A little while ago, I took a look at Zak Irvin’s season so far and his path to being a senior and leader on the team. Irvin has always been tied to Derrick Walton, who is also headed on his way out of Ann Arbor after this season. While the former has had an up-and-down career that has brought upon a wide range of emotions from the fan base, the latter has been far from boring himself. The sun is setting on Walton’s time at Michigan, but he too is leaving with a productive season.
While Walton shared minutes with Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert as a freshman, he has ranked in the top three in minutes per game on the team in every season since then. He has not been free from the injury bug during his career, but he has yet to miss a game during his senior year. The future may be bright for Xavier Simpson, but the point guard spot will be Walton’s until his graduation.
Walton is second on the team with 8.8 shots and 3.4 assists per game, coming in behind Irvin in both categories. Despite this volume, he ranks just sixth in usage percentage. Walton does lead the team with 3.4 free throw attempts per game and has come up clutch in late-game situations. His 89.7 percent free throw accuracy is the fifth-best mark in the Big Ten.
Interestingly, Walton’s stats are down in many areas. He is shooting less often than last season and he is averaging over a rebound and assist fewer per game. Despite this, he has seen a bump in points per game and player efficiency rating. Some of this could be due to improvement at the line — Walton has seen a sizable jump in free throw accuracy this season, as well as a slight rise in foul shots — but it probably has more to do with his shot selection.
Walton has really struggled shooting inside the arc during his career, hitting just 38.7 percent of his shots from this area. After a solid freshman year, he ended below 37 percent during the next two seasons, which was the worse on the team among players with any sort of minutes. Meanwhile, his three-point shooting was not off the charts, but it was one of the higher percentages on the team.
But even with this discrepancy, Walton kept shooting twos and threes at almost the same rate: over 48 percent of his shots from his first three seasons came inside the arc. However, that trend has been changed this season, as that rate has fallen all the way down to 36 percent. With this change in shot selection has come an improvement in accuracy as well. Walton’s twos are falling at about a percentage point higher this season and his threes are over three percentage points better.
Like Irvin, Walton’s contribution is positive, but it may not be enough to get the team where it wants to go. His scoring is up and his free throw percentage is very strong, but he is not the player who can be relied upon to take over a game. He helps the offense move and grabs a surprisingly number of rebounds, but being a high-volume, maximum-involvement leader is not really his game.
Still, Walton does a solid job running the point and is experiencing a career-high 18.9 PER. He many not be the type of guard who drives to the hoop with ease, but he possesses a solid long-range shot and has been dependable at the line when protecting a lead. Alone — and even with Irvin — Walton might not be able to accomplish everything, but at least he is going out on the right note.