Mailbag: Flexible positions, Abdur-Rahkman, rebounding, shoe recruiting & more

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. 

 Where does Max end up & was it mutual or more one side saying “No thx”?

Brendan Quinn has been all over this one at MLive. The decision appears to have been Michigan’s:

“I did tell the coaches that I did want to come back to Michigan,” Bielfeldt said. “But at the end of the day things didn’t work out and we both decided to move on.”

Bielfeldt added, “I told (coaches) that I wanted to stay (and) Michigan was my first choice but as time went on I had to explore other options.”

Bielfeldt won his appeal to transfer within the Big Ten, so that option is on the table, but he has also visited Iowa State and DePaul.

: How important is the apparel deal to b-ball recruiting? Nike is a monster in this sport. Would UA hamper us vs. Adidas/Nike?

Nike still has the best summer circuit and is an innovator in the summer basketball space. It was Nike that created the Elite Youth Basketball League and formalized summer basketball while Under Armour (Under Armour Association) and Adidas (Adidas Gauntlet) have been playing catch up ever since.

Do shoe companies affect recruitments? Of course they do, but so do agents, handlers, parents, friends, uncles, guardians and just about anything else.

Michigan’s most recent high profile commitments — Kameron Chatman and Tyus Battle — both played for high-profile Nike EYBL teams. Chatman’s dad even coaches the Nike sponsored team that Chatman played for while Battle’s AAU program was profiled in this New York Times piece. Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin and Mark Donnal all played for adidas sponsored teams while the SYF Players that gave Michigan Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III and Spike Albrecht are now sponsored by Under Armour.

There are widely publicized examples and conspiracy theories of ‘shoe discrimination’ in the recruiting world. Jaylen Brown told reporters that he would “probably go to an adidas school” and then turned around and picked Cal, a Nike school, a few months later. The top prospect on the Under Armour circuit, Diamond Stone, ended up at the top Under Armour school, Maryland. Of course, Stone denies that had anything to do with his choice. Maverick Rowan is another great example. He switched from an adidas to a Nike AAU program and now his coaches won’t even let him discuss Louisville in public interviews.

Shoe companies undeniably have an influence in recruiting, but at the end of the day Michigan is going to choose an apparel sponsor because of the money the deal brings in and the quality of the equipment. It’s not like Michigan is going to start reeling in every five-star recruit if it chooses Nike or Under Armour or lose every five-star recruiting because it picks adidas.

: Does Beilein reconsider his offensive rebounding strategy given the size on next years roster?

Nope. Michigan might have more length, but the game of basketball hasn’t changed and Beilein’s philosophies haven’t either. The Wolverines under Beilein have always been more interested in maximizing possessions by avoiding turnovers, rather than crashing for second chances. Michigan doesn’t focus on offensive rebounding because it prefers to prioritize transition defense and I don’t expect that to change.

Despite having more size and length on the roster, there isn’t really anyone on the roster that I would consider a great rebounder. Defensive rebounding is what I’m worried about and that’s the statistic to follow next season. Ricky Doyle struggled in that regard, but the re-addition of Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton — two above-average rebounding guards — should help.

: How does Rahkman fit in the rotation for these next few years?

Colby: Is MAAR a SG, or a PG, long term? I ask because, we’ve seen a lot of Beilein players move down a position as they increase in skill and the spots open up. Stauskas from 3 to 2, LeVert from 3-2, Irvin has been learning the 2 also, and Caris the 1. We’ve also seen mention that Chatman could slide from the 4, to the 2 or even 1 if needed.

In my book, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman is a shooting guard for the foreseeable future. The off guard is admittedly very similar to the point guard in Michigan’s offense, but he just hasn’t shown the sort of passing ability to play the point guard spot right now. As long as Derrick Walton and Spike Albrecht are around, he probably won’t need to anyways.

You’re probably asking the question wondering if Abdur-Rahkman can serve as the backup point guard as a junior when Walton is a senior and then potentially step into that role full-time as a senior. If that was the case, Michigan could potentially wait to take a point guard until the class of 2017.

I don’t see it because I’m not sure it’s best for Abdur-Rahkman’s development or Michigan as a team. For example, Caris LeVert has point guard type skills, but I’d rather have a traditional point guard alongside him. I think we’ll see Abdur-Rahkman develop into a player that can play point guard in a pinch, but I’m not sure if he’ll be considered a point guard.

In the near-term, he’s in a very tricky spot. He showed a lot as a freshman, but where does he find playing time with Derrick Walton, Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert vying for minutes at the one and two spots? He needs to earn his minutes with his perimeter defense and isolation skills and I think he certainly has a chance, but it will be an uphill battle.

: If (when?) Moe Wagner joins the team, does he immediately join the starting lineup? Will Doyle see a remarkable improvement over summer?

