Maize n Brew continues its 2015-16 Michigan basketball preview with a look at the wings the Wolverines have on their roster. This will focus on those that will man the 2, 3, and 4 spots on the floor, while tomorrow's post will feature the big men, which will include those that can be a stretch forward in John Beilein's offense. Thus, today, we preview Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin, Aubrey Dawkins, Kameron Chatman, and Duncan Robinson.
Basic Info: #23 | Senior | 6-7 | 205 lbs. | Pickerington, Ohio
2014-15 Stats: 18 GP | 35.8 MPG | 14.9 PPG | 4.9 RPG | 3.7 APG | 42.6 2P% | 38.4 3P%
Caris LeVert will have a second chance to prove he can be a capable Batman for Michigan like Darius Morris, Trey Burke, and Nik Stauskas before him. On the surface, LeVert seemed to have a firm handle on the role without any hiccups last season. He led Michigan in points (14.9), rebounds (4.9), and steals (1.8) per game, and he finished a tad behind Spike Albrecht for the most assists per game (3.7 to Albrecht's 3.9). He also had the ball in his hands more than any other Wolverine, owning the team's highest usage rate at 25.9 percent and being asked to carry Michigan's offense when it bogged down.
However, the truth was that LeVert didn't handle those responsibilities well before he fractured his foot early in the Big Ten slate. His offensive efficiency dropped 10 points over 100 possessions because, though LeVert thrives as a catch-and-shoot player, he needed to generate offense for himself, which meant producing off the dribble. But LeVert was ineffective when he put the ball on the floor. He averaged only 0.58 PPP when he went to his pull-up jumper. His three-point shooting suffered because he had to create his own shot rather than someone else penetrating and finding him behind the arc. Remove his red-hot shooting against Hillsdale, Nicholls State, and NJIT, and LeVert knocked down only 28.8 percent of his threes in his other 15 games. Further, LeVert often settled for mid-range jumpers and six-foot floaters, and, when he did get to the rim, he shied away from contact rather than attack and finish strong against much bigger bodies.
The good news for LeVert, though, is that Michigan will have a stronger supporting cast around him this season, even if it is almost the same team as last year. Derrick Walton is at full strength, Zak Irvin and Albrecht became different, more impressive players after LeVert's injury, and Aubrey Dawkins is on the path to become John Beilein's next breakout star. No longer will the offense need LeVert to carry the entire burden, which means that there should be fewer instances where he is forced to put the ball on the floor and try to make something out of nothing. He'll still be one of the primary creators of Michigan's offense, but Walton, Albrecht, and Irvin will relieve him of some of that duty.
LeVert should resemble his sophomore form more than his junior form this season and will be a contender for Big Ten Player of the Year. Defensively, he never became the lockdown defender that he was projected to be, and we shouldn't expect that to change this season. His on-ball defense will be average, but he'll continue to make an impact when he jumps passing lanes for steals and uses his length to cause havoc at the top of Michigan's 1-3-1 zone. Offensively, he'll continue to excel in catch-and-shoot situations, but where he needs to make his biggest improvement is hitting the pull-up mid-range jumper when coming off of screens. If LeVert does that, his NBA Draft stock should rise.
Basic Info: #21 | Junior | 6-6 | 215 lbs. | Fishers, Ind.
2014-15 Stats: 32 GP | 36.2 MPG | 14.3 PPG | 4.8 RPG | 1.5 APG | 44.5 2P% | 35.1 3P%
For the first 1.5 seasons of Zak Irvin's career, he strictly was just a shooter. As a freshman, he averaged 6.7 points per game, but it's important to note how he scored those points. Irvin attempted 196 field goals that season, and a whopping 146 of them were threes. That's 74.5 percent of them. The good news was that Irvin was a prolific shooter, drilling 43.4 percent of those threes. However, he did nothing else on the court. He didn't put the ball on the floor. He didn't create shots for others (4.7 ast%). He didn't rebound (3.3 OR%, 7.7 DR%). And that didn't change much in the first 20 games last season, during which Irvin averaged 13.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 0.9 assists per game.
