Similarity Analysis: Zak Irvin

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Similarity Scores ExplainedPreviouslyCaris LeVert | Derrick Walton

Zak Irvin came to Michigan labeled as a blue-chip recruit, but with the plethora of weapons – namely the trio of sophomore wings, Caris LeVert, Nik Stauskas, and Glenn Robinson III – he was purposefully cast into a narrow role and was given one missive: shoot the ball. Irvin took almost three quarters of his shot attempts from behind the arc, shot a very respectable 43% from three, and exhibited the quintessential lack of discernment that sharpshooters often have. During Nik Stauskas’s freshman season, announcers often recited the boilerplate comment “he’s not just a shooter,” because he shot the ball extremely well, and Michigan fans started poking fun at that trite bit of analysis. Zak Irvin, though: he was just a shooter. That isn’t reflective of his overall basketball ability – though he never really showed the ability to create as a freshman in limited exposure, his game is almost certainly much more versatile than what was shown last year. He was shoehorned into a specific role – shooting off of the bench – and excelled there, but there’s a lot that we haven’t seen yet.

With Irvin’s recruiting pedigree (after all, five stars tend to pan out more often than not), Michigan’s recent track record of developing players once they’ve been on campus for a little while, and the possessions left behind with Stauskas and Robinson’s departures need to be soaked up by someone – LeVert can’t take them all. That leaves Irvin as the obvious candidate for a breakout season, and while that will certainly be an important storyline entering next season, these comparisons simply see him as that “just a shooter” freshman role player.

D.J. Byrd makes another appearance – it’s an absurd coincidence that senior year Byrd is the closest player to Walton and that junior year Byrd is closest to Irvin, but he was almost completely different in those two years: as a junior, he didn’t play as much, shot the ball better, was more efficient, and in his limited minutes, he used more possessions. The recurring theme among the rest of the comparables is shooting, as most took a great share of their attempts from behind the arc, hit them at a fairly respectable rate, and really didn’t do much else. Iowa’s Josh Oglesby and Indiana’s Matt Roth both appear twice, and they spent most of their careers as two of the Big Ten’s more one-dimensional three-point specialists. Purdue’s Ryne Smith and Michigan’s Matt Vogrich were the same. Hoffarber – as a freshman – shot the ball well and rebounded much better than Irvin did, and Rob Wilson was a weird output from the system: he was rather inefficient (especially for a Wisconsin Badger), didn’t take as many threes, and actually got to the free throw line, something that most of the other guys didn’t do.

Since Irvin kicked up so many old names – Big Ten gunners past – I took a quick look at the most “just a shooter” players in the last seven years. (The parameters are arbitrary, but they’re designed to seek out the guys who shot a lot from three, and didn’t do much else).

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A few things: 1.) Devan Balwinkel is ridiculous (and interestingly, he played a season for John Beilein at West Virginia and transferred to Iowa after Beilein came to Ann Arbor), 2.) Matt Roth was incredible that one year, and 3.) Irvin is bailed out from being higher on the list by taking so many long twos – the data from hoop-math.com says that he only took 5.1% of his shot attempts at the rim (which would only be ten total on the season).

There’s little predictive value – if any at all – from these comparisons, but it’s going to be a funny little reminder of Irvin’s “just a shooter” phase his freshman year after Michigan’s staff develops him over the coming seasons.

Alex Cook, the author of this post, can be found on Twitter @alexcook616. Any comparison requests are more than welcome.

  • BlueRev

    I like the “Just a shooter” list more than the similarity one–weird that the top 5 guys on that list represented 8 seasons as upperclassmen (plus Roth’s frosh). Those guys started as shooters and stayed shooters.

    Then this year are 4 freshman–will they remain just shooters? Nick won’t–He played at the rim in HS and will this year in AA too. And I was encouraged by his single drive in the tourney loss and expect to see so much more of that next year.

    Both lists show Matt Roth multiple times, which Zak certainly won’t
    be throughout his career! So these lists are interesting, but of all
    teams and individual players these lists may not prove that predictive
    of future development or statistic expectations.

    I won’t be surprised if Nik still shoots 1/2 his shots from 3 this year, but I will be shocked if anywhere near 2/3 (let alone the 3/4 this last season).

  • Champswest

    Nick, Zak, Nik. Who (or whom) are you talking about?

    • BlueRev

      Oops, haha. Thanks–fixed it!