Italy Rewind: Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman

Dylan Burkhardt
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Welcome to “Italy Rewind,” our player-by-player recap and video feature from Michigan’s four-game tour of Italy. Previously: Zak IrvinRicky Doyle & Kameron Chatman

John Beilein has made a career out of his ability to recruit shooters and his perimeter-oriented offense has always been stereotyped by the three-point shot.

While the three is still ever-present in Beilein’s offense, recent years have seen the rise of the playmaker.  Ball screens and isolation sets have allowed players like Trey Burke, Darius Morris, Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert to rise to prominence due to their abilities to attack the basket as much as their jump shot. Nik Stauskas was an elite shooter, but it was always his ability to create off of ball screens that made him a special player.

Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman was added to Michigan’s roster in April because Beilein realized he needed more playmakers. Stauskas was gone – much quicker than anyone expected – and other than LeVert (who has already been mentioned in NBA circles), Michigan’s roster lacked lacked a versatile combo guard. Early returns in Italy are enough to suggest that ‘MAAR’ could fill that role this season for the Wolverines.

“Muhammad has really gone out there and used his speed, where he has been able to get to the foul line again,” John Beilein said after a Michigan win in Italy. “That’s two games in a row (he’s gotten to the line). Right now I think what we are valuing is his ability to see the floor when he’s going his quickest.”

By The Numbers

Player PPG RPG APG 2P% 3FG% eFG% 3PA/FGA FT% FTA/FGA
Muhammad‐Ali  Abdur‐Rahkman 10.0 3.3 2.5 69.2% 20.0% 52.2% 43.5% 64.0% 108.7%

Abdur-Rahkman has a skillset that’s unique to Michigan’s roster. He attacks the basket and, most importantly, gets to the free throw line. The 6-foot-4 freshman attempted 25 free throws in Italy, nearly twice as many as anyone else on the roster. His free throw rate (FTA/FGA) for the trip was a ridiculous 109%. The sample size is tiny, but here’s how that number compares to the best individual free throw rates by a Michigan player under John Beilein.

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Abdur-Rahkman isn’t going to post a free throw rate over 100% for the season, but he has the ability to rank among the best players that Michigan has had at drawing free throws. The Allentown native’s statistics in Italy were particularly impressive because he was so efficient inside the arc (69%) despite his aggressive style of play. When he didn’t get fouled, Abdur-Rahkman was capable of some very impressive finishes.

Abdur-Rahkman admitted that learning John Beilein’s endless set of plays, reads and sets has been a laborious process, but once he gets on the floor his basketball instincts take over.

“It’s kind of confusing at first,” he explained. “But as you pay attention and focus in practice it’s a little better, and easier to pick up. Then once you get in a game, it’s more fluent.”

Despite learning on the job, Abdur-Rahkman even had the opportunity to play some point guard off the bench. His versatility should allow him to not only be Caris LeVert’s primary backup at the two, but even slip over to the one in an emergency.

“It’s been a great experience,” he said during the tour. “Not many people get the chance to play as a freshman before the season starts. It gives you a good chance to get in a rhythm with the team and work on good chemistry. I think I’ve played decent; the team is playing better so it doesn’t really matter how I’m playing as long as the team is winning and I can contribute.”

The biggest question for Abdur-Rahkman will be whether he can consistently knock down the three-point shot. He only connected on 2-of-10 long distance attempts overseas. He can make some impact with his aggressive ball handling and his defense, but he’s going to need to become a legitimate threat from three-point range to take the next step as a complete combo guard.

  • BlueRev

    Can’t figure out how he slipped by without getting more big-time offers. HS numbers were solid and his game appears to be as well, how did he go virtually unnoticed? Just doesn’t make sense that this kids wasn’t signed by some decent regional school and was available for us. I do not know what to expect of his upside being that he’s older, of course a lot depends if he can improve that outside shot. It sounds like IF (big if?) he becomes a 35% three shooter then he’s all conference someday?

