For Kameron Chatman, ‘less is more’

Alejandro Zúñiga

Perhaps the most surprising part of Kameron Chatman’s struggles this year stem from just how much he was hyped in the first place — not only by his top-40 ranking as a recruit, but by the Michigan coaching staff themselves.

When the Wolverines traveled to Italy last summer, Chatman struggled shooting, but John Beilein was quick to heap praise on the wing, who exhibited a solid all-around game overseas.

“His basketball IQ has been outstanding,” Beilein said before the trip. “He’s picked up some of our concepts and some of our actions as quickly as anybody we’ve ever had. He’s been very productive as far as his talk and his knowledge of the game.”

Even in the weeks and days leading up to the season opener, the coach said Chatman had immediately graded out as a rotation player and was in the process of competing for a starting role. At the time, Beilein expressed his excitement that the forward would bring a new offensive wrinkle because of both his left-handedness and his versatility.

“He’s going to play both forward positions, and, if we ever got stuck, he could play in the backcourt,” Beilein said. “He has done some really good things, and all of the freshmen are okay. What happens when we string two or three weeks together? …  When we can put practices back-to-back, it’s going to be really exciting to see his development.”

Four months later, Chatman has lost his spot as a starter and has played 20 or more minutes just twice in the last 15 games. Even as Michigan has endured injuries to Derrick Walton and Caris LeVert, the freshman hasn’t gotten significant time in the backcourt, either. Perhaps most unexpectedly given Beilein’s preseason comments, Chatman seems to have struggled more than the other freshmen in grasping the offensive system.

The result is a player who is shooting just 29.9% from the floor, including 21.2% from three-point range. His jumper is essentially a non-factor, and many of his 24 turnovers come from reckless drives to the basket — from the left or right.

kam chat

Chatman isn’t a plus defender, either — not like Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who Beilein says has established himself as Michigan’s best.

While Beilein admitted earlier this month that Chatman had perhaps “hit a wall,” there were positive moments against Ohio State. Most notably, the freshman went 3-for-3 in the first half, each time attacking the basket in a controlled fashion and finishing through traffic.

“Sometimes, less is more,” assistant LaVall Jordan said Monday night on the team’s weekly radio show. “He wasn’t tape-delayed.”

That’s a metaphor Beilein has used all season for the freshmen. It clicked for Aubrey Dawkins against Illinois, and for Abdur-Rahkman against the Spartans. Chatman hasn’t had that game yet; any positives have been quickly wiped out — often in the same game — by rookie-level mistakes.

And despite many frustrating moments, the Ohio State game wasn’t the only time that Michigan fans got a taste of what Chatman can do. Against Syracuse, in one of Michigan’s bigger wins of the season, he got in the middle of the 2-3 zone and made some big shots, finishing with 10 points, nine rebounds and two assists.

The talent is there — at least, if you believe rankings and Beilein’s glowing preseason evaluations. If the forward’s issues are with comfort level, those will presumably dissipate with time.

For a brief period, Michigan fans got a taste of the hype. They saw the acrobatic moves to the basket and the strong finishes. On Sunday, momentarily, the expectations became reality.

“They’ve been working so hard in practice. Kam continues to make progress,” Beilein said after the win. “Where some people may be dialing back in their practice right now, we’re actually practicing more with those guys because they need this fundamental work.

“So trying to use every valuable minute. Kam, it certainly showed off today. He was very efficient with his game, except maybe the last turnover.”

Though Chatman’s freshman campaign has ultimately been underwhelming, the potential still remains and his development will be critical for the Michigan program over the coming weeks and months.

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  • anonymous

    Wow. What I find interesting is the way Beilein talks about some guys needing lot’s of fundamental work. This is for a top 50 player. Every kid needs work especially this recent class but this is on Beilein.
    Beilein may have finally seen the light on taking so many work in progress types. Beilein likes guys who haven’t quite reached their ceiling (his words/paraphrasing). Well, he got exactly what he wanted but maybe they are closer to the floor than their ceiling.
    Love Beilein but this could be a lesson to him and his staff.

    • Madrox

      I’m confused. What kind of player is a high school basketball player who has already reached their “ceiling” and why would Beilein want to recruit them?

