Mailbag: Mentality, Aubrey Dawkins, center rotation, 3-point contest & 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. 

@kennybill32: What is the vibe or talk amongst the players? Big Ten title, Final Four?

The buzz words that I heard quite a bit of last week were that this is a hungry team that wants to get back to the NCAA tournament and make a run.

This is a really unique group because the ‘core four’ (as Beilein likes to refer to the upperclassmen) on the team have really seen it all in terms of success with a Final Four, Elite Eight and Big Ten Championship early on in their careers. Then you have the underclassmen who just have a .500 season under their belts. I think that this group is definitely driven by last season and everything that went wrong and really wants to prove that it was an anomaly.

@JJ_Hanke: Will there be any additions to the 2016 class or will it stay at four?

Brendan Bailey is technically a class of 2016 target, but he’s more like a class of 2018 recruit due to his plans to take a Mormon mission. He had a very good visit to Michigan a couple weeks ago and is set to visit Gonzaga this weekend before closing in on a fall decision.

Other than the potential of signing Bailey, I’d be shocked if Michigan were to add to its class of 2016 haul before the November early signing period. The four man class of Xavier Simpson, Ibi Watson, Jon Teske and Austin Davis fills most of the immediate needs on the roster as things stand today, but it’s impossible to project potential attrition when the leaves turn green in the spring.

Michigan has generally done a good job of keeping its ear to the ground in search of potential late bloomers — Caris LeVert, Spike Albrecht, Aubrey Dawkins, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, etc. — and I would always leave the possibility that things could develop then. One prospect who was thought of as a potential late bloomer is Beachwood, OH wing Maishe Dailey. Dailey took an unofficial visit to Michigan this fall, but is now planning to prep a year after his senior season and join the class of 2017.

@apic91: People keep praising Aubrey Dawkins as the most improved player. What is his ceiling for this year. 15 a game and good d?

15 points per game is a steep ceiling for a guy who is probably going to be Michigan’s third or fourth option offensively. However, I’m convinced the scoring will come — Dawkins scored 16 or more points in five Big Ten games — and it isn’t where I’m most concerned with his development. If Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin play like we expect them to, Dawkins will earn his fair share of open shooting opportunities and will have his fair share of big games. You could put a freshman year Aubrey Dawkins on the floor with those guys and he would have his fair share of scoring outbursts.

But what he didn’t do at a high level last year was defend and rebound on the wing. Dawkins wasn’t a terrible defender last season, but he wasn’t great either. His defensive rebounding rate of 8.5% was worse than Spike Albrecht’s and that’s just not good enough from a 6-foot-6 wing with the highest vertical on the team. With serious competition on the wings, his ability to improve on that side of the court could be what separates him from other wings on the roster vying for playing time.

<ahref=””>WindsorBlue: How do you think the five spot will unfold early this season? Related: do you think Moritz Wagner will be a serious contender for playing time or is he likely headed for a redshirt?

I would say that Ricky Doyle is the day one starter and Mark Donnal and DJ Wilson will both get a crack at the rotation early on. If one of those two can significantly outplay the other than we could see more of a two man rotation. Until someone separates from the pack — I’m on record as liking Wilson’s ceiling, but there’s also a sort of now-or-never ultimatum of giving Donnal a chance early — then everyone should get an opportunity.

As far as Mortiz Wagner goes, it’s still a bit too early to judge. I’ve watched him for an hour of light drills in his first Division I practice in the United States. All freshmen face a learning curve, especially making the move from Germany, and usually reach some sort of exponential growth at some point when everything clicks. I’m not sure when that moment will be for Wagner, but judging by Beilein’s excitement about his game I think it is a moment we should be looking forward to. He’s still very skinny so I’m not sure how feasibly he can play into the rotation at the five, but a few years ago we also saw Evan Smotrycz play the five position as a freshman.

<ahref=””>geoffclarke: Will this team feature an elite (top 3 or 4 in country) offense like they had before last year? How will defensive efficiency look?

