Mailbag: Zak Irvin’s progression, Age, Defense

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan 73, Tennessee 71-10
Dustin Johnston

@zgordon5: What does Zak Irvin specifically need to work on the most to become “more than just a shooter”? Did he show that potential in HS? I guess more clearly: should we have a lot of optimism about Zak being able to truly be more than a shooter, or are there red flags?

We’ve established that Irvin was ‘just a shooter’ last year after roughly three out of every four shots he took were threes. I have no doubt that Zak can and will do more than just shoot threes last season, but I’m not ready to predict a Nik Stauskas-level improvement. That’s not meant to be a knock on Irvin, but Nik Stauskas was already a lot more than a shooter during his freshman season. The following chart compares what play types made up each player’s freshman year production. Stauskas logged 379 possessions as a freshman, while Irvin logged 222 but the charts are normalized by percentage of possessions.


There were plenty of similarities between Stauskas and Irvin. Both players were mostly spot-up shooters and were ridiculously efficient. Irvin scored 1.23 PPP on spot up possessions, Stauskas scored 1.28. Both players were secondary options on teams that had plenty of offensive firepower and both players hit a lot of threes. That’s the obvious part of the equation.

But there are also differences. Irvin was an even better transition player with an almost incomprehensible 80.7 aFG% in transition scenarios, but Stauskas showed a lot more ball skills.You can see that Stauskas ran significantly more pick and roll and isolation sets and he also came off more screens. Those elements of Irvin’s game were almost nonexistent as 70% of his offensive possessions were either spotting up or in transition. Stauskas also graded out in the 97th percentile nationally as a ball screen scorer as a freshman – in hindsight this was the statistic that should have warned us what to expect from him as a sophomore – and scored 64 points off of ball screens. Irvin scored just seven points off of pick and rolls and graded out in the 16th percentile.

I have no doubt there’s more to Irvin’s game. He’s showed off a mid-range game and far more ball handling ability during his time in high school – where coincidentally he progressed from a young shooter in Gary Harris’ shadow to the star of Hamilton Southeastern – and I expect we’ll see plenty of that. He’s also added what looks to be a very impressive 15 pounds of muscle.

If I had to pick one player to make a Stauskas or LeVert like jump as a sophomore, it would probably be Derrick Walton and not Zak Irvin, but I do expect Irvin to progress naturally into an expanded role.

‏@Rees5Jason: Do you see a situation where Spike and Walton play together?

Definitely. It’s not ideal to throw two 6-foot tall guards on the floor at the same time, but given Michigan’s inexperience in the backcourt I think we’ll see plenty of it. Albrecht is generally a reliable jumpshooter and is experienced as anyone on the roster. He can handle the ball in pressure situations and knows Michigan’s offense very well. It’ll never be a great defensive lineup with two smaller guards on the floor, but I suspect it’ll be present throughout Albrecht and Walton’s careers.

‏@Gkm13: Who do you think will step up on the defensive end for Michigan?

I think that Caris LeVert has the size and ability to make a major step on the defensive end of the floor. He was Michigan’s primary defender throughout much of last year, but certainly wasn’t immune to a few lapses in play. While he’ll have more offensive responsibilities this season, I still expect his game to mature defensively.

However, Michigan’s biggest concern is probably in the front court, where last year’s roster has vanished. Jordan Morgan was the rock of the Michigan defense for the last four years and there’s no question that his absence will cause problems. DJ Wilson has the best raw ability to help Michigan add a shot blocking presence, but he’s still very skinny. Mark Donnal and Ricky Doyle’s abilities to pick up defensive schemes and clean up the defensive glass will be as important as anything for next year’s Wolverines.

‏@jmstern23: How valuable is the experience that both Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Aubrey Dawkins bring to this team as freshman that are as old as most sophomores?

It definitely won’t hurt, especially for Aubrey Dawkins because he played an extra year in the NEPSAC against very good competition. John Beilein is very cognizant of birthdates and generally likes to play both sides of the age curve whether it’s looking for prospects that still have room to grow like Caris LeVert (who is still just 19 years old) or players that might be ready to play small roles early on because they are older and more experienced like Spike Albrecht (turns 22 in August).

Dawkins (turns 20 in May) and Abdur-Rahkman (turns 20 in August) both should be slightly more physically ready to make an impact as a freshman. I suspect that Dawkins might have the upper hand in that department because he played against better (and older) competition at New Hampton. Abdur-Rahkman was on the opposite end of the spectrum as a much older player facing weaker and younger competition. Kameron Chatman and Ricky Doyle both turned 18 this summer and fall closer to the other end of the spectrum.

