Welcome to “Italy Rewind,” our player-by-player recap and video feature from Michigan’s four-game tour of Italy. First: Zak Irvin
The question all off-season has been whether Zak Irvin has diversified his game and is more than ‘just a shooter’. The numbers last season proved that Irvin was essentially ‘just a shooter’, but this is a new year and a new role for the 6-foot-6 wing. He’s added 15 pounds of muscle and five inches to his vertical leap and if Michigan’s trip to Italy is any barometer, he’s going to score points in bunches this season.
For all intents and purposes, Irvin was unstoppable through four games in Italy. He averaged 21 points and seven rebounds per game while posting a ridiculous 81.3 effective field goal percentage. He shot 70% on twos and 67% on threes despite playing with a FIBA three-point line that’s 16 inches longer than the college line.
“I’m really in a great rhythm right now,” Irvin said after two games in Italy. “The ball has been falling in warmups, but I have to give credit to my teammates who keep finding me when I’m open. They’re the ones helping me knock down these shots.”
By the numbers
Watching Irvin on film, it becomes clear that he’s more likely to fill a Tim Hardaway Jr. role than a Nik Stauskas role. Irvin is still primarily a shooter (38% of FGA from long range) and he’s not much of a creator (1.3 assists per game). The majority of his two-point offense in Italy was generated in transition off of steals and leak outs, but it all comes back to the jump shot. Irvin can get his shot off whenever he wants, and he rarely missed overseas.
Irvin has never struggled to find shot attempts, even in limited playing time — he used more possessions while he was on the floor last season than anyone else on Michigan’s roster — and he’s going to have every opportunity to play a significant role in Michigan’s offense. With Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton flanking him on the perimeter, Irvin might not need to be much more than a shooter to make an impact in Michigan’s offense.
His added strength and athleticism should help him on defense as much as offense. Last year Irvin backed up the three and four positions, this year he appears to have cemented his role as the starting three-man (or left side wing), while filling in at the four position when Kameron Chatman is on the bench and Aubrey Dawkins checks into the game.
Irvin’s most impressive, and perhaps most important, improvement in Italy wasn’t his jump shooting or his lethal offensive efficiency, it was his new-found desire to crash the glass. Grabbing rebounds in Italy wasn’t comparable to grabbing rebounds in the Big Ten, but Irvin grabbed 29 rebounds in four games. Last season he grabbed just 49 rebounds total in 37 games.
“Zak is taking the ball to the basket better, he’s rebounding more — he did not rebound last year,” Beilein said before the tour. “And he’s becoming a defensive stopper. He has some ability to do that. I don’t think he’s proven that in games yet, but most freshmen don’t.”
Irvin couldn’t have played better in Italy. He scored, defended and attacked the glass. He was Michigan’s most efficient offensive player, despite leading the team in field goal attempts. Irvin appears to have found his role, now the only question is what can he do back home against better, stronger and more athletic competition.