Why Derrick Walton is ready to break out as a sophomore

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan 80, Michigan State 75-23
Dustin Johnston

Derrick Walton had the unenviable task of stepping in and replacing the National Player of the Year, Trey Burke, as a true freshman. Walton was Michigan’s starting point guard from day one and handled the task with admirable stability. He did what he was asked, deferred to his more teammates and made critical plays in the clutch. But the truth is, Walton didn’t have to replace Trey Burke – Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert and Glenn Robinson III did that.

Things will be different as a sophomore. Caris LeVert will carry much of the heavy lifting, but Walton is going to have to step up in the same way that LeVert, Stauskas and Robinson did last season. He’s going to have to develop into the alpha-dog point guard that has carried Michigan for three of the last four seasons. There’s (young) talent around him, but Walton is the No. 2 returning option this season.

To visualize just what could be expected of Walton as a sophomore, we compared his play type makeup – we’ll call it his point guard DNA – to the two point guards that preceded him at Michigan: Trey Burke and Darius Morris. The following radar charts display what percentage of a player’s offensive possessions were: isolation, pick and rolls, transition, spot up or other (putbacks, cuts, shots off screens, etc.). The results illustrate Walton’s complementary role as a freshman and outline his path for growth as a sophomore. 


The first thing that becomes immediately obvious when looking at Walton’s graph is that he had significantly more spot up possessions than Trey Burke or Darius Morris. Walton was predominantly a jump shooting outlet in Michigan’s half court offense last season. 34.4% of his offensive possessions were of the spot up variety. That number is comparable to notable shooters under John Beilein, but not to many point guards.


While Walton wasn’t a traditional Michigan point guard last season, there’s plenty of reason to believe he could be. He’s already done a good job in transition and he was very effective when he did run ball screens, grading out in the 83rd percentile. His efficiency was already comparable to some of Michigan’s ball screen talents, his next step is maintaining efficiency with workload. He was also an above average isolation driver (85th percentile) and he had a 3 to 1 assist to turnover ratio in transition.


Darius Morris dominated the ball during his sophomore season. That was partly due to the way that he played the game and partly due to the talent around him. Zack Novak, Stu Douglass, and Tim Hardaway Jr. were primarily just spot up shooters that season, Jordan Morgan was just a finisher and Michigan didn’t have many other options. Morris’ sophomore season is widely regarded as the season where Michigan fell in love with the ball screen, but you can also see that he ran a significant amount of isolation sets as well.


Trey Burke’s freshman season wasn’t half bad. He shared Big Ten Freshman of the Year Honors and led Michigan to a surprising share of the Big Ten Championship. It feels like ages ago, but before Burke’s freshman season he faced the same questions as Walton: ‘how can he replace Darius Morris?’

Burke didn’t run as many isolation sets as Morris, but he made up for them with more ball screens. Nearly a third of his offensive sets were pick and roll, but he didn’t get out in transition as much as Walton, Morris or his next season.


Burke stuck to the same recipe in his sophomore season, he just managed to do almost everything more efficiently. Better teammates were a big help – Stauskas, Robinson and McGary were added into the mix – but Burke also simply refined his game. Unlike Nik Stauskas or Caris LeVert – who made massive improvements by diversifying their games as sophomores – Trey simply got better at what he already did best.

Bottom Line

Derrick Walton isn’t going to transform into Burke or Morris overnight, but expect his play distribution to skew to the right of the graph (pick and rolls), rather than the left (spot up shooting) as a sophomore. Walton has the ability and now he’s going to have the opportunity.

With Walton, I’ve often pointed to the Yogi Ferrell model. Ferrell was a complementary option during his freshman season, but then exploded as Indiana’s focal point during his sophomore year. His freshman to sophomore charts show a similar progression to what we could expect from Walton as a sophomore (Walton’s freshman year below in blue).

click to enlarge

It will require a big leap on the floor, but Walton has already proven that he can handle the ball, shoot the three reliably and make big plays. He didn’t show as many ball screens as many might have hoped, but he was effective when he ran them.

Data from Synergy Sports.

  • Jesse

    Love everything you do but please stop using those weird graphs — they are impossible to read. Just use a normal bar graph with each player in a different color

    • The radars might not be perfect (got the idea from soccer actually: )

      But I found them more useful to interpret than these. But here they are if you’d rather look at a bar graph.

    • The radars might not be perfect (got the idea from soccer actually: https://twitter.com/mixedknuts/media)

      But I found them more useful to interpret than these. But here they are if you’d rather look at a bar graph.


