Derrick Walton faced decidedly unrealistic expectations when he first stepped on the floor at the Crisler Center.
Walton was the highest rated point guard that John Beilein had recruited to Michigan. The two point guards before him were Darius Morris and Trey Burke – both of whom had left for the NBA after their sophomore seasons. Walton was expected to keep the momentum going after Burke had led Michigan to the National Championship Game and left Ann Arbor with a trophy case full of National Player of the Year awards.
With so many other talented pieces returning, Walton was supposed to step in and steer the ship seamlessly. The chances of accomplishing that feat were never likely, but Walton started from day one and helped Michigan to a Big Ten Championship and ended up on the All-Big Ten Freshman Team. Not a bad start to say the least.
Walton wasn’t Burke and he wasn’t Morris, but he quickly figured out that he didn’t need to be and meshed with the talented roster. Serving more as a peripheral shooter than the focal point of the offense, Walton put together a strong freshman season.
- Three-Point Shooting: Walton shot 41% from three-point range and roughly half of his field goals were long-distance attempts. Walton had a consistent jumper throughout the season and was effective both off of the catch and off of the bounce. Walton was a pretty good finisher at the rim and his mid-range game needs work, but his three-point shooting ability was obvious as a freshman.
- Ball Screen Scoring: Walton loved to shoot jumpers off the dribble or attack the rim when he got a ball screen in 2013-14 and he was very effective doing both. Walton graded out in the 80th percentile nationally among pick-and-roll scorers and showed plenty of promise. Walton loved to shoot off the dribble in ball screen scenarios, but didn’t run as many ball screens of some of Michigan’s previous prominent point guards.
- Clutch Plays: Walton was never shy of the big stage as a freshman and made a number of critical plays and free throws down the stretch. He was pivotal in winning a number of road games including wins at Michigan State, Nebraska and Ohio State. Freshmen aren’t supposed to make those sort of plays, but Walton was unfazed in late-game situations and that’s an excellent trait for a young point guard.
Room for Improvement
- Diversifying pick-and-roll game: Walton’s high ball screens were generally high in the middle of the floor and he almost always dribbled off the pick and looked for his own shot. As his game expands, he’ll be able be more flexible and find the roll man more often (he passed the ball on 55% of his ball screens, but only found the screener on 35% of them) and also reject screens and use ball screens on the wings.
- Offensive creation: Walton did a great job of playing with Stauskas, LeVert and Robinson, but he’s going to have to be a go-to player next year. He’s played that role plenty during his prep career, but doing it at the college level is still a big step up. Walton used 18.2% of Michigan’s offensive possessions last season and that number will likely shoot up to the mid-20s next season. The scoring will come, but can Walton create for his teammates? He had just a 1.7 to 1 assist to turnover ratio in half court situations last season, a figure he’ll look to improve on in his second season.
- Shooting Range: Michigan coaches have focused on how important it is for Walton to extend his three-point shooting range after most of his attempts were just behind the line last season. “(We’re working on) range on his jump shot. When he first came here, he would have toes on the line all the time in practice,” Beilein said in June. “Getting range, that was something that separated Trey Burke, separated Nik, Tim, they could shoot from really deep range.”
Shining Moment: Walton had a handful of big plays as a freshman, but his layup with the foul in East Lansing was the top moment of his season. The layup helped secure Michigan’s win at the Breslin Center, something that means just a little bit more for an in-state prospect.
Quotable: “The proverbial coach‑speak, the game has slowed down. And in particular some things that as we make adjustments during the season. When he was starting to get it, right now, somebody plays us a certain way and now everybody sees that on video and now we gotta change. And we keep changing and changing and changing, and he’s gotta stay up with those changes. A lot of times when you’re not the quarterback of the team, those changes aren’t as obvious to you.
And for him, for him to keep just growing his game and seeing this has just been fantastic. He’s really a bright kid. I love that he’s starting to call plays on his own. And as a freshman, right now he’s every bit as aware of what the mission of a game is for us, what the game plan is as anybody we’ve had.” – John Beilein on Derrick Walton’s freshman year development.
Walton couldn’t have done much more last season and would receive an ‘A’ if we were grading on a freshman curve. But the picture will be different in 2014-15. Walton is in a position to make a Stauskas-like jump in his sophomore season. He played the 4th option role on a great team perfectly, but now he’ll have to transition into the No. 2 role.
Walton has the legitimate opportunity to grow into a Yogi Ferrell-type player for Michigan. Ferrell averaged 7.6 points and 4.1 assists as a freshman before seeing those numbers skyrocket to 17.2 points and 3.9 assists as a sophomore. Walton will have a better supporting cast than Ferrell last season, but will need to make a similar leap. He has the jump shot and he’s played in big games and an uptick in opportunities could result in Walton posting big scoring numbers as a sophomore. With his quickness and scoring ability, and the track record of other Wolverines’ making rapid improvements, there’s no reason for Walton not to improving significantly in 2015.