      Of the 13 players recruited in the last three years (not counting Hatch) the only ones who haven’t lived up to or really exceeded expectations are who? Chatman, maybe Donnel and maybe Irvin? That is pretty good scouting and developing to me. Chatman was a highly rated recruit who hasn’t lit the world on fire his freshman year, it happens, it doesn’t mean he is a bust nor does it mean Beilein made a mistake recruiting him. There is no larger recruiting lesson for Beilein and company to learn.

      • anonymous

        The lesson is to get guys who are more polished as players. Sounds to me like Chatman is closer to his floor than his ceiling and Beilein might want guys who aren’t so raw.
        Chatman shouldn’t be so raw based on his ranking whereas some of these other guys are definitely raw based on their play and rankings.

        • Madrox

          I still don’t understand where the deeper recruiting lesson for Beilein is in Chatman’s struggles.

          I’m sure Beilein would have loved a more polished player like Blackmon or Booker, but they chose to go elsewhere. One highly rated freshmen struggles during a down year for Michigan and you say Beilein might want to start looking at a different type of recruit?

          Given Beilein’s record as a coach and a teacher of the game, I will take as many Chatman level recruits as he can get. Some will work out, some what, that’s the nature or projecting the future of high school basketball players, but if he keeps recruiting kids on Chatmans recruiting level it bodes well for the future of Michigan basketball.

          • anonymous

            Legitimate point. Some guys don’t pan out. The deeper lesson is to get more high level guys rather than more raw guys who need development.
            Chatman still looked raw offensively coming off the AAU circuit.

          • Madrox

            That’s fair, I don’t know much about Chatman and his game pre Michigan. For whatever reason Michigan hasn’t closed on many really high level guys the last couple years, so I am happy Chatman chose Michigan and still have high hopes for his development. He has not played well out of the gate, but maybe that means Michigan might actually have a quality, talented player for more than two years.

          • Mattski

            I thin that Chatman looked like a under-developed guy with serious upside. Beilein and the coaches thought that he could fit/they could develop him. When they can wave a wand and get anyone they want, let us know. Meanwhile, it looks to me like they have uncovered one rough diamond after another. For me it makes the ride more fun. Especially as someone who’s proud of the fact that UM is foremost a school, I’ll take it over Cal and UK now and forever.

          • Mattski

            . . . whether I can spell or not.

          • anonymous

            Maybe Beilein and staff can’t get anybody they want but they haven’t been killing it on the recruiting trail lately and are paying the price. Maybe they won’t land the majority of guys but a few more guys like Stauskas and Robinson III should be the standard and not the new Robinson, Dawkins and Abdur-Rahkman.
            Recruiting is tough but it’s part of being successful at this level. No need to kill it like Kentucky the last class had way too many fliers. All of these guys except maybe Doyle are limited in a couple of areas who need significant work.
            Even Doyle needs some work like most guys but everyone else has some significant liabilities. More so than a Stauskas or Robinson or McGary.
            All these kids need improvement but some much more than others. Walton was much more ahead of the curve than Abdur-Rahkman. Stauskas much more advanced than Dawkins. Robinson much more advanced than Chatman.
            Etc. Etc.

    • Beilein has harped on skill development since he got to Ann Arbor. This is nothing new.

    • Adam Guiney

      All players Chatman’s age need to focus on skill development, this could be applied to any 18/19 year old kid. Further, if I remember correctly Chatman sat out at least one HS season due to a transfer, so he has played less organized hoops than some his age. Further he’s not even 19. His performance to date hasn’t met expectations, but I let’s not rush to conclusions. There is plenty for time for him to become a solid contributor.

      And I don’t think Kam Chatman’s performance through 25 games is enough to change a Coach’s recruiting philosophy that has been built over 25 years and proven to be pretty successful at every stop he’s been.

  • Mattski

    Still a newbie to some of these development issues, but finishing impressively through traffic on all three of the series in that first video is probably something that Beilein and co. figured that KamChat would bring to the table. Operating within the dictates of the offense, maybe a different story and challenge? Would love to see Dylan do some analysis of how Beilein has altered his game plan this year over last year–know there was talk of him dusting off some of his early offenses. . .

    I still think that Chatman is going to be a fine ballplayer. And I’m not even so sure that we can assert that his troubles stem from lack of understanding–execution, hesitation, even bashfulness may all play their roles with a freshman player. We always make the mistake of thinking that these guys are completed products. No one saw MAAR as such a great defender early, either.

