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.