However, when both Derrick Walton and Caris LeVert exited with season-ending injuries, leaving Irvin as the only member of the Big Three standing, a switch flipped, and he transformed into a different player. In his final 12 games, Irvin averaged 15.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game. It's easy to see the uptick in his rebound and assist numbers. Irvin began to clean up the glass with authority, but what was more impressive was his sudden distribution of the basketball. In the first 57 games of his career, Irvin posted at least three assists in a game just twice. In the 12 games thereafter, he accomplished that feat eight times. So what changed? He became a versatile weapon when he dribbled off the pick and roll. He learned how to suck in the pick defender before squeezing in a tight pass to the roller for a layup. He penetrated into the lane more before hitting open Wolverines for threes. And this penetration showcased his newfound ability to dribble through defenders to the rim for a layup or a trip to the free throw line.
This is the player that Michigan fans should expect to see this season. Irvin will continue to be a three-point shooter that can space the floor, but he'll take some of the ball-handling duties away from Walton and LeVert. That will give Michigan three starters that can create offense for others, with a fourth in Spike Albrecht coming off the bench. That should be a terrifying thought for Big Ten defenses. The best guess is that Irvin will be stuck playing the 4 with Aubrey Dawkins playing the 3. This could put Irvin at a disadvantage defensively against the bigger Big Ten power forwards he will face, though Irvin proved that he can fight for rebounds at the end of last season. Yet, those same forwards will be tasked with stopping Irvin and his well-rounded offense. Good luck.
The main concern is how soon it will take Irvin to recover from his offseason back surgery. Irvin isn't as close to reaching 100 percent as Albrecht, and he may not be at full strength until a couple weeks into the season. Plus, Michigan fans can't help but think about what happened to the last Wolverine recovering from a back injury: Mitch McGary. Nonetheless, assuming all goes well, Irvin is in store for a big junior campaign.
Basic Info: #24 | Sophomore | 6-6 | 205 lbs. | Palo Alto, Calif.
2014-15 Stats: 30 GP | 20.7 MPG | 7.0 PPG | 2.1 RPG | 0.4 APG | 53.7 2P% | 43.2 3P%
Let's discuss one of my favorite annual traditions: John Beilein finding some under-the-radar prospect of whom big-time programs have never heard and turning him into an All-Big Ten player. Few coaches, if any, have the track record in that department that Beilein does. In the past five seasons, Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr., Nik Stauskas, and Caris LeVert all committed to Michigan when they were ranked outside the top 100 in their respective class. And all four have been named to no worse than the All-Big Ten second team, with two winning the Big Ten Player of Year. You'd think Beilein would strike out in this endeavor soon. But no, because Aubrey Dawkins is the next one in line.
Dawkins, who is the son of current Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins, didn't even receive a scholarship from his father and was ticketed for Dayton until Beilein entered the picture late. Dawkins decided to head to Ann Arbor, where he didn't play much during the non-conference slate as a freshman. However, Dawkins had a breakout performance in the Big Ten opener against Illinois, in which he connected on six triples to lead U-M to a come-from-behind, overtime win, to secure his spot in Michigan's regular rotation.
As Dawkins earned more playing time, he demonstrated two strengths: he could bomb it from downtown and could fly. Dawkins' shooting form and trajectory looked strange, but you don't ask too many questions when a player converts 47.9 percent of his threes in Big Ten play, which was second-best in the conference. He wasn't great when he released his threes from the top of the key, but, when he did so from the wings and corners, particularly the left ones, he was on fire. And, when Dawkins wasn't unleashing hell from deep, he used well-timed cuts and his insane bounce to finish alley-oops and score near the rim. This and an aversion to mid-range shots is why he had a Big Ten-best 63.3 eFG%.
This doesn't mean that Dawkins doesn't have his weaknesses. Like when Irvin was a freshman, Dawkins didn't do much of anything else. He wasn't a distributor (11 assists in 30 games), a rebounder (4.1 OR%, 8.5 DR%), or a defender. With LeVert, Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin, and Spike Albrecht, Michigan doesn't need Dawkins to be a distributor this season. Those four should be able to drive into the paint, force the defense to collapse, and kick it out to the deadly Dawkins for threes or toss up lobs for him to slam down. But progress in the other two areas is needed. His athleticism and vertical leap should be an asset in the battle for boards, and the offseason should help his defensive awareness.
