John Beilein has made a career out of his ability to recruit shooters and his perimeter-oriented offense has always been stereotyped by the three-point shot.
While the three is still ever-present in Beilein’s offense, recent years have seen the rise of the playmaker. Ball screens and isolation sets have allowed players like Trey Burke, Darius Morris, Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert to rise to prominence due to their abilities to attack the basket as much as their jump shot. Nik Stauskas was an elite shooter, but it was always his ability to create off of ball screens that made him a special player.
Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman was added to Michigan’s roster in April because Beilein realized he needed more playmakers. Stauskas was gone – much quicker than anyone expected – and other than LeVert (who has already been mentioned in NBA circles), Michigan’s roster lacked lacked a versatile combo guard. Early returns in Italy are enough to suggest that ‘MAAR’ could fill that role this season for the Wolverines.
“Muhammad has really gone out there and used his speed, where he has been able to get to the foul line again,” John Beilein said after a Michigan win in Italy. “That’s two games in a row (he’s gotten to the line). Right now I think what we are valuing is his ability to see the floor when he’s going his quickest.”
By The Numbers
Abdur-Rahkman has a skillset that’s unique to Michigan’s roster. He attacks the basket and, most importantly, gets to the free throw line. The 6-foot-4 freshman attempted 25 free throws in Italy, nearly twice as many as anyone else on the roster. His free throw rate (FTA/FGA) for the trip was a ridiculous 109%. The sample size is tiny, but here’s how that number compares to the best individual free throw rates by a Michigan player under John Beilein.
Abdur-Rahkman isn’t going to post a free throw rate over 100% for the season, but he has the ability to rank among the best players that Michigan has had at drawing free throws. The Allentown native’s statistics in Italy were particularly impressive because he was so efficient inside the arc (69%) despite his aggressive style of play. When he didn’t get fouled, Abdur-Rahkman was capable of some very impressive finishes.
Abdur-Rahkman admitted that learning John Beilein’s endless set of plays, reads and sets has been a laborious process, but once he gets on the floor his basketball instincts take over.
“It’s kind of confusing at first,” he explained. “But as you pay attention and focus in practice it’s a little better, and easier to pick up. Then once you get in a game, it’s more fluent.”
Despite learning on the job, Abdur-Rahkman even had the opportunity to play some point guard off the bench. His versatility should allow him to not only be Caris LeVert’s primary backup at the two, but even slip over to the one in an emergency.
“It’s been a great experience,” he said during the tour. “Not many people get the chance to play as a freshman before the season starts. It gives you a good chance to get in a rhythm with the team and work on good chemistry. I think I’ve played decent; the team is playing better so it doesn’t really matter how I’m playing as long as the team is winning and I can contribute.”
The biggest question for Abdur-Rahkman will be whether he can consistently knock down the three-point shot. He only connected on 2-of-10 long distance attempts overseas. He can make some impact with his aggressive ball handling and his defense, but he’s going to need to become a legitimate threat from three-point range to take the next step as a complete combo guard.