From the limited highlights available online, Wagner clearly has some talent. The consensus on his game is that he’s more of a face up four man that can stick the occasional jumper, but is most comfortable driving to the basket and slashing. That’s certainly a good skillset, but Michigan is loaded with players who stand 6-foot-7 and up and can do some of those same things. The transition from German U19 basketball to the college game — on and off the court — also could provide some challenges.

Considering Michigan returns eight players who started at least 13 games last year, I have a hard time penciling any newcomer into the starting lineup. I think Wagner and DJ Wilson are really battling for that stretch four/slide to the five role and there’s a real opportunity for some playing time there — but probably not as a starter.

Best guess at positions for ’15-16? Does Robinson compete at the 4? Dawkins any time at 2? Etc.

Zak Irvin, Aubrey Dawkins, Kameron Chatman, Duncan Robinson, DJ Wilson and Moritz Wagner are the guys that I see as multi-positional on Michigan’s roster. The tricky part of that is that we’ve only seen three of those six play meaningful minutes for Michigan.

It’s also important to remember that the three and the four positions — offensively — are the same thing on opposite sides of the floor. The shift from the three to the two or the four to the five is what I would consider ‘changing positions’ within Beilein’s offense. The way Michigan’s roster is setup, the shift to the two requires a certain level of passing and ballhandling while the shift to the five is going to be based on some combination of desperation or need and defensive potential.

Let’s run through those six ‘flex’ players and look at what positions they can play:

  • Zak Irvin (3/4/2): The last two or three weeks of 2014-15 changed my entire outlook for Zak Irvin. Suddenly he looked like a multi-dimensional guy that can be productive off of the bounce and, most importantly, find his teammates with the pass. He can play the three, four and two — probably in that order — this season and it’s important to remember that he was also the guy tasked with guarding opposing fours last season.
  • Aubrey Dawkins (3/4): Offensively, Dawkins needs to show a lot more before he can move down in the lineup. His freshman year was similar to Zak Irvin’s freshman year in that he didn’t show the passing skills that you would like to see from a Division I guard. He handed out just 11 assists in 620 minutes last season so I don’t see him moving to the two anytime soon.
  • Kameron Chatman (4/3): For Chatman, I think the key is to walk before he can run. I suspect he’ll continue to focus on playing the four spot — which allows the natural lefty to drive from right to left with his strong hand — and start to refine his game.
  • Duncan Robinson (3/4): Beilein has been quoted saying that Robinson can play almost any position, but this year it seems like he’ll be in the mix at the three and four spots with Irvin, Dawkins and Chatman. He has the reputation of a shooter, but the questions that will determine where he plays are: How does his passing compare to Michigan’s other wings? Can he defend threes or fours?
  • DJ Wilson (4/5): The company line on DJ Wilson has been quite clear: Wilson projects as a four man down the line, but the reality is he’ll probably have to play some five this season. Wilson has more length than anyone on the roster and the road to playing time is much easier at the five spot.
  • Moritz Wagner (4/5): Wagner probably fits in a similar spot to DJ Wilson when he arrived on campus before last year where he needs to add significant weight before he can really play the five.

: Where does the 4th ’16 slot (PG) come from? Austin Davis prep year or an unexpected early entry?

Attrition is a very real part of college basketball. Michigan has lost six players to early entry over the last few years and Jeff Goodman’s transfer list grows every year with hundreds of Division I transfers every season. Projecting that there will be attrition at some point is easy, projecting who and when isn’t.

Michigan has rarely used its full allotment of 13 scholarships under John Beilein and as I’ve written time and time again, these things have a way of working themselves out. Early entry is always a possibility although it would probably take a pretty big leap for Zak Irvin to catapult his way into that conversation. There are some major logjams on the 2015-16 roster which make it unlikely that there will be enough minutes to go around next season.

Does locking up a guy like Battle increase the chances to get a top target like Winston?

It certainly doesn’t hurt. Good players want to play with other good players and they develop relationships at various camps and events. I’m not aware of any close connection between Battle and Cassius Winston or Quentin Goodin, but these guys all know each other. They were all at Michigan’s College Practice Camp last June and they will end up at many of the same summer events and camps.

  • UMHoopsFan

    Great thorough answers Dylan. I could see Robinson playing some at the 2, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Irvin or Robinson getting the backup minutes at the 2 this season. I think JB will want to get minutes for Chatman, Wilson, and Robinson, and probably Wagner, and that’s one way to do it. I wonder if Rahkman might have a hard time finding minutes next year (and beyond, especially if Michigan gets a ’16 PG).

  • Another Bielfeldt update… Visiting Nebraska

    • Ernie Silverthorn

      I think Max would be a great fit for Nebraska. I think Tim Miles would love him and he’d get a lot of playing time with everyone they’ve lost. Of course, my choice would have been for him to stay at Michigan, but I’m sure there are things happening behind the scenes that none of us know.