  • mikey_mac

    Chatman is such an obvious Camp Sanderson/sophomore break-out candidate. He needs some lift and some strength, some work on his jumpshot, and the confidence from a stable offseason on campus, which should now be a comfortable, familiar setting.

  • anonymous

    I am starting to believe Chatman may not be completely right for the #4 spot if he can’t become an effective shooter.
    Chatman is starting to look like the big guard Magic Johnson type. A guy who couldn’t shoot very well early from the perimeter but could see the floor, over the top of guys. Not saying Chatman is 1% as good as Magic but the style of a different offense would be better for him.
    Just giving my honest assessment. If he can’t shoot then he is going to struggle in this offense. As I mentioned before, teams should just sag off him and beg him to shoot.


      I completely agree! I have been asking to see him play the “Point Forward” spot for some time. I think it would really benefit the offense and maybe give Spike and MAAR the opportunity to make a good second pass to the post which I feel has been lacking lately. I can’t wait for him to put on some weight and hopefully post some people up next year and make some great skip passes next year. I still think he is the most versatile recruit Beilein has had, although Dawkin is impressing me more and more each game too.

    • Not being able to shoot is a flaw in any offense.

      I don’t disagree that his greatest strength is his ability to pass, but that’ll come with time too. Right now he’s shown his passing ability and vision, but he can’t quite be trusted to make the right pass, not turn it over and not force a shot.

      That’ll come with time. The wing position in this offense is meant to be a spot that can create, just like the three, especially for a natural lefty.

      • rlcBlue

        With Chatman’s ability to rebound, handle the ball, and pass, he does have the potential to lead many fast breaks. In that way, his game may someday resemble Magic’s.

        I see no reason to completely give up on his shooting, though. He’s now hitting 21% of his threes. To drag in another former Sparty for comparison, Draymond Green only made 11% of his threes in his first two seasons. He then shot 38% as an upperclassman. Am I allowed to point out that he didn’t turn 19 until March of his freshman year?

        • Not ready to compare Kam to Day Day yet, but I’ll always remember Green getting whistled for five fouls in about five minutes vs. North Carolina during his freshman year.

          • rlcBlue

            Yeah, I wanted them to be more similar than they are. Green was always a great passer but was basically a post player who learned to play on the outside. His official playing weight was 235 as a freshman, 230 as a senior. I seem to remember a lot of baby fat turning to muscle, though. I don’t remember him being any more of a leaper than Chatman.

            We don’t know if Kam has finished growing, but he certainly has room to add more muscle. If he has any post-up game at all I haven’t seen it yet. Still, his passing and ball-handling are intriguing. Having guys who can beat their man without a ball-screen is really valuable when the shooters are forcing the defense to spread out and cover the floor. Kam and MoRock have both shown signs of this ability.

    • mikey_mac

      I don’t see the guard talk at all. His handle is good for his size, but is not nearly what is required of a perimeter ball-handler. I think he’ll put on enough strength (and hopefully some ups) to be a dynamic, jack-of-all-trades wing player who meshes well with the Beilein system.

  • JimC

    That #17 ranking the week of the Syracuse game….wow that was a long time ago. Back in the days when MAAR and Dawkins barely played. Seems like a different season altogether now.

  • I’m not too worried about Chatman, Even when he’s doing bonehead stuff, you can see the handle and the athletic ability. There isn’t a lot of big athletic help coming at you at the high school level, Chatman against his previous competition could beat a guy off the dribble and just cruise to the rim. That isn’t going to happen in this league all that often as there is always s big body coming to help out, eager to put you on your touche’.

    He’ll get bigger, stronger, a little quicker and the world around him will appear to slow down a bunch. He’s an eager rebounder and a solid finisher with a the ability to distribute. We’ll all be real glad we have him before this is over.

    Although, on the best day he will ever have in his dreams, he’s no Magic Johnson.

    • AADave

      Hey don’t kill his dreams man!

  • Manny Fresh

    I just don’t want him to get discouraged by a lack of PT and decide to transfer. i really believe that he can make a big leap and be a good player for this team next year

  • NorthernBlue

    I think the biggest reason why Kam has struggled is the speed of the game. He’s young and he played at a very low level in comparison to almost all of the players he plays with and against. Definitely has talent, and if he sticks with it, I believe he can be really improved as a sophomore and valuable player.