely fair because of how few minutes he played, but Irvin consistently graded out poorly on defensive score sheets (Michigan’s game at Purdue stands out as particularly bad).
- Driving to the basket: I guess we really don’t know how good Irvin is at driving to the hoop at the collegiate level, simply because we have almost never seen him do it. A little over five percent of Irvin’s offense occurred around the rim, and he wasn’t particularly efficient in those situations, despite their scarcity. He was almost never in an isolation situation, but when he was two things invariably happened: he drove left, and he did not score. I don’t mean to be harsh on Irvin. He spent the year learning his role as a spot-up shooter. He has the ability to drive to the basket, and given his game in high school, it is a near certainty Michigan fans will see much more of that next season.
Quotable: John Beilein, after Michigan’s home win over Nebraska: “He just has the ability to make shots. 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.’”
Zak Irvin did what he was asked this season: make shots. He was a prodigal shooter from the start and bailed Michigan out of a few sticky situations with timely shooting. That being said, his game was decidedly one-dimensional and there is plenty of room for improvement. Irvin had a very solid freshman year, and he will be just fine.