Mailbag: Rotation, DJ Wilson, Max Bielfeldt & Kameron Chatman

Dylan Burkhardt

The UM Hoops Mailbag is a collection of questions tweeted (@umhoops), e-mailed or sent via our Facebook page. Submit your questions and we’ll answer as many as we can. 

@schnell_max: I think this is a general one but people want to know….most likely starting line up? First 3 off the bench?

I’ll go with Derrick Walton, Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin, Aubrey Dawkins and Ricky Doyle as the starting lineup although I could potentially see Aubrey Dawkins coming off the bench.

Limiting the bench to three is where things become difficult. Spike Albrecht is a shoe in as the backup point guard as long as he’s healthy. Mark Donnal is the only true backup five man so he has to factor in. Beyond that you have Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Kam Chatman, Duncan Robinson, DJ Wilson and even Moritz Wagner as potential rotation players.

Abdur-Rahkman has the most experience, but he’s backing up an NBA player. Duncan Robinson is the best shooter of the bunch while Kam Chatman is probably the best passer. DJ Wilson and Moritz Wagner are unknowns, but they could be the x-factor in the puzzle and feature somewhere in the frontcourt.

A few months ago, Michigan was bringing walk-ons off the bench in Big Ten games. Now they are almost certain to have one of John Beilein’s deepest teams. There are pretty decent arguments that could be made for anyone in that group to play a major role on this team, but it’s almost impossible to argue that everyone I listed will play a significant role because there are only so many minutes to go around.

@jmstern23: Does D.J Wilson have a better future at the 4 or 5? Seems like both positions will be tough to crack the rotation this year.

Great question and the answer will probably shift over time. John Beilein spoke about Wilson last week and noted that he could play inside this year while shifting outside as his career wears on.

“DJ had a tremendous redshirt year and, I think, if he plays in the middle, this will be the only year he probably ever played in the middle,” Beilein explained last week. “He showed us down the stretch … he can be valuable in that position as well. He’s a natural forward, but, as you know, we can play small at times.”

Michigan has just two natural five men on the roster in Ricky Doyle and Mark Donnal and getting a quality 40 minutes per night from that duo might be a tall task. Beyond that, you have to look at players that probably should be playing the four. Can DJ Wilson or Moritz Wagner fill that void? You can bet that they’ll get a chance.

We only saw Wilson log 24 minutes as a freshman. He never quite looked like he knew completely what was going on so it’s difficult to judge his game overall, but to me he looked much more like a player who could add weight and play small ball minutes at the five than a wing who was ready to make a serious impact on the perimeter.

Bacari Alexander compared his role to Evan Smotrycz’s during his time at Michigan.

“D.J. is a multi-skilled forward,” Bacari Alexander recently told the Free Press. “It’s very difficult to just peg him at the center position or at the power forward position. I think he’ll do a little bit of both. On some level I always joke about him being very similar to (Evan) Smotrycz. Smotrycz played for us on that right side (forward) then he migrated later in the year to the center position just to give us a guy to stretch the defense on the pick and pop scenario. D.J.’s role will be very similar.”

@FJFerrick: Why can’t Max Bielfeldt get the open scholarship ?

There’s nothing stopping Max from coming back to fill the open scholarship, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if both parties were just ready to move on at this point.

Bielfeldt could transfer somewhere else and play more significant minutes or play a traditional power forward role. From Michigan’s point of view, the future has to become the present sooner than later. Would having DJ Wilson or Moritz Wagner play Max Bielfeldt’s minutes help Michigan more down the road?

Those are the questions that everyone involved and right now it seems like the odds of that happening are low.

“I don’t even know,” Bielfeldt told MLive on Monday. “I’ve just been looking to see what else is out there. If this (situation did come up), I knew I’d have to take it for what it is. If I end up making a decision here in the next week or so and nothing pops up Michigan-wise, then I’ll move on.

“(I haven’t talked with Beilein about it) since the scholarship opened up.”

@YpsiTuckyBoy: What does Kam Chatman need to focus on the most this offseason?

The jumpshot is an obvious area as Kam made just 26% of his threes and shot easily a dozen jumpers that never even looked like they had a chance of going in. But I think it’s possible for Kam to succeed even with a below-average jumper.

The real key for Chatman is to allow the game to slow down and make the right play every trip down the court. He would show glimpses of his potential during his freshman year, but there was usually a mistake a few possessions later on one end of the floor.

