2013-2014 Basketball Personnel Preview: Point Guards

USA TODAY Sports

Michigan's pivotal point guard position falls to either highly-touted freshman Derrick Walton, or Spike Albrecht, known for his memorable 17-point half off of the bench against Louisville, as they vie to replace Trey Burke.

Spike Albrecht, So. PG -- 5'11, 175 lbs

Year Min. Per Game Points Per Game Assist % Turnover % 2 Point % (Attempts) 3 Point % (Attempts) FT% (Attempts)
2012-13 8.1 2.2 14.6 % 21.4 % 38.5 % (26) 54.5 % (33) 83.3 % (12)

The enduring memory from Spike's freshman season was obviously the first half of the national championship -- because of Trey Burke's foul trouble against Louisville's vaunted (and #1-ranked, per kenpom) defense, Albrecht was forced into duty and he scored 17 points in the first half to keep Michigan in the game. He didn't score in the second half, but that game was easily Spike's career high in minutes and points (28 and 17 respectively, and it was 14 and 7 previously). His breakout game was a complete shock and had Michigan won that game, Spike would have gone down in March Madness lore, but as it is, his inexplicable scoring burst stands out a nice storyline in a great game.

With the expectations for Spike -- emergency point guard duty, at best -- after his late offer and commit, his play throughout the season was encouraging. He was an adept backup to Burke, shot the ball well from three and generally was a good stopgap to keep the offense working well enough to operate at a reasonable level. Had his performance in the Louisville game not happened, we'd think of Spike as an adequate backup point guard, at best -- the coaches did trust Albrecht enough to play him a bit more near the end of the year, running lineups with he and Burke on the floor at the same time (and to his credit, he seized that opportunity and played well). He's a minus defender -- the second half against Russ Smith and Peyton Siva in the national championship was particularly brutal -- but then again, defense was a team-wide issue last year. Overall though, Spike's contributions were a pleasant surprise; he did his job, ran the pick-and-roll decently, and validated Beilein's late scholarship offer.

But that Louisville game did happen -- it was an extreme outlier, but encouraging nonetheless. Albrecht showed off his range from three and the quick release on his shots; Louisville left him open enough and he shot 6-7 (with four threes) in that half. Small sample size, and it's not likely to be repeated, but it did suggest that he could play at a starter-level -- there was and has been speculation that perhaps Spike could compete with the highly-touted incoming freshman, Derrick Walton for the vacated starting point guard spot. That Louisville game did imply that he had the potential to score in bunches, and shooting 54.5% from three doesn't hurt. Still, that performance did exploit an overly-aggressive defense that didn't scheme for him and was frequently out of position due to their high-pressure, trapping defense. Spike can't really create his own shot reliably (succeeding mostly on catch-and-shoot opportunities) and that's tough when the ball would be in his hands often.

Outlook:

Spike has cemented a role in the rotation regardless of if Walton beats him out for the starting spot or not, especially considering his expected freshman-to-sophomore improvement. Best case is that he's still a very good-to-elite shooter with a massive uptick in attempts (not necessarily likely, but still possible) who can play mostly off of the ball as a combination of Mitch McGary/Glenn Robinson/Nik Stauskas/Zak Irvin get him open looks. Defensively, Albrecht is still going to struggle, and that could really inhibit his chances of winning the majority of minutes between he and Walton. At the very least, he'll probably see an increase in minutes per game, and while his usage rate won't likely increase much, he'll see a corresponding increase in the traditional stats -- points and assists per game. If the efficiency stays up (an ORTG of 120.7 was very good as a freshman), he'll make a case for major minutes.

***

Derrick Walton, Fr. PG -- 6'1, 185 lbs

247 Composite ESPN Rivals Scout 247
#10 PG, #45 Overall #8 PG, #30 Overall #8 PG, #37 Overall #7 PG, #43 Overall #14 PG, #67 Overall
Senior Highlights
UM Hoops Recruiting Profile

Walton committed early in the process -- specifically during the summer before his junior year of high school, which was actually before Albrecht committed -- and was a solid grab for Michigan, part of the triumvirate of Michigan's 2013 point guard targets along with Demetrious Jackson (Notre Dame) and Monte Morris (Iowa State). He committed soon after getting an offer, and the Wolverines had their point guard for the class -- undersized, but reputed to be an awesome passer.

By the end of the recruiting cycle, Walton had ascended to Top 50 status, pretty much maxing out his ranking given his lack of size. ESPN was the most bullish ($):

Walton Jr. Is a true point guard the [sic] can control the game with his ability to push the ball and deliver it to open teammates and run the show. He is good scorer and when in ryrthum [sic] can drop big numbers. As he adds strength and makes his jumper a consistent weapon he will be even more productive. Walton is tough, competes and has great upside.

Scout lists his strengths as "3-Point Range, Basketball IQ, and True Point Guard" and weaknesses as "Defensive [sic] and Size for Position." 247 believes his best attributes are leadership (10/10), and passing/vision (9/10). Solid elsewhere across the board, his only knock is size (6/10). It should be noted that while he did not generally grade out well on defense, he is a pickpocket in terms of getting steals. His shot from three-point range is also pretty solid.