      • mikey_mac

        I suspect that Max coming back would have been a problem for Wilson, as third-string 5 is where a lot of Wilson’s minutes this year will come.
        That said, if Doyle gets hurt, this team will sorely miss Max.

  • Lanknows

    That 3-4 breakdown — on point. Nice work Dylan.

    I think you have to go into the season assuming that Irvin and Dawkins start at the 3/4, but Dawkins versatility could make him a better fit of the bench — first man in regardless of who comes out between 2-4. Kind of like Irvin was in 2014 and Caris was in 2013.

    So who is the ‘other’ starter? I think it could very well be Chatman. Using him as a starter would take scoring pressure off him, let him just take the easy looks created by the big 3, and working hard on the defensive end. Focus on ‘walking before he runs’ as Dylan puts it is right, and sometimes that’s easier if you have a very clear role, as opposed to coming off the bench with a bunch of different lineups around you.

    The other side of that argument is that the depth across the roster lets Michigan go away from a “first-guy-off-the-bench” format into a position-based “next man up” mentality. They could bring in MAAR for Caris, Chatman for Irvin, and Robinson for Dawkins for example…

    As for Wilson – future 4 or not, I could see him really develop in that backup 5 role and even eventually pass Donnal. There was a time when Jordan Morgan appeared to be the 3rd string center behind McGary and Horford… it’s going to depend on who can play better defense.

    The one other bit that’s missing from the positional flexibility conversation is Spike. I find it hard to imagine that 40 minutes is sufficient for Spike and Derrick combined and I think there is a real chance that both are out there in crunch time, especially when Michigan is down. Caris certainly has plenty of experience at the ‘3’. Beilein’s always been a guy who will play his best players, and in some cases that will mean Spike: in, Aubrey and company: out.

  • winners choice

    Coach Belie has said Duncan Robinson will not play the four but can play the 3,2 and the 1. He must have showcased some serious skills during practice. I love our versatility now.

    MAAR is a better passer than given credit for and his speed and offensive is very good. He attacks but can also dish. A majority of the passes made were resulted with missed threes but he did make some nice passes.

    If Dawkins can improve his handle. Look out. I wish coach would’ve let Max come back but I don’t this k that we would’ve landed Battle if we did. He family is loaded and I suppose that he could walk on but he showed enough skill to land in a scholarship at a a good school.

    Mark these words down…. KAM CHATMAN will make a major leap, especially if he gets stronger and improve his jumper. I can’t wait to see how the battle will go down for years to come!

  • bobohle

    The practices will be competitively awesome.

  • NIcks

    Re Attrition: If I had to pick one player to leave after this season it would be Aubrey Dawkins… to the NBA *ducks*

  • Champswest

    From what I have seen, everyone but Doyle can play more than one position and probably will this year (except Donnal, we have enough 4s). The potential line-ups are endless. Name your preferred line-up (mine is Walton, LeVert, Irvin, Chatman and Doyle) and you will likely see it sometime this year.

    • UMTigersWingsLions

      Caris, DW, Zak, Doyle, KC…same

  • Wayman Britt

    Trying to find enough minutes for players who are good enough to play sure is a nice problem for Beilien. Beats trying to win in the Big Ten with walkons filling in for injuried players.

  • Wayman Britt

    Mr. Cassius Winston:

    I hope you enjoyed your visit today in Ann Arbor. I understand both UM and MSU are high on your list of potential schools, while MSU is a great basketball program here are somethings you should ponder:

    1. Beilein will improve every facet of your game for professional bball
    2. Beilien doesn’t hold point guards back
    3. Come join Battle and be part of the best guard tantum in college
    4. The staff at UM is disciplined, but won’t be constantly yelling at players
    5. No offense to Northwestern, but UM is the best academic university in the Big Ten

    • UMTigersWingsLions

      Winston would be a niiiice get

  • Mattski

    I’m thinking that Bacari’s tweet about Wilson being a legit 6 11 may point to why Max isn’t coming back.

    Beilein and co. didn’t just sit around and say ‘hey, let’s cut off our nose(s) to spite our face(s).’ They believe in the guys they’re going to have in the fold.

  • Felix

    Noah Dickerson granted release from Florida. Would Michigan jumped in? I remember he was on the list.

  • I’m pleased to read somebody else holding the opinion that Chatman can play the 2 or even the 1. People are way too negative on this kid. He played most of his HS career as a guard, and not an incredibly big one at that. I think that everything gets easier and better for Cameron Chatman, the closer he sets up to the top of the key. He, has a real nice handle, is a born passer and with his size, you can’t deny him looking. I think Beilein goes to work on his shot and his whole world changes as he moves away from the 4 or R or whatever it is we call that particular position.