In our second of three position preview articles, we break down Michigan’s wings with stats, video breakdowns and analysis. Previously: Guards

Michigan’s wing group features the most tenured player on the roster, the best shooter on the roster and perhaps the two most important players that we know the least about.

The known quantities bring distinct skills to the table, but also have to answer questions about their weaknesses. As for the bench, it’s hard to even know where to start with the unknowns — Ibi Watson and DJ Wilson — because we just haven’t seen them play enough minutes.

Here’s a closer look at Michigan’s wing options this season.


Zak Irvin – Senior

Similar to his fellow senior, Zak Irvin has seen plenty of ups and downs over the course of his career. If you could pick-and-choose the good parts of each of Irvin’s season and glue them together, you’d have a hell of a player.

Irvin shot the lights out as a freshman and then he showed flashes of great distribution off of the pick-and-roll over the last two seasons. He’s rarely done everything well, consistently, at the same time.

When Irvin is on, Michigan is usually in good shape. It should come as no surprise that some of his best performances last season came in the Wolverines’ biggest wins — 22 points vs. Maryland, 22 points vs. Purdue, 17 points vs. Indiana. He’s also been a conspicuous no show in some of the most humbling losses — Irvin had an offensive rating under 100 in 8 of Michigan’s final 10 losses.

That inconsistency has been mind boggling enough that you have to wonder how the coaching staff prepares to go into this season. Can you build an offense around Irvin?

The flip side is that Irvin can do some things that no one else on the roster can do nearly as effectively. He led the team in ball screen assists (50) and Michigan posted a 71% eFG% off of his pick-and-roll passes compared to 51.9 eFG% from Walton and 41 eFG% from Abdur-Rahkman, per Synergy Sports.

He still has his flaws as a ball handler, with the tendency to telegraph his passes, over penetrate and force the issue at times, but his height gives him the most potential to develop into a consistent ball screen passer.

But Irvin, who had a 57.4 eFG% on percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers as a freshman, was one of Michigan’s least effective catch-and-shoot players on the roster last season. It’s going to be hard for Michigan to show great improvement if the 6-foot-6 senior can’t find consistency with his jumper.


What we’re left with is this weird mix of Zak Irvin’s past skills. The kid who had 12 assists to 196 shot attempts, 146 of which were three-pointers, as a freshman is now one of Michigan’s best pick-and-roll passers, but he attempted more twos than threes and posted the worst effective field goal percentage (46.9%) of his career.

Irvin has never really been a steady player, always more of a boom or bust option. He’s played significantly more A+ and C- games than B or B+ games over the course of his career. Now a senior, Michigan needs Irvin to find the balance in his game.

Duncan Robinson – RS Junior

Duncan Robinson’s immediate rise through the non-conference season as an elite shooter was eerily similar to Nik Stauskas’s freshman year. Robinson showed up on campus and started burying three-pointers. He made nearly 55% of his threes in non-league games and shot the ball so well that his final 45% three-point shooting number felt like a disappointment.

Robinson’s Big Ten numbers certainly disappointed given the expectation he set in November and December. He made just 35% of his Big Ten threes and seemed the run out of gas throughout February.

At the end of the day, Robinson was still an elite catch-and-shoot player and I don’t see any reason he shouldn’t continue to improve in that regard.

But as pretty as it is to watch Robinson catch and shoot, it’s a bit disconcerting to see him shoot off the dribble. With Robinson, we aren’t talking about the same kind of pick-and-roll off the dribble jump shot that we see from Michigan’s guards, but his ability to master the one-dribble pull-up to attack hard closeouts will be key to his development moving forward.

And then there’s the defense. Robinson was among Michigan’s worst defenders last season and I’m curious to see how Michigan tries to hide him in any sort of adjusted defensive schemes this season.

Robinson was one of the most picked on defenders on the Wolverine roster and really struggled to close out against shooters. Per Synergy Sports, only three players in the Big Ten gave up more catch and shoot baskets off of close outs: Kendrick Nunn, Jalen Coleman and Corey Sanders. Here’s the video evidence:

So that brings us to the question of how do you carve out a role where Robinson can succeed defensively? Does he try to become quicker to guard threes? Bigger to guard fours? Split the difference and try to be good enough at both to guard the weaker of the two spots?

