Borrowing an idea from our friends at Inside the Hall, we’re going to start posting player-by-player breakdowns of the 2010-11 Wolverines. The format might morph over the process, as I figure out what works and what doesn’t, but for now we’ll stick to the basics: a brief intro, what the player did well, where they need to improve, and a general outlook for the upcoming season.
When Darius Morris committed to Michigan in August of 2008, he was proclaimed as John Beilein’s signature recruit. Many people (including yours truly) referred to him as the best recruit that Beilein had ever landed. Previously at Michigan, Beilein had picked up commitments from Stu Douglass, Ben Cronin, Zack Novak, Robin Benzing, and Jordan Morgan. When recruiting rankings were published, gurus had probably handed out the same number of stars to Beilein’s original five recruits, if they had heard of them, as Darius Morris.
After Morris’ commitment, Michigan went on to win 20 games with a pair of walk-ons, CJ Lee and David Merritt, running the point. The obvious conclusion was that Darius had to be an upgrade over a pair of logic.
Despite Morris’ recruiting accolades, two things became clear early on during his freshman season. First, Morris was the only true point guard on Michigan’s roster. Second, he wasn’t ready to play 30+ minutes per game as the team’s only point guard. As I documented last year, point guard is a very tough position to play as a freshman but Morris was clearly in over his head. He showed flashes of the player many expected but couldn’t consistently produce.
What He Did Well
Create: In Big Ten play, Darius assisted 24% of the team’s made field goals while he was on the floor. That figure isn’t all-Big Ten caliber but is respectable, top 15 in the conference, especially for a freshman. This number should only increase over the course of Morris’ career.
Get to the line: Morris gets to the line more often than any of Michigan’s other returnees, as he posted a respectable 36% free throw rate (FTA/FGA) last year. Michigan also attempted the second least number of free throws in the conference. Given this lack of production at the stripe, Michigan will need Morris to find his way to the stripe.
Defend, at times: Darius has all of the tools to be a great defender — he’s tall, long, athletic, and willing. Last year, there were times when he looked like a great defender but there were far too many times he didn’t. The one defensive performance that stands out was versus Penn State, as he held Talor Battle to 14 points on 14 shots with four turnovers.
Areas For Improvement
Shooting: 51% from two, 18% from three, 63% from the line. The shooting numbers were painfully bad last year to the point that, one would hope, they can only go up. Early returns aren’t great, during Michigan’s Euro-tour Morris shot 29% (10-34) from the field, 0% (0-10) from three, and 33% (4-12) from the free throw line. The Euro stats are obviously a bit flawed with a further three point line, different competition, and a sample size, but they are certainly cause for concern.
Turnovers: Freshmen point guards turn the ball over and Darius Morris was no exception. The fact that Morris’ turnover numbers steadily improved over the course of the year hint that he should be able to improve in this regard.
Consistency: Another thing that almost every freshman struggles with. Some nights Morris had it, some nights he didn’t. For example, Morris made one or fewer shots in 13 of 32 games.
I am confident that Darius Morris will continue to become more comfortable in the offense and become more consistent on the offensive and defensive ends. What worries me is his shooting.
His shooting ability will determine how effective the rest of his game can be. He doesn’t need to be the team’s best shooter, but he does have to be able to keep defenses honest. I look back to CJ Lee and Dave Merritt, and while they weren’t great offensive players by any means, they both hit enough three point shots (around 35-36%) to keep defenses honest.
Morris has a role on this team if his shot doesn’t develop simply because he’s the only true point guard on the Michigan roster. However, if he wants to become the player we expected when he signed, he needs to start knocking down the perimeter jump-shot.
Prediction: Darius continues to struggle with his shot but cuts down on turnovers significantly. He’ll make his greatest improvements defensively, where he becomes Michigan’s best on-ball defender. Overall he’ll average right around 30 minutes per game but just short of double digit scoring.