Report Card: Derrick Walton

Dylan Burkhardt

Previously: Duncan Robinson Freshman Focus: Xavier Simpson, Ibi Watson

In a decade of Michigan basketball that has seen more early-entry pros than four-year seniors, the Wolverines enter 2016-17 with a pair of senior starters. This will be Derrick Walton’s fourth consecutive season as Michigan’s starting point guard as he looks to finish out his career on a positive note.

It can be easy to drift into the what-ifs and what could have been when looking back at the first three years of Walton’s career. Injuries derailed his promising sophomore season and he never quite made that jump from cerebral point guard to playmaker as a junior. His early days of serving as the starting point guard on a Michigan team that won the Big Ten in a breeze and made the Elite Eight feel like ages ago.

With one year left to play, there’s little doubt that Walton’s senior year will define his legacy. Can Walton workout some of the kinks in his game that have held him back over the last two years? Can he take the next step and lead this Michigan team to the next level?



  • Rebounding: Pound-for-pound and inch-for-inch, Walton is one of the best rebounders in the country. His 18.3% defensive rebounding rate was the best on Michigan’s roster last season and was ranked 18th in the conference. The shortest player ahead of him in the Big Ten in that statistic was Denzel Valentine at 6-foot-1. The next 6-foot-1 rebounder in the conference checks in at 65th.
  • Three-point shooting: Walton shot 39% from three-point range on 161 attempts, trailing Duncan Robinson and Aubrey Dawkins on the roster in terms of efficiency. That seems like a solid baseline as his career numbers check in at 38.5% from long distance. The struggle for Walton’s shooting is that he is still much better shooting off the catch (68.1 eFG%, 96th percentile) than off the dribble (31.6 eFG%, 30th percentile), per Synergy.
  • Defense: Walton was one of Michigan’s better perimeter defenders. He had several notable defensive showings against some of the Big Ten’s best point guards (including Melo Trimble) and probably still has some untapped potential on that side of the ball. It will be interesting to watch how Michigan’s ball screen defense adjusts with Billy Donlon taking on a greater influence.

Room for Improvement:

  • Two-point scoring: For whatever reason, Walton simply can’t score inside the arc efficiently. His two-point shooting percentage fell from 45% as a freshman to 32% as an injury-riddled sophomore before bouncing back to a still below average 36% as a junior. Walton is unable to draw fouls as effectively as some other diminutive guards in the conference and as a result he shot just 42% on shots within five feet of the rim last season.
  • Pick-and-roll efficiency: Michigan has been spoiled by some tremendous pick-and-roll players over the last few seasons, but Walton has struggled to take the next step as a ball screen guard. Michigan scored .851 points per ball screen possession that ended with a Walton shot, turnover or assist. That’s good for the 51st percentile nationally. He shot the ball on 52% of those pick-and-rolls and converted at a just a 36.1 eFG%, per Synergy Sports.
  • Creating offense: All too often Walton was content to be the guy to move Michigan’s offense along rather than make something happen. There are plenty of times to just run the offense, but this Wolverine rotation needs playmakers and Walton needs to learn to do a better job of picking his spots and being more effective when he does.

Bottom Line

For really the first time in his career, Walton will have to defend his job. Freshman point guard Xavier Simpson is coming to Ann Arbor with the intention of playing and may force his way onto the court, even if it means more two point guard looks. For Walton, that might be a benefit considering how many minutes he logged last season.

The 6-foot-1 guard played 90.8% of available minutes in Big Ten play, second most in the Big Ten. That’s too many minutes and this year he should be able to focus on playing 32 or 33 great minutes instead of 38 good minutes. Walton’s body has undeniably suffered through some wear and tear over the last two years and a reliable backup should provide a huge boost.

I’m most curious to see whether John Beilein opts to go with a two-point guard look with Walton and Simpson on the floor together. That would not just be an approach to get the best players the most minutes, but also a way to unlock Walton’s ability to shoot off the catch.