He’s listed at the same 215 pounds as Zak Irvin, but the 6-foot-6 Irvin has proven that he can at least hang in there and battle a bit while Robinson hasn’t for the most part. I’m not sure what the answer to this conundrum is but, similar to the Michigan defense as a whole, if Robinson can nudge closer to average than bad on the defensive end that’ll be a big boost overall.

DJ Wilson – RS Sophomore

DJ Wilson has played 182 minutes at Michigan in two years and it’s still hard to define what exactly he’s going to be. Whatever that is, he’s never going to have a better chance to prove it. With the transfers out by Aubrey Dawkins and Kameron Chatman, Wilson is Michigan’s backup four man almost by default.

The problem might be that even John Beilein and Wilson himself aren’t sure what he’s going to be. Beilein has a good idea of what he wants.

“He’s had a really good offseason in the weight room. He’s understanding who he is,” the head coach said at Media Day. “He’s an athlete who can shoot, he’s not a shooter who’s an athlete. I want him to be a guy that’s a great defender, a guy that is always giving the opponent fits.

“I told him Troy Williams is a great example, what Troy was able to do just cutting and slashing to the basket without the ball, and use your length.”

If you add a Troy Williams to the Michigan roster, you have a way better team. That’s basically the role that Glenn Robinson III filled in his own way. But we’ve also been writing for two years about how badly the Wolverines need someone to fill that role and no one has stepped up to the plate.

Wilson is a 6-foot-10, 240 pound forward who can touch 12-foot-3. He has the raw tools to fill that role, but it’s hard to say that he’s done anything to prove that he has the mindset. Running back the footage of the last 10 baskets that Wilson made (which takes us back to before Christmas), kinds of reinforces the general stereotype: a lot of jumpshots and too many layups that probably should be dunks.

Ibi Watson – Freshman

Watson is the lowest ranked incoming freshman on the Wolverine roster, but opportunity is staring him in the face. If I’m Ibi Watson, I’m looking at the void left by Aubrey Dawkins and thinking about one thing: getting shots up.

It’s probably not the first thing that people think when they look at Michigan’s roster, but looking a bit closer there’s a void left behind for another shooter. Dawkins was a career 43% three-point shooter and the only two proven, reliable three-point shooters in the rotation are Duncan Robinson and Derrick Walton.

Watson is by definition a shooter, but it’s fair to question just how well he can shoot it as a freshman at the Division I level. As I pointed out in a summer Freshman Focus, Watson has basically shot right around 33-35% from three-point range at the high school and Nike EYBL levels over the last two years. He’s also put up some impressive volume at both competition levels, a pretty strong endorsement that his coaches wanted him to shoot.

Minutes Projection

Similar to the backcourt, we have 80 minutes to distribute between the two wing positions here. For all intents and purposes, they are the same position on different sides of the floor. There are some caveats, notably that at some point you’d hope to have someone on the court who can defend opposing fours, but that’s been an afterthought at times.

Irvin played 35 minutes per game in Big Ten play last year and Robinson checked in at 30. Reading through what I just wrote, and given the transfers, I don’t see how both players don’t average right around the same mark this year.

That leaves 15 minutes to be split between Wilson and Watson and I think they’ll both be used more situationally. If the matchup dictates a bigger defender then throw Wilson into the mix, if a shooting punch off the bench — and Watson is really the only shooter on the bench — is required then go to Watson.

Bottom Line and Predictions

For as much as we know about Irvin and Robinson, there are still so many huge questions that this group has to answer on an individual and group level.

It’s easy to pluck three things — Irvin finds consistency game-to-game, Robinson shoots > 40% from three, Watson and Wilson provide depth — and say that if they happen, Michigan will have great wing play. But I’m not sure how many I would bet on to actually occur.