    • John

      How many times have you seen him shoot outside 15 feet? Not much. There is a reason. Look at this way, he is exceptional at a few things because he neglected what he wasn’t good at. One day he can possibly be okay shooting the ball but JB is going to have to put in some serious hours along with Maar.
      Go watch his pre college film. His footwork, shot looks messed up and for a guy who is basically a 2 guard who would want a 2 guy who can’t shoot from the outside. Maar looks like he is the greatest open floor baller of all time but that isn’t necessarily college ball.
      Maar to me is a less talented version of LeVert. I don’t have a problem with Maar on the team, he can brings some unique things but JB can probably develop him. Posters are kidding themselves if they think Maar is going to tear up major college basketball without a jump shot and somehow just get into the lane at will.

      • zeroskie

        What you say is true, but he does have pretty strong handles though, and he’s fast and a energetic defender. Give him some time to increase his efficiency, develop an outside shot and he could be a really solid player.
        I kind of see him as being a little bit like Russ Smith, very rough around the edges at first but a great player once he gets some polish.

        • John

          Okay. Reasonable assessment. He does have talent.

          • tony

            Morris couldnt shoot any better. He could be just as valuable though.

          • John

            I don’t know about that. I think Maar brings some great things to the table. That being said when the better competition comes its just not going to be easy to get into the lane and score. Defenders will sag off on him so the enthusiasm for Maar may be a little premature.
            I do think its overly optimistic to think Maar can develop into a consistent perimeter scorer. If anyone can help Maar its JB but this is a project.
            I am throwing cold water on all this effusive Maar praise. Kid was under the radar for a reason. Can you imagine if this guy could shoot like Dawkins he wouldn’t have been available. Kid is exceptional with the ball in his hands running the floor. I personally would like to see him converted to a PG.
            I would redshirt him but I do see the value he brings in different areas like being a defensive stopper. Reminds me more of pesky type defender and if JB wants to run with him on the floor then he could hide his deficiencies.
            Lastly, the system will bog down in the half court if he is the 2 guard.

        • Northern Blue

          A nice trajectory for him would be role player as frosh and soph, and hopefully by the time he is an upperclassmen he has drastically improved his shot and added muscle that he can bully other guards with size, speed, strength and they can’t play off his jumper. Defense looks like it will be there. He’s older so he will be an old senior.

          • Trask

            I wonder how much strength and speed he is able to add though, isn’t he almost 20 years old? Not to say you can’t get stronger, but he has to be closer to his peak maturity than most incoming freshman.

            He also had nearly 30 offers, so it wasn’t like he wasn’t wanted by somebody, he was holding out for the best offer available and that was Michigan.

            That being said, Aaron Craft was a pain in the ass for quite a while, and what’s wrong with having one of those on our team? Even if MAAR doesn’t develop into a 3 point drilling 2 guard specialist, he will still have a niche as a great driver to the hoop, excellent defense and a great change of pace to the perimeter passing that Beilein (uber alles) offenses can sometimes devolve in to.

            If he can spot duty some back up point guard that’d be icing on the cake. Remember when Trey Burkes backup was a timeout, that was brutal, always nice to have a MAAR around.

          • NorthernBlue

            He doesn’t look like he has really been in a weight training program. He is thin, but not with a body that looks like he can’t add weight. I think he can make substantial improvements in that area. It is the jumpshot that is the big IF in my opinion.

          • John

            I am on board 100%. Just funny to see the initial hype on a guy who was playing AAU ball in Italy. Game is going to change. Teams will just counter with a quicker defender or zone up. I like the Craft comparison. Would love to see him go to the point where JB will have 3 other scorers on the floor minimum.
            You can tell Maar loves to pass and get into the lane. Sure looks like a PG. Plays like it. I like the kid but just wanted to put the brakes on Maar is going to be the 2nd coming of Manny Harris. Maybe but lots of work to be done.

      • Mattski

        Caris was nowhere near as assertive as a freshman. I know he was younger, but Caris’s abilities only revealed themselves over time–this kid enters the offense very seamlessly. I think he’s going to bring a useful change of pace. Every poster here is stressing that he needs to develop his jumper, so I’m not sure why you’re copping the ‘tude. :) And if Beilein can’t develop it nobody can. I remember Nebraska running right through our D several nights the last few years; we need that kind of threat off the bench.

