A closer look at Zak Irvin’s hot start

Dylan Burkhardt

Zak Irvin is averaging 22 points per contest through Michigan’s first two games. He’s shooting 9-of-14 on twos and 7-of-11 on threes for a 78% effective field goal percentage.

His numbers through two games are not all too dissimilar to his statistics during Michigan’s Italian tour where he averaged 20.8 points per game with an 81.3 eFG%.

Against any competition, even against air, those shooting numbers are impressive. Irvin was locked in with his jumpshot last season, but now in a starting role he’s getting more shooting opportunities and making the most of them.

“I just want him to take open shots. He’s going to be a volume shooter, and he’s going to do it all year along,” John Beilein said after Michigan’s win over Bucknell..” And I’m sure he’ll have great nights, and I’m sure he’ll have some nights where he wished he’d made more. This is the way practices have been; this is the way it was in Europe. He’s going to get a lot of looks. He has a Hardaway ability to get his shot off. And now we’ll continue to work to get him those shots.”

The good news for Michigan isn’t so much that Irvin is making open threes, but that he’s becoming a more complete offensive player. Irvin hasn’t made a Nik Stauskas-type of jump into a primary ball-handler and creator, but here’s a look at how his points have been produced through two games and an exhibition.

Catch and shoot

This is the old Zak Irvin.

These plays should all look pretty familiar, because they are what we saw from Irvin last season. He was predominantly a catch and shoot player, waiting on the wings or the corners for an extra pass, or a tipped out rebound before quickly rising up and shooting over the opposition. Irvin is still a tremendous catch-and-shoot player and there’s no reason to expect that to change.

Transition play

Irvin was a great transition scorer last season, but the majority of his transition offense came from drifting to the three-point line as others attacked the basket. He’ll still drift to the three-point line from time to time, but he’s also become more aggressive attacking the basket.

Last season there were jokes throughout the year surrounding the fact that people had rarely seen Irvin, at 6-foot-6, rise up and dunk. He answered those jokes with a big transition dunk against Michigan State, but he’ll probably have more dunks in the first five games this season than he did all of last year.

The key thing to watch in these clips is how hard Irvin runs the floor. Michigan does a drill in practice to emphasize getting down the court quickly off of defensive rebounds in transition and Irvin epitomizes the goal — getting down the floor in four seconds — in most of these plays.

Off ball movement

This clip is a beauty to watch just to focus on Zak Irvin’s off ball movement. It’s one thing to catch and shoot from a stationary position, but Irvin has been excellent catching and shooting on the move.

Here we see everything from a basic pin-down curl to a fake backdoor cut followed by a pin-down and some nice down screens to free Irvin at the top of the key. Irvin does a great job of cutting to setup his screens and his elevation on his jumpshot makes finishing the play easy.

Diversified game

Some might still want to see more from this area of Irvin’s game, and I suspect we will as the season wears on, but he’s already shown progress of being more versatile and aggressive offensive player.

“Zak Irvin now, he only shot it when he had it last year. Now, it’s a different deal. He’s seeing the floor, he’s doing some good things, he’s driving down the lane, kick it in the corner,” Beilein said. “There’s a whole development going on. This is what teachers love, is to watch it — although it’s painful sometimes.”

The three examples in this clip are plays that Irvin has already made in two games that he wouldn’t make last year:

  1. A strong drive to the rim to exploit a poor closeout.
  2. A dribble hand off ball screen jumper from 19-feet.
  3. A smooth one-dribble pull up on the wing.

Bottom Line

Zak Irvin is in the perfect position to have a monster season. He’s rarely going to be the first name on the opposition scouting report, yet he might lead the team in points and field goal attempts. Irvin doesn’t have to worry about creating offense for other players because Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton will handle that. John Beilein’s offense was designed to create shots for players like Irvin, who can pass, cut and finish all over the floor.

These clips are just the basics. Beilein has mentioned that the Wolverines are still behind in installing their offense and as they do the possibilities will be endless to get Zak Irvin the ball in positions where he can score.

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  • UMHoopsFan

    This is why it’s sometimes useful to focus on what a player can do vs what he can’t do. When you can do what Zak can do as well as Zak can do it, you can be very useful on a basketball court, especially to a coach with JB’s offensive chops.

    • Also makes it easier for guys like Caris and Derrick to operate. Can use Irvin’s presence to create spacing in other areas of the floor.

      • UMHoopsFan

        Good point. The “big three” complement each other well.