Dawkins won't be an All-Big Ten player this season, but this will be a step in that direction as he'll be the full-time starter at the 3. Offensively, he will be asked to do much of what he did last season. It would be unfair to expect him to drain close to 48 percent of his threes again, but that percentage should nudge above 40. And he'll posterize more than a few unfortunate defenders when defenses extend out on him, too. Plus, his rebounding and defense should be better, and Beilein has said that Dawkins probably is the one showing the most improvement. It's hard not to project that Dawkins will be the next to make the Beilein Leap as a sophomore, just like Burke, Stauskas, and LeVert.
Basic Info: #3 | Sophomore | 6-8 | 215 lbs. | Portland, Ore.
2014-15 Stats: 32 GP | 15.2 MPG | 3.6 PPG | 2.5 RPG | 0.7 APG | 35.6 2P% | 26.3 3P%
Kameron Chatman was the headliner of John Beilein's 2014 class -- a top-30 recruit -- but he played like anything but one as a freshman. He opened as the starting 4, but struggles on both ends of the floor saw his minutes reduced until he was demoted to the bench just three games into Big Ten play. On offense, Chatman looked out of control when he attacked the basket, and, when he was in control, it was common to see the ball slide off the iron. Thus, he made only 41 percent of his shots at the rim, which was well below average. Further, Chatman couldn't compensate by hitting outside shots. He made only 35.6 percent of his twos and 26.3 percent of his threes. Add in that he was almost double as likely to turn the ball over than post an assist, and it was clear that he was an offensive liability. There's a reason why Chatman had an offensive rating of 80.5, which would have been one of the Big Ten's worst had he played sufficient minutes to qualify.
On defense, Chatman wasn't as bad, but he wasn't great either. The one thing that Chatman did well was crash the glass. He recorded a defensive rebounding rate of 16.5 percent, which was the third-best on the team, thanks to his 6-foot-8 frame and long arms. But he didn't defend well in the post, which led to committing numerous fouls.
Chatman did show some promise in a few games near the end of the season, flashing the potential that made him a high-four-star prospect in high school. But whether Chatman can be that player on a consistent basis remains to be seen. He'll have an opportunity to earn some minutes in a backup role behind Aubrey Dawkins and Zak Irvin in the first few weeks of the season, particularly as Irvin works his way "back." If Chatman can knock down some shots and be a defensive presence, he can carve out a role on this team. However, if he can't, he could fall out of the rotation entirely because the team is flushed with talent at the wings spot. And, if that happens, Chatman's eyes may start to wander.
Basic Info: #22 | RS Sophomore | 6-8 | 210 lbs. | New Castle, N.H.
2013-14 Stats: 32 GP | 34.7 MPG | 17.1 PPG | 6.5 RPG | 1.8 APG | 66.9 2P% | 45.6 3P%
It's difficult to know what to expect from Duncan Robinson this season. Robinson sat out all of last season after making the rare leap from a Division III school to a Power 5 team. As a freshman at Williams College, Robinson lit up defenses from all over the floor -- he converted 45.6 percent of his threes (!) and 66.9 percent of his twos (!!) -- and turned in a 17.1-points-per-game scoring average. But how will that translate to the Big Ten level?
There is no question that Robinson is a three-point sniper, and that shouldn't change. Apparently, Robinson has been breaking -- or at least challenging -- Nik Stauskas' practice shooting records, and, last I checked, that Stauskas guy was an OK shooter. As MGoBlog's Ace Anbender noted in his preview, the arc still is the same distance from the hoop and the rim still is 10 feet high, and, at 6-foot-8, Robinson should not have an issue getting his shot off in the game, even if it's against better competition. Robinson will provide instant offense off the bench, which is something Michigan desperately needed last year when the offense went cold. Guys who can shoot threes like that always are.
Where the questions roll in are for everything else. Areas like his ball-handling and creating aren't as much of a concern because Michigan has plenty of playmakers, but the extent of Robinson's role will decided by how well he can defend and rebound. He was a great rebounder at Williams College, and, if he can continue to do that at the next level, that could bump up his minutes. As for his defense, my guess is that John Beilein would prefer that Robinson man the 2 and 3 spots and defend on the perimeter rather than be bullied on the block. If Robinson can handle himself and not be exposed as a matador that employs the ole defense, he can be a very dangerous reserve in the conference.
That's a big if, though.
Tomorrow, our Michigan basketball preview continues with a look at the big men.