Michigan Basketball’s Derrick Walton Jr. stepped into the size infinity shoes that Trey Burke left in Ann Arbor early into his career. In fact, he could not have stepped in any earlier or else he would have been ineligible. Coming into a Michigan basketball program that had just reached the national championship game sounds easier than it was. The Wolverines lost the two best and most experienced players that got them there. This left 2013’s team with a handful of young talent that supplemented the March run as opposed to fueled it. To add to the difficulty, Mitch McGary was the one player who consistently contributed to the tournament run and could have greatly helped Walton Jr. by creating space and posing an inside threat but was limited due to injury and eventually decided to opt for back surgery that would sideline him indefinitely. It all seemed to spell a recipe for disaster for the young point guard.
The comparison between Walton Jr. and Burke is one that is inevitably made as Beilein has had tremendous success in making his point guards top caliber players at their position in the conference. Walton Jr. was compared to Burke as soon as he committed to Michigan, with analysts dissecting his game to determine if he could become the next Trey Burke. Interestingly, Walton Jr. has had the luxury of a solid backup in Spike Albrecht that has allowed him to learn in a more traditional way as opposed to Burke who averaged 36.1 minutes per game during his freshman campaign. Walton Jr. only plays 26.4 minutes per game, starting off slowly and now growing into the role of a 30+ minute per game player. Statistically, both players are very similar, Burke had an assist to turnover ratio of 1.64 while Walton Jr. boasts a 1.61. Walton Jr. also has a better shooting percentage at .437 to Burke’s .433. These signs bode very well for the future of the program.
There are some key areas for improvement in Walton Jr.’s game, however. His 3-point shot, in an offense that lives and dies off it, is below .400. That number is not terrible for a freshman not known for his shooting, but the development of it in the offseason it would make both him and the Wolverines dangerous next year. Defensively, he is not a liability and in fact is quite an effective rebounder but he does not create the turnovers that lead to Michigan’s preferred transition offense. Perhaps if he becomes more comfortable with coach Beilein’s defensive schemes and his role in that defense he will take more risks in terms of steals. The upside of all of this is it can be improved going into next year.
Walton Jr. is very effective at getting to the basket and either drawing contact or finishing. He is the fastest player on the court almost every time he is on it and he uses this quickness to his advantage like a veteran. His role does appear to be a bit different from Trey Burke’s a year ago. Burke ran the offense like a true point guard, handling the ball almost always and creating shots for teammates. Walton Jr. often passes it off to LeVert, Stauskas, or Robinson III and becomes just another guard on the court. That is most likely by design as the players he is handing it to are more experienced in the offense but I would like to see more creativity in allowing Walton Jr. to run the offense.
Walton Jr. plays with passion and shows true passion for the maize and blue. He is a Detroit native who is proud of his roots and wants to put Michigan on the map. You can see it in his play, taking over the game late against the in-state rival Spartans and again against Ohio State. The future is bright for the young Wolverine and the program if he continues to perfect his craft and gain comfort in the intricate schemes of coach Beilein.
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