Team 100

Five takeaways from Michigan’s first practice

Michigan opened the doors to the first hour of its first full practice of 2015-16 on Friday afternoon, providing media with a glimpse of this year’s team. Here are five thoughts on the upcoming season and this team’s offseason progress.

Michigan opened the doors to the first hour of its first full practice of 2015-16 on Friday afternoon, providing media with a glimpse of this year’s team. Here are five thoughts on the upcoming season and this team’s offseason progress.

Great to see Derrick Walton, Caris LeVert healthy

Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton are both 100% healthy and cleared to play. Watching Michigan practice with those two on the floor after the painful finish to last season was an encouraging sight.

It was especially encouraging to see Derrick Walton bouncing around — clearly showing no ill effects of foot injury that ruined his sophomore season. It was also a reminder of just how limited Walton was after he injured his toe at the Barclays Center against Villanova. Walton battled through the pain, but it clearly affected his game last season — I’m willing to bet that he will never shoot just 41% on shots at the rim again.

When asked what the biggest difference in his game this year from a season ago was, he focused on his health.

“Just getting back to being able to jump off two feet and land comfortably was the first step,” he said.

Those aren’t things that a point guard should worry about and I think we’ll see a different Derrick Walton in 2015-16.

RELATED: Watch video from Michigan’s first practice

Aubrey Dawkins looks like a starter

We only saw 60 minutes of light drills and shooting, but I would be very surprised if Aubrey Dawkins isn’t in the starting lineup when the season tips off in October.

Dawkins has filled out his frame and we already know that he can out-leap anyone on the roster, but his presence in practice – he was with Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton in most drill work – has taken a new tune.

“(I’ve improved) my IQ, I believe, and slowing down,” Dawkins explained when asked how he’s improved. “Learning that you don’t need to rush. Coming in as a freshman I kind of was a deer in the headlights and was just shocked (when I got on the floor) and played as fast I could. It’s slowing down and making smart plays is where I’ve improved the most.”

Dawkins has an obvious opportunity with Zak Irvin sidelined in camp, but if he can make noticeable improvements in his rebounding and ball handling then he can be an impact player on this team even when Irvin is back in the mix.

Duncan Robinson’s shooting ability as advertised

Duncan Robinson can shoot the ball and there’s no reason to think otherwise.

“It’s just different when he shoots,” Walton said on Friday. “You’re surprised when he misses.”

There are still questions about Robinson’s quickness and how he’ll defend at this level, but his shooting ability is legitimate. John Beilein will find minutes for him somewhere, even if he’s not sure of what position he’ll play just yet.  Robinson’s size should help unlock a number of lineup possibilities and help make up for some of his lack of quickness defensively.

“It’s just different when he shoots,” Walton said on Friday. “You’re surprised when he misses.”

DJ Wilson is this team’s x-factor

DJ Wilson added significant weight and looks like a different player from a season ago. He looked comfortable in post-up drills and his ability to move his feet defensively could really open up a lot of options for Michigan.

He can shoot it better than your average big man, but he’s not going to be bombing threes anytime soon. It is his length and versatility that are unique to Michigan’s roster and I can envision a situation where he ends up playing minutes at the five this season. John Beilein succinctly described Wilson’s predicament as he enters this season.

“‘I used to be a string bean and people used to push me around, so I didn’t like physical play. Well now I weight 20 or 30 pounds more and have to learn how to embrace physical play,'” Beilein said. “Every day that’s what they’re going to see.”

He’s far from a traditional center — and he definitely has the potential to play the four at some point in his career — but if Wilson can hold his own down low and on the glass at 240 pounds, he could be an important answer for the biggest question facing this team: the center position.

Beilein won’t use his bench just to use it

John Beilein wants to play his best guys and he wants to play them a lot of minutes. He doesn’t care if his next best guys are still pretty good. Expect him to find an 8 or 9 man rotation and stick to it.

“I want players to play through mistakes and get better through them,” Beilein said on Friday. “And I want our best players on the court as much as we can get them out there. You want your best players out there and they have to have a rhythm.”

There are some names that you can pencil into the rotation like Derrick Walton, Caris LeVert, Spike Albrecht and Zak Irvin — Michigan’s ‘core four’ — but there are also plenty of spots that are up for grabs.

Outside of that group, Aubrey Dawkins, Kameron Chatman, Duncan Robinson, Ricky Doyle, Mark Donnal, DJ Wilson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman are presumably battling for the other four or five spots in the rotation.

One player I worry might get lost in the shuffle is Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman.

I love what Abdur-Rahkman brought to the table late last year and think he’s critical to some of Michigan’s backcourt flexibility in the future, but I’m having a hard time seeing how he finds the floor. He’s pigeonholed into the off guard position and he’s going to be battling Caris LeVert for primary minutes there with Spike Albrecht and Derrick Walton as additional options in a two-point guard lineup.

Other notes

  • Moritz Wagner has a smooth stroke and legitimate height at 6-foot-10 and change, but his game is still very raw. That’s to be expected for a young German prospect in his first full Division I practice, but John Beilein has relentlessly praised his IQ and feel for the game. Either way, he’s going to be a very nice piece down the line when he starts to put things together.
  • Spike Albrecht was a full participant in drills, but he’s still limited from doing lower body lifting and some other activities. Zak Irvin was on the floor in uniform, but didn’t participate in drills.
  • Ricky Doyle continues to make improvements in his frame as he’s up to 250 pounds with far less body fat. He looked to be moving well and I think conditioning is the biggest worry with Doyle as he’s really Michigan’s only true post that has the body to bang in the paint.

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