There’s no secret formula that says one player is more ready to play than another, but I think it’s clear that Dawkins and Abdur-Rahkman both have a fairly defined niche to try to make an impact. Rahkman is a dribble-driver and slasher to provide some relief for Caris LeVert while Dawkins is a finisher and an athlete to provide a bouncier wing option.

‏@imeccamp: Do you believe Dawkins will Start over Irvin? If not , why not?

I think you can pencil Derrick Walton, Caris LeVert and Zak Irvin in as starters from day one and I expect them to start at the one, two and three spots respectively. What happens at the four and five spots is anyone’s guess. Kameron Chatman, Aubrey Dawkins and DJ Wilson should all get ample opportunity to play for starter’s minutes at the four spot. So in that regard I could hypothetically see Dawkins earning significant playing time, but I don’t expect him to knock Irvin out of the starting lineup any time soon.

@KleShreen: Who can we expect to be the rotational bigs? With no Morgan/McGary, someone has to step up.

There are four players on the roster that can play the five position next season: Mark Donnal, Ricky Doyle, DJ Wilson and Max Bielfeldt. Donnal stands 6-9, 240 lbs, Ricky Doyle stands 6-9, 245 lbs, Wilson stands 6-9, 220 lbs and Bielfeldt is 6-7, 245 lbs. Only Max Bielfeldt has seen the floor and conventional wisdom seems to be that Mark Donnal is the most likely starter after his redshirt season.

I expect all four to play fairly even minutes in Italy as Michigan tries to figure out what it is working with. The Italy tour (and the 10 additional practices) will help start to sort things out, but this is likely going to be an ongoing battle.

Summer whispers should usually be taken with a grain of salt, but Ricky Doyle seems to have raised a few eyebrows. He arrived on campus early to start working on his body (being listed at 240 down from 250 is probably a good thing) and he’s earned positive reviews in summer workouts. If I had to pick one player expected to take a big step up right now, I might go with the surprise choice and select Doyle.

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  • If Dolye can indeed be the surprise and log significant minutes at the 5, you can play pretty big and not just tall, going Doyle, Donnal, Caris, Irvin and Walton. Come in with Wilson at 220, and Chatman if they’re ready and you’re still tall and not too skinny.

    I think we will get beat up occasionally, especially early and possibly at MSU/Wisconsin maybe Purdue, but this team has some heft that we went without, early Beilein.

    I’m starting to feel pretty good about stuff.

    • I would be *very* surprised if Donnal and Doyle play at the same time this season.

      • I don’t disagree, however wouldn’t it be fun if the always surprising John Beilein showed double post here and there just to mess with people?

        • It took him a long time to use double post offense with McGary (a pro) and Morgan (a seasoned vet).

          I think you are much more likely to see Wilson at the five than Donnal/Doyle at the four ever. But maybe they’ll surprise, who knows.

          • I agree again on both counts and think we’ll never see Doyle at the four. I do hold out some hope for Donnal there tho on the basis of range and mobility.

            I have a pretty decent although pretty old book buried around here somewhere on a double high and staggered post thing that offers up all kinds of backdoor stuff along with some simplistic screen options. I had hopes of seeing some of it with Mitch and Morgan just for the fun of being able to recognize it. But no …..

            i do fantasize about Beilein having a basketball library full of the most obscure stuff imaginable and that he rifles through it periodically while giggling maniacally.

  • UMHoopsFan

    Amazing that Caris will be younger than or within a week age-wise of Dawkins, MAAR and Irvin (and of course Albrecht and Bielfeldt). No wonder he was a “late bloomer.”
    As for Doyle/Donnal, etc., it was just a few weeks ago that there were articles with quotes from Morgan and Horford, etc., about how Donnal was going to step right in. I will be surprised if Donnal is not the starter, at least at the beginning. But I think it will be great if Doyle (or Wilson or Bielfeldt) can push him for minutes.

    • I made a typo regarding the age thing.

      Dawkins (5/9/95) and Abdur-Rahkman (9/1/94) are both 19. MAAR will turn 20 in September.

      LeVert is still 19, but will turn 20 in August.

  • NC Blue

    A few speculative thoughts on the roster / positions:

    1. Interesting that on the recently released roster, Irvin, Chatman, and Dawkins are listed as G/F (basically 3 or 4), and Wilson is listed as a F (5).