        • NorthernBlue

          And they have great chemistry with eachother. You can tell they all know each others spots really well. When one gets the ball dished to them you will see them attack the close out and dish back to the passer almost without even looking at them.

  • Jon Parrent

    It’s interesting watching the game Monday and having Seth Davis constantly commenting about how he needs to go to the line more. On this team (for this season) is that really important? Maybe that can change as the season progresses? Hardaway was never one to get to the line a ton, and it seems Zak has a similar role….except he’s a better shooter than Hardaway was.

    • UMHoopsFan

      Getting to the line is always helpful, though, you’re right, it’s probably not quite as important to this team as it is to some. Caris and Derrick will probably be better about getting to the line, though Zak’s straight-line drives and transition play could boost his numbers.

      • BigHouseBoyz

        We ranked #224 in FTA last year. In 12-13 we took one more FT than 13-14 (642-641). 300-400 behind the leaders. I like Seth, but just because Seth thinks our guys need to get to the line more doesn’t mean JB does!

        • UMHoopsFan

          We shot 675 FTs last year, and our FTA/FGA was significantly higher last year than in 12-13. And, if you look, Nik, Walton, Caris, and GRIII had much different ratios of FTA/FGA than Zak. I think JB has talked about getting to the line more. That said, I agree with you that others might over-rate the importance of getting to the line in our offernse vs, say, keeping TOs down, and that we’ve done just fine shooting relatively few FTs. Zak is such a good shooter and is so good at getting his shot off that getting him a bunch of good looks is more important than getting to the line. But doing a bit more of the latter probably would be optimal.

          • BigHouseBoyz

            Typo on my part as MGOBLUE shows 691 for last year, we were probably looking at different sites for stats, regardless. Watching the KU v UK game last night, driving too deep is not always a good thing. KU needed to pull up more or kick the ball out for the open shot. The few times they did they had more success (not that they had alot of success). I think not forcing shots and taking what the D gives you is more the JB philosophy. If you have a lane you can drive it all the way, but with very good shooters like we recruit you don’t have to get to the rim. One man’s settling for jump shot, is another man’s open look. Besides, you can’t always rely on the refs to call the foul.

    • NorthernBlue

      Seth Davis is annoying. He completely harped on Zak not driving as much as he liked. Meanwhile the guy shot 8-13 and 50 percent from 3. Stop focusing on what the guy can’t do and pay attention to part of his skill set which is elite. I personally want him taking 6-8 3 point shots a game if hes going to sink close to half of them. 3-8 from 3 point land is efficient offense, and JB’s offense and Zaks ability to get his shot off, that’s probably a realistic statline for him more nights than not.

  • These cutups really are great. Thanks.

    If you listen to Beilein talk about basketball and then watch his kids play, you can really see it what he talks about.

    Point #1, catch it with two hands and land on two feet when you’re going up strong. The first two plays of the Transition cutup, Irvin does both of those things, seemingly with a lot of intent.

    Then after Beilein says something to the effect that they hadn’t been able to put in very much of the offense because the kid’s are struggling some, you watch Irvin make two straight simple little fake backdoor cuts only to pop straight up the lane for a catch and shoot. He still kills with the first level plays.

    Finally, I just laugh every time i sees the clip of Spike dribbling circles around em.

  • John

    Agree and disagree. Irvin looks to have refined his game. He is better at driving to the basket but this is mostly a result of being given a more prominent role on the offense.
    I guarantee you that if Irvin had the same team last year as he has this year he would be doing some of the same things, albeit better from practice and maturity.
    He looks better but he could do almost everything he is doing this year if he was given free reign last year. He was restricted by his role last year. Stauskas was the guy who was given the o.k. to drive to the hoop plus LeVert or Walton.
    Nothing about what Irvin is doing right now surprises me in the least because I saw the same thing in his high school film.

    • Chris De Sana

      Agree and disagree…. we all know handle is all about confidence and Zak appears to have more of it this year than last so that naturally will help his over all game. Also need to take into consideration that coach seems to have told Zak that this year he has the ultimate green light to shoot in volumes.

  • Paul Anderberg

    Can we say yet: “He’s more than just a shooter?”

  • Chris De Sana

    Nice write up but do not agree with the comment in regards to his name being at the top of the scouting report. Iffffff he continues to be a volume shooter with great success he will be at the top of the scouting report. I am hopeful his great shooting continues and that it leads to more dump down passes to our bigs because their development will determine our destiny.