Derrick Walton Jr. is Coming Into His Own at MichiganPosted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on February 15th, 2014
During the era of super freshmen in college basketball, we rarely try to understand how much they can grow over the course of the season. After all, 18- and 19-year-olds will take some time to adjust to the tempo and athleticism of the game. With Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Tyler Ennis dominating the headlines with their regularly impressive performances, it is easy to forget about some of the other freshmen who have stepped up their games during conference play after an initial period of adjustment. Derrick Walton Jr., Michigan’s rookie point guard, is one such example. Forget filling Trey Burke’s shoes in the Michigan offense; Walton doesn’t need to be the same player. But he has shown glimpses of his ability to run the team in recent weeks, averaging a solid 10.6 PPG and 4.o APG in the Wolverines’ last five games. We wrote back in November about the need for Nik Stauskas to step up as the lead guard because the offense was flailing during the non-conference season, but Walton now appears to be firmly in control as the primary initiator of the offense and a sparkplug in the open court.
Before we begin to understand his growth as a player, it is essential to recognize that Walton is a talented scorer, and compared to Burke, he actually has a quicker release on his jumper. Shooting 40 percent from long range is not too shabby, but the main difference with Burke is that he likes to be set up for shots instead of creating them off the dribble. The most impressive part of his game is his ability to get to the basket off of screens. He’s always had great talent, but it has taken him a while to understand his role in the offense considering the strengths and versatility of Michigan’s wings, Stauskas and Caris LeVert.
Most of the time, Beilein runs plays for LeVert or Stauskas at the top of the key to either penetrate the paint or shoot the three off a screen. When the defense steps up to cover either in the paint, Glenn Robinson or Zak Irvin camps out in the corner for a wide open perimeter shot. So where does Walton fit into this offense? It hasn’t always been clear, but he has become the primary transition ball-handler for Beilein. For example, he grabbed 10 rebounds against Ohio State and immediately led the charge in to create easy opportunities for Robinson and Stauskas. Opening the transition game creates a plethora of opportunities for the Wolverines to score because at any given time they have at least three other players who can get out in transition and finish plays. Against the Buckeyes, he drove to the basket and made a couple of jaw-dropping layups off the glass, which had the corollary effect of getting the Michigan offense going in the second half.
Walton may just be scratching the surface of his talent because all signs indicate that he will become an excellent scorer in the Big Ten. In the short term, however, creating opportunities in transition and taking on that role of a third scorer when needed will pay huge dividends for a Michigan squad that seems poised to make another run in the NCAA Tournament. It took a while for him to get going, but we can now see why he came to Ann Arbor as a highly-touted point guard who can run an offense geared around easy baskets and ball movement. He may not be one of the top five freshmen this year, but his growth has already been impressive and he may have a longer-term value than some of the elite rookies in that he’ll be around Ann Arbor for a few years.