      • skitchbeatz

        I think the graphs are great. The show the difference in type of player better than a bar graph IMO

      • zeroskie

        I liked the Radar graphs, maybe better if they don’t compare so many players at the same time, gets hard to read.

      • GentlemanScholar

        Is like to see you use both, but definitely keep the radar.

    • Don

      Disagree. I find them to be an entirely appropriate way to display this type of information.

      • TDGR

        I agree with you disagreeing with Jesse. The radars are far more readable for this type of information than bar graphs, please keep them.

    • Mattski

      For me the Yogi Ferrell graphs at the end really make Dylan’s approach pay off–plus, I love being stretched, and finding new ways to present (the) data. Dylan is becoming really accomplished at this. . . Nate Silver will soon come calling!

  • UMHoopsFan

    What’s impressive about Derrick’s freshman year is that spot-up shooting, especially from distance, was not his strength in high school. Instead, he was best at the pure PG stuff — which he should have a lot more opportunities with this coming year. And he’s already shown he can do that well at the college lever. I’m expecting a big year from Derrick.

    • geoffclarke

      Plus we’ve even heard that he’s working on extending his range, which in turn will give him more room for isos and more options for PNR, two things – like you and Dylan point out – at which he’s already good.

  • geoffclarke

    For the record, I agree with TDGR agreeing with Don who disagrees with Jesse – SAVE THE RADAR GRAPHS! They are perfect.

    Love this stuff and goes well with Cook’s Similarity Analysis: http://www.umhoops.com/2014/05/22/similarity-analysis-derrick-walton/

    They clearly show how the coaches play to the strengths of the players: Morris not a good shooter, Burke excellent decision maker out of the ball screen. You pointed out how Walton was good in isolation and PNR and low and behold 2014 Caris LeVert was 7th on his Similarity Analysis. Should be exciting to see this year.

    With the play on the court and cutting edge coverage like this, Michigan is the new Point Guard U.

    I’d also like to see similar radar graphs for the 2-4 positions.

  • I really like the radar graphs ….. if we’re voting.

  • geoffclarke

    I will concede that a bar graph might be better for Swag Level – different unit of measure.

  • John

    Great site..use whatever you feel is best. Personally, I like the bland standard bar graph. It was able to communicate the message more effectively.
    Once I figured out the message and went back to the radar graphs..it was too busy. Just my opinion. Take it for what its worth and if half the readers like the radar graphs then they win.

    • MAZS

      Not intending to be snarky, but this ain’t a democracy. If Dylan likes the radar graphs, then they stay. I don’t want to water down his creativity–we are fortunate to have the opportunity to look at statistics in a different way.

  • GregGoBlue

    How do you think the lack of a reliable P&R big with experience will affect this distribution?

    Also, whereas So Trey and Darius may have been the focal points for their respective offenses in their years, Derrick returns with a Jr Caris LeVert, who may eat up some of his P&R possessions. How do you see that affecting Walton’s So year?

    I dunno, I still see Walton shooting a lot of 3’s…

    • I suspect a lot of Walton’s PnR production this year will be in the form of the off the dribble jumper. But it’s really tough to project how Doyle/Donnal play in the PnR. Both have some nice tools, but will need to learn reads, etc.

    • geoffclarke

      We lost a ton of P&R possessions with Stauskas leaving. I know there’s no Law of Conservation of Number of Ball Screen Possessions, but I’d guess that Walton’s % of P&R possessions will go up more than LeVert’s. But Walton will probably get a LOT more isolations as the 2nd option rather than the 4th.

  • DingoBlue

    Love the radar graphs. Really help show relative percentages better than having to add up different bars on a bar graph. Please continue using them.

  • Mattski

    Probably should be “break out,” fwiw.

  • JimmyZ5

    I think very highly of Yogi, so I endorse this comparison and hope he can match or exceed the standard.

  • Adam St Patrick

    I think what I’d like to know is what Walton can do differently down the stretch. As the season went on Beilein seemed to increasingly rely on Albrecht in second halves. Walton continued to make plays and gain comfort, and it’s no great knock on him that the coach trusted the older and more experienced player to run the offense, even if Spike isn’t really a PNR threat and isn’t as good on defense. Beyond the generalities about a veteran vs a freshman, I wonder what it is that made Beilein more comfortable, and I wonder what he’s got Walton focused on in order to really own the PG position next year.