    2. The above makes me believe Wilson will start as a 5 man. Remember that Evan Smotryc, who had the same measurables (6’9″, 220) and roughly the same game (without the athleticism) as Wilson mainly played the 5, although the roster may have dictated that. I suspect that if Donnal and Doyle impress, Wilson will redshirt. I don’t see him playing the 4 this year.

    3. I do see a lot of potential depth and positional flexibility…but I also believe that Beilein likes a short rotation with guys he trusts and positional consistency when push comes to shove.

    4. That being said, I would realistically project a breakdown such as the below when push comes to shove:

    1- Walton (35), Spike (5)
    2- Levert (35), Spike or Irvin (5)
    3- Irvin (30), Dawkins or Chatman (10)
    4- Chatman (30), Dawkins or Irvin (10)
    5- Donnal (30), Doyle (10)

    5. The above would be an 8-man rotation, the same as this past season. Bielfeldt or MAAR could be used with injury or foul trouble. As above, I see Wilson redshirting.

    • I think your logic is pretty sound. The concern is that if on Nov. 25th you aren’t sure who out of Dawkins, Chatman, Doyle, Wilson, etc. is ready to make an impact and where.. you just play everyone. That’s the LeVert scenario that we saw during his freshman year.

    • UMHoopsFan

      A couple thoughts. Smotrycz started at the 4 both years and got pushed to backing up the 5 (and 4) because we were better with Novak at the 4 and Stu at 2 and had little behind JMo. As for the roster positions, it is an interesting pattern, but I’m not sure it means Wilson won’t play the 4. Maybe G/F’s play anywhere from the2-the4, F’s play 4 or 5. I know that on offense at Michigan the 3 and 4 positions are more alike than the 4 and 5, but I see Wilson playing the 4 and 5 over his career. You might be right for this year, we’ll see. I’m guessing the coaches don’t even know at this point.

      • I do think G/F is intended to refer to more of 3/4 type of players because I think the 4 and 5 are the ‘forward’ spots.

      • NC Blue

        Agree that Smotrycz was pushed to the 5 out of necessity, but it also provides insight into how Beilein may handle a player with the same skillset. For the record, I think Wilson has great upside and in time could be a prototypical 4-man with the ability to handle. He probably has the highest ceiling of any of the freshman.

        Chatman just seems like such a good fit for the 4 position and seems to be further along than Wilson, such that I see Chatman getting the bulk of the minutes at the 4 this year. Next year however, I could even see Chatman at the 2 and Wilson at the 4, such that you could see a Walton/Chatman/Irvin/Wilson/Donnal lineup…finally a lot of size. Obviously this is all speculative but it will be interesting to see how it turns out.

        • UMHoopsFan

          Sounds right to me. I think in general that players like Wilson are more likely to play bigger (5) than smaller (2 or 3) positions, but that ideally for JB & Co Wilson plays a lot of 4. I think with Wilson, especially because Chatman is a lefty, that in the next couple years we might see Wilson at the 3 on offense (i.e., starting on the left) and Chatman at the 4 (starting on the right), but potentially reversed on who they guard on D.

  • TDGR

    That heptagon chart showing the freshman season of Stauskus vs Irvin is one of the many reasons I read this blog everyday. Great stuff!

  • Enginblue10

    [quote](being listed at 240 down from 250 is probably a good thing) [/quote]

    I’m glad you are following the mgoblog rules of roster over analysis.

    Rule one of Roster Overanalysis Club is all weight change is good.

    • Ha :-) I mean that more generally in the sense that Doyle needs to lose weight/gain fitness and mobility while someone like Wilson needs to gain muscle/weight. But yes.. who knows what to take from this roster change considering it was made a week apart … maybe the original was just a mistake?

      • David DeMember

        Ya, If they originally had his high school weight/height, those are pretty much always embellished… I think weight is now a story at Michigan because of how Jordan, Caris,Trey, Tim, Nik and others have transformed after a year in the program. Kids are obviously enrolling earlier now to get that process kick started.

  • Kenny

    The first all american in Michigan basketball history is Richard Doyle (the same name as Ricky’s father), who played center in the 1925-26 team.

    Doubt that Ricky is related to him, but still pretty cool.

    • jakerblue

      The team averaged under 30 pts a game, seems like basketball might have been pretty boring in the 20s

  • Kenny

    Dawkins’ skill sets definitely put him in the 3/4 category. But at 190 lb, he is 15 pound lighter than the freshman Novak, and I am not sure if he can add much more weight. Johnny Dawkins, at 6’2, was 165 lbs throughout his playing career and s. However, the weight may not tell all the story, Rodman was only 210 lbs early in his career. Hope that Aubrey does have the strength to hold his own on defense.