  • TheTruth

    Beilien is a master at finding diamonds in the rough.

  • Northern blue

    I really like how him and spike offset each other off the bench. If maar remains focused on his jumper, getting stronger and improving point skills he has potential to be an all conference combo guard as upperclassmen. Love his I’m your face mentality. At very least looks like a very pesky defender

  • Webbdog

    It took awhile to figure out who he reminds me of, but I will call it, Here’s hoping he develops into an Anderson Hunt 2.0. He needs to work on his 3pt shot to make it a reality.

  • Greg Bell

    MAAR is above average to excellent at everything on the basketball court except 3 point shooting. In high school his 3 point shot was fine he probably shot in the mid to high 30s but as a freshmen he probably wont shoot any better than 33%. That’s fine because he excels at everything else.

  • 93Grad

    MAAR looked pretty solid handling the ball and getting to the hole. Also some solid defense on the perimeter. Surprised he did not get more recruiting attention.

    • John

      Won’t be getting any wide open 3 pt set shots and the 2 pt conversion rate helped out on layups. He is good at floaters but at this level its much tougher to pull that off. The bottom line is that Maar is going to have to be confident in shooting on the perimeter 15-20 ft out in order to open up his ability to get into the lane.
      From what I saw..his game is one dimensional. Getting into the lane, albeit against 2nd tier competition in Itaty and on tape. Not going to be that easy going forward. Specialty role player as of right now, defense and breaking the press. Reminds me of a guy who can blow past 2nd team defenders.

      • Greg Bell

        He’s not one dimensional, has a great mid range game. Watch 1st quarter of this game starting at 8:15. G. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QmUF2Luo-Aw&

        • John

          I’ve watched those highlights. Even on those makes, that is high school shooting level. You can see that shot coming a mile away. I can show you air balls. It looks like he could become a competent shooter but confidence will be an issue along with technique.
          The million dollar question. He is exceptional with the ball in his hands plus high level quickness, speed with ball in his hands, size and seems like a great kid.
          So where are the offers? Must be a reason? No one ever saw this kid play before…ever? Kid has really good vision and is a good passer?
          Probably because he was bricking shots during the game and coaches didn’t know where to fit him in. If Maar is a adequate shooter then I am starting to believe these scouts are blind, deaf, dumb and stupid.
          Where did he play ball..PA? Was he out in the middle of nowhere. Looks like people are in the gym.
          I remember first seeing the film on Doyle..I was excited for his commitment. You could see the talent. If this kid is good at shooting then I challenge anyone to tell me where are the scholarship offers? What doesn’t he do well. Looks to play hard. Where is the flaw?

          • Greg Bell

            That team he was playing against in that video was #1 in the state and had 5 or 6 Division 1 players on it including JaQuan Newton. I honestly think part of the reason he wasn’t highly recruited is his name and also where he played. If he had a black name instead of a Muslim name and if he were from center city Philadelphia he would have been a top 100 recruit.

          • John

            Yeah. Shabazz Muhammad was also discriminated against too. You don’t believe that do you? Had a bunch of scholarship offers from lower level programs so it wasn’t like he wasn’t noticed.

        • John

          From MGoBlog
          Strengths:
          He’s extremely versatile with the size and length to offer minutes at any of the three perimeter positions, and is a match-up problem virtually anywhere on the court because he’s capable of making plays for himself and others over top of smaller guards and has the speed, quickness, and handle to go by most bigger wings. He’s equally versatile defensively where his size, length, and ability to cover the court might even be bigger weapons.

          Weaknesses:
          He’s a dribble drive player on the offensive end, and not yet a consistent outside shooter. That flaw in his offensive repertoire is likely to be exposed much more at the next level when the game slows down and he’s not able to get out in the open floor with the same frequency. Even at that, he’s going to be much more effective in an up-tempo system at the next level.

          Bottom Line:
          He has a very intriguing combination of size, length, quickness, and smooth handle but he’s going to have to continue to get more skilled on the perimeter in order for his game to translate as well to the college level