Offseason Storylines: Michigan searching for go-to sixth man

Alejandro Zúñiga

Basketball season is around the corner, and, over the next several weeks, we’ll run down some of the biggest storylines facing the 2014-15 Michigan Wolverines. In this edition, we search for a go-to sixth man to replace Zak Irvin

Michigan’s talented starting five last year couldn’t do everything on their own last season.

When the Wolverines needed an offensive spark, they turned to Zak Irvin. The forward had one principal job: shoot the ball. And that he did, shooting on more than 25% of Michigan’s offensive possessions when he was on the court.

He was by all accounts a 3-point specialist — he made them at a 43% clip — and 73% of his attempts came from beyond the arc. And he was often the offensive wrinkle that made Michigan so difficult to stop, especially midway through a given half.

After losing Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III, Irvin won’t be hiding on the bench this year; he’ll be a starter from day one. The Wolverines might also have a deeper rotation this year, but here’s a closer look at the candidates most likely to fill Irvin’s role as the go-to sixth man in 2014-15.

Spike Albrecht

John Beilein has said this year’s squad is one of his more versatile teams and that he will sometimes send four guards and a center onto the court. Albrecht has been one of Beilein’s most reliable players for two years now and he could have an increased role this season.

As a shooter, Albrecht isn’t quite at Irvin’s level, but he’s more than capable of running the offense. The guard made 39% of his threes last year, but he also posted a 4.69:1 assist-to-turnover ratio, including just eight total turnovers in Big Ten play.

Beilein is pushing Albrecht to shoot more, and that could pay dividends for the Wolverines.

“[I] just continue to get stronger,” the guard said. “My body developed, my athleticism. Still not very athletic, but it’s getting better. Scoring, making shots, things like that. Something I have to do a little more this year is score, so I’ve been a little more aggressive.”

It’s likely we’ll see more of Albrecht than we did last year, even if it involves sacrificing size to put him alongside Derrick Walton and Caris LeVert. But the guard knows his role will often be as a sixth man, just like Irvin was last year.

“I come in, kind of like a high-energy guy, I just try to make an impact on the game,” he said. “That’s what coaches want [me] to come in and do: have a positive impact when I come in and make things happen.”

Aubrey Dawkins

Because the Wolverines faced vastly inferior competition, there’s only so much you can extrapolate from Michigan’s summer trip to Italy. But it was hard not to be impressed by Aubrey Dawkins, who made 62.5% (5-of-8) of his 3-pointers and showcased his athleticism during the four-game span.

“Aubrey is a really good athlete who can really shoot,” Walton said earlier this month. “He can help us a lot on the defensive glass this year.”

While Dawkins won’t knock down threes at Irvin’s pace, he should be less one-dimensional.

In Italy, Dawkins was one of the first players off the bench, replacing either Irvin or Kam Chatman at the three and four, respectively. And we’ll see that throughout the season: Dawkins is likely the preferred substitute at either wing position, and he has the makings of a prototypical ‘three-and-d’ wing.

Beilein warned that none of the freshmen will reach their peak physical condition this year. But Dawkins played “a little beyond [his] years” in Italy, and that’s a promising sign given the team’s youth will force Dawkins into a contributing role.

Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman

Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman is another late signee who could play a critical role this season. Abdur-Rahkman is far from the Zak Irvin-mold, but his skillset could be just as vital to the Wolverine offense.

Abdur-Rahkman averaged 10 points per game in Italy, but he shot just 20% from three-point range with most of his scoring coming attacking the basket.

He could be able to make an impact because of his ability to backup either the one or two positions and attack the basket. The 6-foot-4 freshman led Michigan in free throw attempts overseas, attempting 25 freebies in just four games, and should help diversify an offense that is predominantly based on the jump shot.

The Wolverines have never been ranked higher than 302nd in offensive free throw rate according to Ken Pomeroy’s statistics and Abdur-Rahkman could prove a useful change of pace.

DJ Wilson

A broken pinkie kept Wilson out for Michigan’s trip to Europe, but Beilein has been impressed by the 6-foot-9 forward since he was cleared to return in early October.

The coach said Wilson has put on good weight, which is a must if he hopes to play at the five this year. Regardless, his 7-foot-3 wingspan helps make him perhaps Michigan’s most athletic option in the frontcourt and as a defender, and he could develop into a force as the season progresses.

One of Mark Donnal or Ricky Doyle is expected to start the season at the five position, with the other playing significant minutes, but Wilson is yet another valuable front court piece.

Michigan’s unproven centers and lack of experienced backups for the forwards mean we’ll see plenty of Wilson this year, though he might not be a high-volume scorer like Albrecht or Dawkins.

Looking ahead: Duncan Robinson

Duncan Robinson, a Division III transfer, will sit out the season per NCAA transfer rules. But next year, watch out.

Robinson shot 55.7% last season for Williams College and is already reminding Michigan’s coaches of some of the program’s recent sharpshooters. Assistant Jeff Meyer said earlier this month that Robinson is “on the radar screen” of approaching Nik Stauskas’ shooting ability.

Bleacher Report’s CJ Moore had the opportunity to watch the Wolverines practice this fall and came away impressed with the 6-foot-8 wing.

“Watched Michigan practice yesterday,” Moore tweeted. “D3 transfer Duncan Robinson can really shoot it. Will be great weapon next year in Beilein’s offense.”

It will take time for Robinson to adjust to Division I basketball, but the Wolverines will have an Irvin-esque weapon at their disposal next year.

  • Sunny 42

    I know we lost a lot from last years team, but I am really excited with this years team, there are a lot of different parts and this staff will get the most of this young team. Might be a little rough in the non conference, but they will only get better, I wouldn’t want to play them in the big dance,

  • jihadist john™

    depth, baby!

  • MrLG

    Nice piece AZ.

    Me, I’m dreaming of a dynamic duo off the bench: MAAR and DJ. DJ blocks shots, and MAAR finishes on the other end, among other things. Hope this dream comes true.