Three Predictions

  • Zak Irvin posts an offensive rating of over 100 in Big Ten play for the first time since his freshman season.
  • Duncan Robinson shoots over 42% from three in Big Ten games.
  • Ibi Watson plays more minutes per game than DJ Wilson
  • Barth Applefeld

    As always, fine job. You hit this in your write up, but it would be interesting to see season splits for Irvin and Robinson. Irvin didn’t find any type of rhythm until the Big Ten season and then he was often the only option out there at the end of a play because Walton was hurt (in my opinion) and MAAR was still developing. As far as D. Robinson, who knows. He was effectively a freshman last year on defense. If he could be coached up enough, he could be a credible defender at least. His offense got worse because of strength of competition and the grind. Hopefully he has adjusted to both, but, more importantly, hopefully the offense is more diverse and in sink as Irvin and Walton have been healthy and able to practice all summer and new players come in.

    • Robinson shot 55% from three in non-conference play and 35% in Big Ten play.
      Irvin shot 21% from three in non-conference play and 38% from three in Big Ten play.

      • Barth Applefeld

        Thanks! Some hope for Irvin then.

      • Lanknows

        MAAR also had a crazy split in 3% between non-conference and Big Ten play. It’s really strange to have 3 starters playing heavy minutes to have such a dramatic swing.

        It’s hard to come up with a rational explanation for it. Irvin’s can be excused with injury, as he has a track record of hitting 3s (37% career in Big Ten play, 35% overall). Robinson could have caught opponents by surprise early in the year. MAAR perhaps just got lucky (as his sample size of 3s is about half the other guys).

        • Big difference with MAAR is that he didn’t really play many minutes in non-conference compared to conference due to LeVert.

          Irvin’s early slump has been mostly credited to his preseason back injury which makes sense to me.

          • Lanknows

            I think there could be something to that point. MAAR may have gotten more comfortable with a clarity in role w/o LeVert. Difficult hypothesis to quantify of course – his 2.5 3s per game in Big Ten play isn’t far off his total season average (2.4).

            Again – great work here and I love the approach of backing up your points with good data.

    • MAZS

      I actually thought that Robinson’s defense was okay when playing the opponent’s 4, though his defensive rebounding was underwhelming. Where Robinson really struggled was defending opponent’s 3s–laterally and closing out on 3s. While it would be great to see improvement there, I suspect he’ll still be defending 4s most of the time.

      • Beilein has talked about Robinson defending some fours this year and I’ve seen other people mentioning him defending fours last year.. I just don’t really seem to remember it much. Irvin was the guy that was banging against more physical guys for most of the year IMO.

        Now Michigan switches most everything 1 through 4 which can cause some of that, but I’m not sure.

        • MAZS

          I think Robinson was down on the block more often than perceived–often because of wing-post switches. It obviously makes a difference in the quality of the 4–you wouldn’t want him there on Hayes.

        • ZRL

          IIRC, Duncan was defending 4s whenever Irvin went to the bench and the wings were him and Dawkins.

        • Mattski

          Yeah, the article is very fine, but I do think Irvin playing heavy defense–and getting a bigger break on D–may help to decide how great he can be this year. He’s so calm and confident at times that I began to take it for granted his off periods resulted from his exhaustion–and Beilein pretty much having to have him on the floor. I think this could be a hidden benefit of Donlon, whether that even shows up in measurably better D.

    • I think there’s a legitimate tired legs argument w/r/t Robinson’s shooting as you say. Competition is one thing, but his numbers dropped in what Synergy calls ‘unguarded catch and shoot’ attempts… That’s a sign of confidence and/or fatigue as much as anything IMO.

  • JJ3ball

    Wow! I kind of hope you are wrong about Watson playing more minutes than Wilson. It would be nice to have Wilson’s size on the court with Wagner or Donnal

  • mikey_mac

    Super small sample size, but as Dylan noted in his chart, Wilson had an acceptable eFG% on catch-and-shoot. Watson would have to exceed his HS numbers to beat that. Given Wilson’s size/length/havoc potential and experience with the offensive system, it would be a very bad sign for his future if he can’t beat out a not-so-highly-regarded true freshman.

    • Hmm, yeah it might be a bit too bold of a prediction. I just see the three-point shooter ending up with more minutes and am waiting for DJ to show me something. If he can really bring length and havoc to the game and improve his shot selection then there’s a real role for him I think.

