If you missed it, click here for part one, covering Jaaron Simmons's lack of playing time, Moe Wagner's improved rebounding, and M's potential conference outlook. Yes, there's going to be a part three on Monday. Thanks to everyone who sent in questions; keep them coming @aceanbender on Twitter (use the hashtag #mgomailbag) or [email protected]
Livers's rebounding has earned him more minutes. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
To little surprise, I got about four different variations of the first question. Let's dig right into the biggest personnel question facing this team.
Would you favor Livers or Matthews starting ahead of DRob at the 4? Matthews seems athletically inclined to guard 4s and Livers is green but has some good rebounding numbers. #mgomailbag
— Neel (@beigegalaga) December 13, 2017
I'm ready to see Isaiah Livers get a crack at starting. This has something to do with Duncan Robinson's current funk, to be sure, but I expect Robinson to break out of that before long—he's too good a shooter to stay mired in the 30% range. Part of it is the timing with three body-bag games coming up on the schedule before Big Ten play resumes. It's mostly, however, about how the pieces of this team fit together.
While Livers is still getting his bearings on defense, he's a marked upgrade on Robinson as an on-ball defender, grading out in the 52nd percentile compared to the 19th percentile for Robinson, per Synergy. Livers's athleticism covers up some of his mistakes; Robinson doesn't have that luxury. That makes Livers an ideal pairing with Moe Wagner, the lesser defender of Michigan's two centers.
Meanwhile, Wagner and Robinson are essentially unplayable together because of their defense. These numbers in the seven games against KenPom top-100 teams, using data from Hoop Lens, give a clear indication of how Beilein should handle the rotation, even with the sample size caveats that apply here:
|Off. Poss.||Off. PPP||eFG%||OR%||Def. Poss.||Def. PPP||eFG%||OR%|
The Wagner/Livers pairing makes sense on both ends of the floor. Livers is a better help defender in the post than Robinson and a significantly better rebounder on both ends. With Wagner providing great offensive spacing, Livers can focus on getting after it on the boards, and he's done that really well:
Wagner and Livers are posting a remarkable +0.30 PPP efficiency margin; that'll fall as the sample grows, but it's starting in a really good place, and Livers is only getting better as the year goes on.
Meanwhile, bringing Robinson off the bench would allow Beilein to pick his spots, and the best spot for Robinson appears to be next to Jon Teske. There's little change in the offensive numbers whether Robinson is on the court with Wagner or Teske; either way, they're not going to be great until Robinson starts hitting his threes. Robinson-Teske is a far superior offensive pairing to Livers-Teske, however, because the latter pairing is too redundant—both are looking to hit the boards and don't provide great spacing.
The biggest difference is on defense, where Teske's rim protection dissuades the drives that Robinson often allows. Teske's presence also allows Beilein to further hide Robinson by switching to a 2-3 zone, which he's done with some success over the last few games; that zone doesn't work nearly as well without a shot-blocker lurking in the paint.
While it doesn't have to be a set-in-stone rule, especially when Robinson regains his outside shot, keeping the Wagner-Livers and Robinson-Teske pairings preserved should be a priority. The numbers suggest it's the solution to a lot of Michigan's issues on both ends of the floor; by my eyes, at least, that's backed up by the eye test, too.
[Hit THE JUMP for Z turning the corner and why Poole isn't playing more.]
A more aggressive Z is a better Z. [Campredon]
I don't think you guys have given enough credit to Zavier Simpson this year. I've heard the criticisms that the offense "craters" with Simpson at the point, but I don't think that's necessarily true. Numbers may back that up, but it's a small sample size at that point. Regardless, can he get some love for the defense? We've seen Beilein teams for years that didn't have that "dog." Simpson is a DOG! He is in people's grills, quick hands, getting steals, loose balls. I love it. I love watching him. Can he get a little love on Mgoblog?
As the great Dan Dakich once said, "when you're competing for everything, sometimes you get the lucky ones to bounce your way." That 3 o'clock shot comes to mind...
Keep up the great work! You guys are terrific. Go Blue.
Simpson's defense has been a strength all along. I'm ready to eat crow for last week's post and give Simpson his due, mostly because his offense has turned the corner in the last two games. Via Hoop Lens, here are the on/off stats for Simpson though the team's first nine games:
Simpson was holding up well as a defender; the difference compared to other lineups is entirely three-point luck. He was both too passive and too turnover-prone on offense, though, and the team suffered for it. Simpson got noticeably more aggressive against UCLA. Instead of passing on open drives like he had earlier in the season, he attacked the paint when given even a small opening:
He maintained that momentum in the Texas game. His on/off stats over the last two games are night-and-day from the first nine:
Suddenly, Simpson looks like Michigan's best point guard. Now that he's taking care of the ball, he swings the turnover battle in M's favor with his aggressive defense. He's finishing around the basket and his ability to threaten the paint has opened up the perimeter. Beilein has trusted him to close out games over Eli Brooks, and if things keep trending in this direction, we could see Simpson starting games soon. I'm still a fan of Brooks—he can shoot, keeps the ball moving, and knows the offense—but Simpson is the clearly superior defender, so if Simpson can close the offensive gap he should take the lion's share of the minutes.
The last two games may have been more than a turning point for the team; they may also have been a turning point for Simpson. Here's hoping it holds.
Poole is stuck behind some good players. [Campredon]
Every time Jordan Poole is in, he seems to provide a spark on offense. Against Indiana, he seemed like one of our best weapons. But he's still averaging under 10 minutes per game. Why do you think he's not playing more (defense, knowing the plays, stamina)?
Beilein is in a bit of a bind when it comes to getting Poole more minutes. His play has warranted an increased role; he's an impactful scorer who warps the defense with his range, and like Livers his athleticism and length help make up for some freshman mistakes on defense.
While Livers is pushing to play over a struggling Duncan Robinson, however, Poole would earn his minutes at the expense of Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman or Charles Matthews. Matthews needs to be on the floor as much as possible; Beilein can open up a few minutes for Poole by sliding Matthews to the four in certain situations, but that'll be a matchup-dependent lineup. MAAR has been a bit streaky, but so has Poole, and as MAAR showed against Texas, he can be this team's most dependable scorer for long stretches against tough opponents.
Poole also needs to be less of a black hole on offense, as Beilein mentioned last week:
"He's learning on the fly, but he's got some abilities," Beilein said. "He's a bucket getter. He can get you baskets in a lot of different ways. But in all those minutes, he's still got just one assist and five turnovers. So let's see it in a game."
An extremely confident player, Poole admitted he's still working at all the nuances that come along with learning Michigan's offense, while also bringing himself up to speed with what he's asked to do defensively.
He'll get there eventually. The talent is apparent and he's shown some exciting off-the-dribble ability that I didn't expect to see this early. He's been a strong on-ball defender thus far and hasn't blown too many rotations off the ball. If MAAR doesn't get more consistent, I could see Poole eating into his minutes eventually, but it's going to take Poole settling in a bit—and maybe passing every once in a while—before he'll have Beilein's trust enough to take some of a senior's minutes.
Will the entire team have Eli/Jordan/Ibi hair by tournament time?#mgomailbag
— Aaron Schwoebel (@ThirdPichler) December 13, 2017
Fire up photoshop, somebody. I need to see this.