Regardless of how the backcourt rotation shakes out, I don’t think there’s any question that Walton has the ability to be the leader of this team. He might not lead in scoring column on every night, but his ability to run the offense, defend, and rebound should be the foundation of this team.

Shining Moment: 

Clutch shots vs. Maryland.

Walton’s 12 point, 4-of-13 shooting night against Maryland was nothing special on paper, but he hit two of the biggest shots in the game to help give the Wolverines the victory over the top-ten ranked Terrapins. Walton held Melo Trimble in check all night as well, the Terp lead guard scored just 2 points on 1-of-7 shooting with four turnovers.

  • MChem83

    I think we probably will see a fair number of minutes with two point guards, given our lack of big guards who can shoot from outside to play the 2. MAAR will get his minutes, but his 3 point shooting is not stellar, and I see Robinson and Watson (to the extent he plays) as seeing mainly time at the 3, unless they show a better handle. Irvin (who I wish could see most of his time at the 3), will probably be wedged in mainly as a 4 again, which is just not the ideal spot for him, at least not primarily.

  • glenrice41

    typo DV is 6-5

  • malcolm bolt

    Walton needs to develop a floater. It lacks in his game when going to the hoop against taller, longer players.

  • bobohle

    This needs to be Walton’s best year as a Wolverine. Especially on defense.

    • iBleedBlue

      If Dwalt can play even 80% of the defense that he played against Notre Dame, that would be huge. He finally showed the quick feet and, especially, quick hands that it has always seemed like he should have

  • JohnNavarreIsMyHero

    I think the key for me is the burden on Walton needs to be lessened. There is no doubt he can put the team on his shoulders and lead us at times (and has), whether through scoring or facilitating, but his value can be even higher (and more consistent) when he has more help.

    I respect the hell out of him for the being that rock for us. But like any player that is forced to do too much, it can lead to mistakes and forcing shots that aren’t there. That’s not entirely his fault. Someone has to take those shots and try to make things happen.

    We need Duncan Robinson to be more consistent and not hesitate when he has his shot.

    We need Moe Wagner to be the player we have seen flashes of. The guy is awesome and can be an incredible player for us as he continues to learn and be comfortable.

    We need Zak Irvin to be healthy and be the passer and scorer he has shown he can be.

    The coaching staff is re-energized and has some new voices. We need to be confident and play confident!

    These guys have endured so much and I know deep down in my heart that they will put things together – because the coaches deserve it and the players deserve it.

    I don’t expect others to believe in us. But we as fans have to continue to be with this team, cheer them on and love them.

    Go Blue!

  • Wayman Britt

    Don’t look now, but UM’s biggest rival just landed another McDonald’s All American. As the arms race accelerates, UM needs to make sure they can compete.

    • bobohle

      Yeah and he goes to the same high school as Poole and Bowen. We need to get Bamba, Bowen or Cain with the final scholarship instead of the plan B,C or D.

  • Barth Applefeld

    Injuries are almost always devastating to a college basketball player. Even if a player fully recovers, there is lost practice time and lost playing time. Last year was essentially a relearning year for Walton and his new teammates. I expect incremental improvements from most of the players and team that add up to a significant improvement overall. Walton’s could make a big jump if he could score within the arc or draw fouls more consistently. Is that possible? Don’t know because I don’t know what kept him back in any sophisticated way, but it always looked to me that he couldn’t jump like he wanted to.

  • Wayman Britt

    With Cain out, it’s Bamba or bust. Bowen is not coming to Ann Arbor. If he does not choose MSU, then he won’t play in the state.

    I sure hope Beilien and staff do everything they can to make sure Bamba feels wanted. I would send him and his brother updates and news about the business school every other day. Tell him that he can be the leading scorer and will get all the shots he needs. Not sure telling him he would be a great passer is what he truly is looking for.