Fun question as the drop-off from the best offense in the country in back-to-back years to last year’s struggle was definitely harsh.

I’m not sure if I would project Michigan’s offense in the top five — there are still too many questions about how and if everything can work together — but I can definitely predict that this team can really shoot the ball. Looking down the roster you can easily tab six players that have or easily could shoot 40% or better from three-point range this year in: Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton, Spike Albrecht, Zak Irvin, Aubrey Dawkins and Duncan Robinson.

Will that translate into great offense? History tells us that if you give John Beilein that many shooters then you’ll end up with a great offense, but I’m still in wait and see mode.

@camh007: How is LeVert back to full performance after being hurt last year?

LeVert looked healthy to me in practice on Friday, but there’s probably still some time to go before he’s in full game shape.

The remarkable thing is that since his original surgery he’s been sidelined for roughly six of the last 18 months. He never really found his groove in the 18 games that he played last season, even when healthy, so there’s definitely going to be some rust that has to come off around the edges.

The situation around him is definitely improved from a season ago as his teammates are far more ready to fill their roles than they were last November, but it will be very interesting to see how LeVert plays early on this season.

JBlair52: How do they rank in a 3 point contest?

I’m going to put a disclaimer on this, I’m projecting rankings for a three-point contest and not necessarily the final three-point percentages at the end of the year. How about something like this:

  1. Duncan Robinson
  2. Aubrey Dawkins
  3. Caris LeVert
  4. Zak Irvin
  5. Spike Albrecht
  6. Derrick Walton
  7. Mark Donnal
  8. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman
  9. Moritz Wagner
  10. Kameron Chatman
  11. DJ Wilson
  12. Ricky Doyle

Wayman Britt: We all know Duncan can shoot, but from what you saw and heard will he be able to get his shot off? Especially in the Big Ten, where there are no secrets and we all know certain coaches will face guard him and never leave him open on the perimeter.

He’s not the quickest player on the roster, but he’s 6-foot-8 which should really help him get his shot off. From watching his old film at Williams, he’s also very good at moving without the ball and getting open to create space. Those attributes should translate well, even at this level, especially in a similar offense to what he ran at Williams.

If he shoots the ball well enough to be face guarded on the perimeter for entire possessions offensively, that’s probably a win for Michigan. Robinson isn’t going to be Michigan’s only weapon or primary offensive option, but his threat of a three-point shot should do wonders for spacing the floor and creating space for players like Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton.

  • Chillax

    Man you should get a countdown clock till game 1 on this site. I’m way too excited right now!

  • geoffclarke

    Are you saying DJ Wilson wouldn’t even participate in a 3-point contest?

    • Oops! I knew I was forgetting someone.

    • Chillax

      that’s hilarious!

  • geoffclarke

    Three things I’d like to see from Caris this year: 1) consistent D, 2) make right decision on every play, 3) good mid-range shot (in addition to everything else he does well).

    • section13row15

      I really hope Caris goes to the rim more than he did early on last year before he was hurt. He shot far too many mid-range FG’s in my opinion. He is talented enough to get to the rim on almost any 1 on 1 situation and pulling up for bad shots killed this offense last year while he was in (I felt he was trying to do too much). I don’t like volume shooters in this offense (it’s predicated on spacing and utilizing multiple options). The defense killed us too because we couldn’t stop anyone. We should be a lot better this year though, I’m getting pumped for the season!

      • Gtfomycourt

        I agree. Caris needs to take it to the rim. Less is more in terms of one on one moves. He doesn’t need to do so many moves–just to settle for a mid range shot anyway. The success of the team will somewhat hinge on his ability to be patient and disciplined. We absolutely need to get a ball screen game established. It seems like Caris would be great at it but it hasn’t had much (with him) success so far. Maybe more seasoned centers will help a lot? Not a fan of one on one isolation play–boring.