I love his passing ability and think he has the ability to turn that into a real weapon, but he needs to be able to keep opposing defenses more honest by improving his finishing. Last year he shot just 41% at the rim and that’s a huge concern. He needs to be able to finish at the four spot, because of the residual action and cuts that can lead to baskets at that position. A year of added strength and training should help as he starts to get some of those scooping layups out of his system and starts to finish strong.

@Jack_Cardinal: ceiling and floor for next year?

I’m going to define ‘floor’ as where this team should finish with a roughly average season. Last year proved that a few injuries and bad breaks can pretty much shatter any season, but let’s say the floor is a ‘realistic expectation’.

I’d set the expectation somewhere around the top half of the Big Ten and comfortably in the NCAA tournament with around a 5 or 6 seed. That seems realistic for this group which has as much experience, and potentially depth, as any of John Beilein’s teams in recent years and still should have enough top-end talent to compete.

When we start talking about a ceiling, the question becomes whether there’s enough talent to win a Big Ten Championship or make a deep run in the NCAA tournament on the roster. Can this team win the Big Ten? 2011 taught me to never say never, but I would be surprised. I think they can compete in that top group, but some of the talent in the upper echelon of the league is impressive this year. Michigan’s lack of proven low-post options is a major concern is the limiting factor of this team’s potential. If Michigan is going to shatter expectations it’s going to be because one of the big men make a massive leap this summer.

  • jkuofm27

    Just reading this article made me think of Denzel Valentine as a potential comparison for Chatman. He had similar high hopes, but poor execution, some pretty terrible shooting and bigger body, but guard like skills. Valentine has rounded into a pretty decent point forward with range.

    • Interesting comparison.. Not sure I see it completely (have always been a big Valentine fan), but Valentine is definitely a guy that has struggled with consistency through the years. I think Valentine was always more of a guard than Kam has been, but I can see at least some similarities.

      • UMHoopsFan

        I’ve thought this was a good comparison too. Chatman played a lot of point in HS and AAU, and certainly had the ball in his hands a lot, and the transition for a guy used to doing a lot/making plays can sometimes be harder than for a guy shooting threes, for example. Valentine shot pretty poorly (28% from 3) and had a bunch of TOs his freshman year too.

        • AC1997

          The person I compare Kam to right now is Willie Mitchel…..which I hope doesn’t last long. That comparison is eerie when you think about shooting, athleticism, finding a position, and washing out. Hopefully we forget about that starting this fall.
          When I brough up concerns with Kam over at MGoBlog a while back someone jumped in with a comparison to MSU’s Draymond Green. He was sort of a small PF with ball handling and passing skills who started slow and took 4 full years to turn into a college star and then a couple more to flourish in the NBA. There are definite comparisons based on skill set, body type/size, positions, and even an awkward freshman year. But Green could always rebound, even when he didn’t know how to shoot. I know people say that Kam is a great passer, but I still haven’t seen that one skill he can lean on while he develops the rest of his game. For Aubrey, Rahk, Doyle, Robinson, etc. you can figure out what one skill earns them minutes on the court. Hopefully they figure out what Kam’s is.

          • UMHoopsFan

            I guess Green was also a PF and he didn’t shoot 3s at all his first couple years, but ended up being a kind of point forward type. I could see the comparison, though as you note Green was always more of a big.

            In general, I see Chatman as someone with quite a high ceiling, much more so than MAAR, for instance, and I think the staff will give Kam plenty of chance to reach that ceiling. Kam looked really good at times last year, though he was inconsistent. People also seem to forget he was a top 30 recruit with offers from AZ and others, and is very young for his class. A lot depends on his work this summer and showing up with renewed confidence, but I tend to think he’ll find plenty of minutes next year.

      • MAZS

        While there are some similarities, one of the big differences is Valentine’s extreme (and often unwarranted) confidence in himself. I believe Kam has to get some of his swagger back before this comparison will be more apt.

  • UMTigersWingsLions

    I like Aubrey starting over MAAR. He can fil it up. Gives us a little more height.

    • Don’t see MAAR starting with Caris in the equation. Could still see someone else starting at the four just because I think Irvin and Dawkins are very similar players in many regards so maybe you pair one with Chatman or something like that.

    • AC1997

      Aubrey and MAAR play totally different positions. Aubrey is a PF or maybe SF in this offense while MAAR is a defensive SG or maybe emergency PG. I agree with your comment that Aubrey likely has earned lots of minutes while MAAR will have to bide his time behind Levert.