It's easy to draw comparisons between Walton and Trey Burke, at least in terms of the slightly similar dynamics they faced entering the program and the commonalities in their playing styles. Both were undersized, and although Walton was a more highly-rated recruit, inherited the starting spot from an early NBA departure. Their leadership qualities (hard to quantify for sure, but Walton saw a lot of team success in high school and AAU and Burke was obviously a good leader, considering the career he had at Michigan), lack of size and passing ability were all shared. Neither were perceived to be great defenders and although Burke was known as more of a scorer, Walton can put up points also. However, with the way Burke's career unfolded, it's pretty likely that Walton won't be able to replicate that freshman season (Burke was the Big Ten Co-Freshman of the Year and led the Wolverines to the share of the conference title). Expectations should be adjusted accordingly.

Outlook:

Still, there should be a lot of optimism surrounding Walton. His passing ability could really be a key cog in the framework of Michigan's offense: Glenn Robinson, in particular, needed to have his shots set up for him last season (and the big question is if that was by design or if Robinson really could not create much for himself), McGary could form a devastating pick-and-roll duo with Walton, and Nik Stauskas benefits from assisted threes in the corner. It all depends on how good Walton is and how quickly he can adjust to the college game; he has a much higher ceiling than Albrecht does, would fit in well as a role player who accentuates his teammates' strengths, and if he's an average-level Big Ten starter, Michigan would take that in the wake of Burke's departure.

***

After John Beilein overhauled the staff following the disappointing 2010 campaign, Michigan’s offense became incredible point guard reliant – with college basketball’s stupidly long 35-second shot clock, teams are given the opportunity to run two different sets on a given possession, and Michigan invariably gave the ball to their point guard (either Burke or Darius Morris) for a quick, stripped-down pick-and-roll with 10 seconds or so on the shot clock if the first set is ineffective. The Wolverines still ran their fair share of Beilein’s characteristic offensive sets early in the shot clock (though not always, and a lot of motion in those sets was designed to get the point guard in a screen-and-roll type situation), but the ball was in the point guard’s hands most of the time. With Burke – obviously no explanation is needed as to why this was a great strategy – and Morris – who was very good in his own right, though easily forgotten after Burke’s remarkable career – this made a ton of sense; Beilein did a great job of adapting his offense to the strengths of his personnel. Now that the point guard position is perhaps the biggest unknown, what will Albrecht and Walton’s responsibilities be?

Depending on a lot of corollary questions – Can McGary initiate certain plays and schemes with the ball in his hands, either posting up or starting facing the basket from the midrange? How good is Nik Stauskas on the pick-and-roll? Will Robinson be able to work with the ball in his hands this year? Would it behoove Michigan to have Caris LeVert or Zak Irvin take on high-usage roles? – it remains to be seen how much the Wolverines will need Albrecht or Walton to provide shot-creation, but my guess is that the pick-and-roll will still feature heavily in Michigan’s offense because of its simplicity and how easy it is to revert to late in the shot clock.

Essentially, the expectations for Albrecht and Walton are the same: neither are tasked with shouldering much scoring responsibility, as Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson are expected to be the two most important for the Wolverines, by far, with guys like Nik Stauskas and Zak Irvin potentially having a breakout-type year. That leaves the two point guards to be solid role players, complementary scorers on occasion, and able to handle the offense calmly and capably. For the first time in three years, Michigan's best player will not be it's point guard and that's fine -- Spike has proven to be at least a capable backup point guard (and could be more, but the question is how much more), and Walton is highly touted, and could be a potentially elite table-setter for Michigan's array of potentially excellent offensive weapons, but he's still a freshman.

***

Prediction:

Initially, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Albrecht as the starter. He'll have improved a bit, and depending on his rapport with McGary in the pick-and-roll, he could be a plus player offensively. Still, with Walton's high recruiting rank, potential to contribute from day one, and high ceiling, the plan will be for him to steadily earn more minutes to push for a big role and a lot of playing time. I'd expect that Walton is likely going to ascend to the starting spot by the start of Big Ten play in late December, but he could start with anywhere from 5-15 minutes per game. By the end -- and barring potential lineups with both Walton and Albrecht on the floor at the same time; given the lack of size and the potential defensive liability there, it probably won't happen -- in a zero-sum situation, it will settle into a 25/15 split on minutes with Walton starting and playing more minutes. He's a huge question mark defensively but he'll probably be one of the better freshmen in the Big Ten, will have a very good assist rate, particularly for a freshman, and depending on how turnover-prone he is, could be quite efficient with a low usage rate. Spike will be a solid rotational guy, could finish some games with the starters if he's shooting particularly well, will probably be a defensive liability, and could be a potentially elite three point shooter (54.5% from three won't be sustainable, but a mark of around 40% is definitely possible). The point guard position won't be considered a weak link necessarily, but it will be overlooked somewhat because of more production elsewhere, and that's fine -- Walton and Albrecht project to be role players and if either impresses and seizes the job, Michigan will be fine.

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