        • section13row15

          I couldn’t agree more. When Caris plays within the offense, he’s great. When he tries to go one on five, the offense sputters to a grinding halt. And yes, the ball screen game will be huge. He’s 6’7″ so he should be able to find the big man rolling or he can shoot over smaller defenders when they sag off, etc. It will be a key to this year because I don’t think our defense is going to be that good so our offense has to be clicking.

  • Corperryale

    Terrific mail bag, especially the three-point predictions. On paper, it’s exciting to think Michigan will have 6 elite shooters from Robinson through Walton. That’s probably more than Bo Ryan has ever had. When everyone is clicking, expect a few 30-point blowouts.

    Re: Wagner, I guess he will be ready when he is ready. The comparison to Smotrycz is interesting, although I don’t think Smotrycz was ever an effective five for Michigan. No need to spread the minutes too thin at that position, except maybe in exceptional cases of foul trouble.

    • Didn’t really mean to compare him to Evan, other than point out that playing someone who doesn’t really fit the center role is something that Michigan has done in the past.

      • Corperryale

        Sorry, I probably mischaracterized you. I agree that JB has often had to improvise at the five, but I think this year, Doyle/Wilson and (hopefully) Donnal should be sufficient to man the spot reliably. (In 2010, his only other options at the five were unproven RS FR Morgan & McLimans and FR Horford). If I recall, Smotrycz was very foul prone and far too skinny to play the five in the Big Ten, but Horford and McLimans were also extremely skinny.

        I only wonder whether Wagner’s PT expectations as a European player could possibly affect the staff’s decision on a redshirt.

        • That’s fair. Wagner could definitely be an option at the five depending on how things go.

          Doyle is really the only proven commodity there and his stamina is still a bit of a question mark.

          So you have Wilson/Donnal/Wagner — no one is really sure what to expect from any of them. I think they all battle it out there before getting a crack at any ‘big lineups’ with one of them at the four, but we’ll see.

  • Matthew Stefani

    To a degree Robinson reminds me of John Shurna from Northwestern.

  • bobohle

    I know one thing for sure is that practices will be extremely competitive not just playing against the walk ons. If Zak is the #4 place shooter in a contest, Michigan will once again be at the top of the 3 point % in the BIG.

  • Lanknows

    Great work as always Dylan and lots of interesting and good thoughts.

    This one sentence bugged me though: “His defensive rebounding rate of 8.5% was worse than Spike Albrecht’s
    and that’s just not good enough from a 6-foot-6 wing with the highest
    vertical on the team.”

    I think you’re absolutely right in your comments about Dawkins needing room to improve on D, but rebounding rate isn’t a good measure of defense at all, especially given Dawkins was playing the 4 quite often. That’s a position that’s never gotten a lot of rebounding in Beilein’s offense because it’s the position with the biggest size disadvantage. That guys job is generally to box out opposing (typically bigger) PFs.

    Michigan’s always had relatively good rebounding from its guards and bad from its forwards, which I think is a natural outcome of their style of play and preferred personnel. This criticism dogged Novak (mitigated by the fact that he was short), GR3, now Dawkins, and inevitably whoever the next wing forward will be too. I don’t think it’s fair. Michigan doesn’t have a traditional 4 man with traditional PF responsibilites, and fans shouldn’t expect PF numbers (or anything close).

    Moreover, leaping ability has very little to do with rebounding ability. It’s all about positioning, timing, and old fashioned determination. It obviously helps to be tall (or be able to leap above tall people), but the other stuff matters far more. Rodman is the obvious example of a great rebounder who was neither especially tall nor bouncy. The best non-centers in the NBA right now at rebounding are not leapers either (Randolph, Love, Faried, Green, Millsap).

    • Don’t mean to imply at all that leaping is the only thing that matters w/r/t to rebounding. But I don’t think anyone is going to disagree that Dawkins needs to do a better job on the glass this year compared to last year. There’s no way that Spike Albrecht should have a better defensive rebounding rate than him.

    • NbobBis

      Rodman wasn’t bouncy?

  • bobohle

    Hey Dylan. I hear Josh Bartlestein has a job with the Detroit Pistons organization. Do you know what his job is?