      • Tyrell

        Dawkins is not a 4.

        • AC1997

          In conventional terms you’re correct. In a Beilein offense? Call a 3 or 4 if you want, but I think of him as the 4 when he’s on the court with Irvin. I consider Irvin the 3 because he uses his dribble to create offense while Dawkins parks in the corner most of the time or attacks for a dunk along the baseline. Same situation as GR3 or Novak.
          In the long term I think Dawkins is a 3, but with Levert and Irvin on the floor for 30+ minutes I think he plays mostly 4 until his ball-handling improves and/or one of the bigger guys (Chatman, Wilson, Wagner, Robinson) displaces him.

    • Tyrell

      MAAR is in no way the 6th man. And I can not see Dakich playing unless we are killing people in the preseason.

    • Manny Fresh

      dakich won’t even sniff the floor

  • Mattski

    Wilson, Chatman, Wagner–we have some idea what we’ve got in everyone else, and I’m not sure that it adds up to an elite team. We should be very fluid and overachieve as always, but barring some major contribution from those guys. Guess Doyle is the other guy who might need a breakthrough to up current expectations–if he becomes a night-in, night out 10 point, 8 rebound guy–what do people think? Is that the kind of contribution that would be required?

    None of these things are too far out of the realm of possibility, btw.

    • UMTigersWingsLions

      If we remain healthy all year…final 4!

  • AC1997

    Dylan – Here’s a question for you. It seems like the coaches want to move to a more natural stretch-4 player with how they talked about Wilson, signing Wagner, and how they used Chatman. Yet they have never actually done that while at Michigan (either out of need or desire) and instead relied on smaller guys like Novak, GR3, Dawkins, or Irvin. How do you see that playing out and how on earth do you see those three players earning minutes this year along with Dawkins and Robinson?
    I know people keep saying that Wagner won’t redshirt since he gave up a pro contract, but I don’t see how a freshman big guy with a mediocre shooting touch finds minutes ahead of those names. Likewise, I think Wilson and Chatman will have an uphill battle to take playing time away from Dawkins and Robinson. Dawkins proved he can play, Robinson has college experience and a defined skill (shooting) that will earn him minutes (especially at 6’8″). In fact, only Chatman, Wagner, and Rahk are red-shirt candidates. I bet Beilein gives them the Andrew Dakich offer.

    • MAZS

      If Wagner isn’t going to play right away, then there is no reason for him to come over this year. He can stay and play in Europe this year and come over next year. He has that option when American players (essentially) do not. I believe Rahk will not because of his age and Chatman would likely transfer before red-shirting.

  • bobohle

    It will all shake out in the practices. With minutes on the line,practices will be very competitive. Not like last year when they had to suit up the managers and anyone else at times to have enough bodies to hold a scrimmage. Has Wagner officially signed his letter of intent yet?

  • AC1997

    What do people think the prognosis is for Wilson next year? I originally saw him fighting Donnal for minutes as the back-up center (love the idea of him in the middle of a zone D). But the comments from the coaches seem to suggest that he’s behind and likely not going to see a lot of minutes except as needed.

    • Trask

      They project him as behind Donnal at the 5 because they expect DJ to be competing for starting minutes at the 4

      • MAZS

        Disagree. With Irvin, Dawkins, Chatman and Wagner (and perhaps even Robinson) all able to play the 4, DJ has a better opportunity to get PT at the 5, where the competition is clearly not as deep or strong.

  • Jason Walker

    Can Dakich still take a redshirt and play somewhere else after 4 years at UM?

  • Mark Worthley

    This struck me…

    “Michigan’s lack of proven low-post options is a major concern is the limiting factor of this team’s potential.”

    Does this mean that you don’t think Doyle will make much improvement from last year to this upcoming season?

    • Doyle could and should improve, but Michigan still lacks depth and I’m not really sure what the ceiling there is. I think the ceiling is very high with Michigan’s perimeter talent though, just that the five spot is a major x-factor.

    • UMTigersWingsLions

      A great center would put us at championship level. But, I think Doyle will be very good this year. I hope Donnal makes his mark too. We have these 7 footers coming in the following year.

      • Leslie Hoerwinkle

        “Donnal makes his mark”? Very punny…

  • Leslie Hoerwinkle

    Get ready for the Brent Hibbitts era.