      Trying to at least keep you guys on your toes with the predictions!

  • Fab 5 Legends

    I can definetly see Watson getting more minutes than Wilson…DJ has not impressed me – besides playing in blowouts i dont know what to expect from him…i thought he would also transfer after last year…im hoping he made a big jump this year…if he sticks around i think he should be a contributer as a junior/senior (knowing beilein system)…but from I saw last year he still has a ways to go…hoping i am wrong with Wilson

    • AA7596

      Wouldn’t have made sense for Wilson to transfer since he’s already redshirted, and since minutes are now there for the taking.

  • Lanknows

    Another excellent preview. The combination of narrative and stats here is outstanding.

  • Lanknows

    How much improvement can we reasonably expect from Robinson? He is a year older than Walton. He spent the entire season before last practicing with Michigan. He’s an experienced player who had over 30+ games at 35 mpg for Williams as the focal point of their offense. I know last year was the first time we saw him in maize and blue, but the circumstances here are very different than a freshman becoming a sophomore.

    Robinson did hit 45% of his 3s at Williams and 55% in non-conference play, but I think the Big Ten percentage is more indicative of future performance simply because it was the first time that power conference level athletes gave Robinson their full and undivided attention.

    I don’t buy the fatigue excuse, though he could have dealt with illness or any number of other factors that would have compromised his shooting. The simpler answer, in my mind, for a veteran player is that defenses just locked in on him. That’s unlikely to change too much this year.

    That all said, I do think Robinson will be bit better this year. Robinson should be smarter about the shots he takes this season and get better looks with projected improvement from the people getting him the ball (Walton, Irvin, MAAR, Simpson).

    Robinson’s mostly “just a shooter” but I do think there is room to improve the other areas. Driving to the rim has been pretty hairy for him, but he can certainly develop a more effective pump fake paired with a dribble step-up into an open mid-range jumper (or pass).

    As for defense, I think he should bulk up and try to play more 4. His role on O is less taxing than Irvin’s, he’s taller, and Michigan needs someone to replace Irvin next season anyway. In Beilein’s system, defending the 4 spot is a measure of willingness and effort as much as anything else. Lateral quickness will always be an issue on the perimeter, so the best case scenario is gaining some strength and toughness to bang inside.

    • Ethan

      I’m interested in seeing what role the transfer from UK takes.. Wouldn’t surprise me if he fills in for Irvin nicely

  • Lanknows

    I second the Watson over Wilson prediction. Beilein’s track record with freshman wings is excellent. There have been a few misses (most notably Chatman), but in general guys that can shoot make valuable contributions.

    I do agree Wilson will get time against bigger 4s (to spare Irvin and Robinson if nothing else) but Beilein’s track record again and again and again is small over big.

    I suspect Watson is going to look a lot more like Hardaway, Irvin, Stauskas, and LeVert than Chatman or Vogrich.

  • Wayman Britt

    I will fall in line with everybody. Watson will play more that Wilson. Let’s face it Wilson is just soft. He just wants to jog from three point line to three point line. I don’t care how much Wilson increased his vertical, it means nothing because he is afraid to touch anybody on the court.

  • Champswest

    I predict Wilson logs more minutes than Wilson. I think Michigan will be better off if that happens. I expect Watson to back up Irvin at the 3 and Wilson to back up Robinson at the 4.

    • nswan

      I would put all of money on a wager that Wilson does not log more minutes than Wilson

  • rlcBlue

    I think we need to take Beilein at his word with respect to Wilson – the way for DJ to get PT is by having an impact on defense. His offensive contributions will be from “residual action” – cutting to the basket and so forth. I’d venture that Watson has a 0% chance of leading the team in blocks per game, unlike Wilson.

    That said, Ibi’s best shot at minutes is by being a better on-ball defender than Robinson, and by knocking down open threes.

    Robinson’s best chance at improving his shooting numbers is the hope that some teammate can draw nearly as much attention as Caris did last year. The same is true of Irvin, though I believe his B1G numbers last year were more representative of his true talent.

    So, yeah, it’s going to be a team effort. How’s that for a bold prediction?