This began as a post about Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and his ability to consistently get to the rim on his own, something Michigan as a team has been unable to do. That skill proved critical in last night's too-close-for-comfort victory at Minnesota.
While Rahkman had only a pair of two-pointers in the game, they stood out both for being timely and created entirely on his own. On arguably the most important play of the night—if it wasn't Rahkman's late chasedown steal—he drove baseline on Carlos Morris, used his shoulder as a means to create space without committing a foul (barely), and finished through contact for an and-one:
This is where this post takes an unfortunate turn. It's apparent to anyone who's watched Michigan this year that they've had a hard time Beating Defenders off the dribble and getting all the way to the basket. While looking up the numbers on Rahkman's ability to do just that, which I'll get to in a moment, I stumbled upon this alarming stat:
According to hoop-math, Michigan is 343rd out of 351 D-I teams in percentage of field goal attempts at the rim; M gets only 25.3% of their shots there, a far cry from the median of 36.1%. This isn't a be-all, end-all condemnation of the offense—Rutgers is 24th in the country in that category, while Purdue and Iowa both languish within ten spots of Michigan—but when combined with the individual stats and the eye test, it's easy to identify as one of the team's biggest issues.
I used data from hoop-math to put together this (chart?) chart, which shows MAAR's impressive ability to create high-percentage looks on his own as well as how badly this team needs Levert back on the court:
|# shots at rim||% shots at rim||FG% at rim||% assisted at rim|
The critical stat here is the final column, which shows how often a player needs help to get baskets at the tin. It's not a surprise that almost all of Mark Donnal's production at the hoop is on assisted baskets; he's far from a dominant post player and gets most of his looks off the pick-and-roll. Zak Irvin's efficiency is great, but few of his shots are coming at the rim; Derrick Walton's mark is even lower and he's struggling to finish. Aubrey Dawkins' layups and dunks usually require a teammate to find him on a cut or in transition. Duncan Robinson is expanding his game but is still mostly a shooter, and one that looks to pass more often than not when he ventures inside the arc.
The two players able to both get to the rim off the dribble and finish at a high rate are LeVert and Rahkman; Michigan has, of course, had only one of those players available for the vast majority of Big Ten play. The Wolverines need LeVert back on the court in the worst way; his return, though, shouldn't diminish Rahkman's role too much.
That's not solely because Rahkman is capable of beating defenders off the bounce and finishing. He's steadily improved the other facets of his game, as well. After shooting 29% from three as a freshman, he's at 38% this year, and a hair under 40% in Big Ten games; combine that conference mark with 60% shooting on twos and he's fifth in the conference in eFG%. Rahkman has also drawn a lot more fouls—16th in the B1G in FT Rate—and he's making 77% of his free throws. He rarely turns the ball over. Even though he's still not a particularly willing passer, he ranks fifth in the conference in ORating—a very impressive mark even though it's helped by a low usage rate. Though this is admittedly faint praise, he's also arguably the team's best perimeter defender.
Rahkman has proven to be a reliable option when the offense is bogged down in the halfcourt, especially when Michigan needs a bucket late in the shot clock. A healthy LeVert is critical for this team to survive a tough final stretch with enough wins to make the tourney. Rahk has been an overlooked reason why Michigan is even in position to make it, though, and he'll play a crucial role the rest of the way.