- Three Point Shooting
Laval teased us with his shooting stroke in the non-conference season — he came out blazing hot which caused Michigan fans to start drooling. Laval clearly can shoot the ball, despite his slump he shot 34.4%, the same percentage as Zack Novak and only worse than the departed point guards. Those who have seen him in practice claim that he is every bit the shooter we saw in December and I think we will see a very good three point shooter down the road.
After appearing to be almost strictly a three point shooter early on, Laval started to show the ability to get in the lane. It seems like he can get there but he really struggles with what to do in the lane. If he gets fouled that’s good but he didn’t seem to be much of a finisher, nor did he seem to be much of a passer. The ability to get in the lane in itself is valuable for this team because no one else besides Manny Harris ever seemed to penetrate.
- Getting to the Line
Laval posted a free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of 43.7% which was good for second best on the team. Considering there were only fourteen teams in the country that got to the free throw line less than Michigan this year, getting to the stripe should probably be encouraged. Using KenPom numbers (explained here) Laval drew 4 fouls per game, this would have been a respectable top 20 in the conference had Laval played enough minutes this year.
There is no denying that Laval came into a tough situation. He was thrown into the fire and expected to be the third scorer. Things came easy early on when he was playing against teams like North Carolina Central and Florida Gulf Coast but the Big Ten season was another animal. The sudden change put a dagger in Laval’s confidence which eventually forced Beilein to cut his losses and go with Stu almost exclusively down the stretch.
I was disappointed in Laval’s defense this year. In hindsight it was probably a foolish prediction but I expected Laval to be a good defender after reading about his strength as well as the fact that he played football. It didn’t really turn out that way. Laval consistently struggled on the defensive end of the court in conference play and I think this is one of the biggest reasons that Stu passed him on the depth chart.
- Learning the Offense
By the end of the year it became clear that Laval just didn’t have the same understanding of the offense as some of the other guards. When there were open cutters he typically hesitated to make the pass and either didn’t make it or made it too late. Laval played huge minutes in the first half of the Michigan State game and I think that played a huge factor in Michigan’s inability to score. Different kids understand the offense at different speeds so I’m sure this is something that he will continue to work with Beilein on. The bottom line is that I don’t want Laval playing the “point guard” if he isn’t comfortable passing the ball in the flow of the offense.
I think Stu Douglass is a better candidate to get some minutes at the point guard next year because of his understanding of the system but I wouldn’t be shocked if Laval got a shot. This summer it will be important for Laval to continue to get comfortable as well as work on his defense and ball handling. Hitting a wide open jumper is one thing but doing it while not affecting the flow of the offense is another.
The beauty here is that this was only Laval’s freshman year because he won his appeal with the NCAA. I would feel a lot less comfortable with his role in the program if he had sophomore eligibility rather than freshman eligibility this year. The way this year played out was probably frustrating for Laval but I think it definitely will help him understand what he needs to get done this off-season.
- vs. Oakland — 16 minutes, 14 points, 4-6 3pt
Laval’s debut came with an unfair amount of expectations. Tim McCormick and yours truly had been hyping Laval’s addition to the lineup since long before the season even began. Laval didn’t do much to dampen the enthusiasm, he came out on fire and put on a show for the pro-Michigan crowd at the Palace. It was one of the best offensive performances of the year from Michigan and LLP spearheaded it with his early three point bombs.
- at Minnesota — 21 minutes, 19 points, 6-7 shooting (3-4 3pt)
This was one of the most heroic and unexpected performances of the entire year. Despite making only 6 shots in the last 8 games, Laval stepped up with the season on the line. Laval not only found his stroke but he also found it at the best time. Michigan appeared to be dead in the water facing a double digit deficit on the road but a few three point shots from LLP and Michigan was back in business. In many ways the Minnesota game was a microcosm of the entire season and it certainly put a nice bookend of Laval’s freshman season.
Final Grade: C. Laval had to deal with unfair expectations from day 1 and his season is definitely a bit disappointing. After averaging 12.7 points in his first six games, Laval averaged only 4.6 points in his final twenty. If you take out his 19 point performance against Minnesota that number falls well under 4 points per game.
Still, Laval was instrumental in two of Michigan’s season saving comebacks (at Indiana & Minnesota) and showed enough of his potential to not be discouraged. His stroke is pure but after they started missing, his confidence plummeted and eventually started affecting the rest of his game. I am confident that he comes around next year but his final grade has to represent a mostly disappointing season.