After spending three years with the Michigan Wolverines, Tim Hardaway Jr declared for the draft last season, leaving an open spot in the starting roster. While that spot may go to Nik Stauskas, the hot shooting Canadian, incoming freshman Zak Irvin is going to have something to say about that.
After his senior season, Irvin was named Indiana’s Mr Basketball and gained a lot of attention as Rivals upgraded his status from a four star recruit to a five star player. It was never really a question that Irvin would attend Michigan. Other teams, including Indiana, were interested in him but he committed to the Wolverines in 2011 and never turned back on that decision.
Joining Glen Robinson III, Stauskas and Mitch McGary, Irvin is part of another strong Michigan Wolverines recruiting class that should retool the roster on the fly. After a national championship appearance, there will be big things expected from Michigan by its fans this season. In order to reach those expectations, Irvin will need to be a key contributor to the team from day one.
Here is a mix tape of Irvin playing some high school games.
Blessed with excellent size at 6″6, Irvin is able to play both the small forward and shooting guard position. Combined with that size is some great athleticism and explosiveness off the court. On the break, Irvin is a monster that can go up and catch passes high and throw them down for destructive alley oops. Not only is he athletic, Irvin is quick footed which means he is as quick as guys smaller than him.
In the half court, Irvin has a great three point shot. His form is very pure and consistent and should not need any work to be effective at the NCAA level. Since Irvin is so tall, he is hard to stop when he wants to shoot from beyond the three point line, the best defenders can do is get a hand in his face and hope he misses.
His mid range game is also much improved. This is especially true off the dribble and off step back jumpers. Irvin has a nice feel for the ball and knows where the rim is at all times, he is very away as an offensive player.
Since he averaged nine rebounds as a senior in high school, Irvin is also a very talented rebounded. This is both on offense and defense. He knows how to box out his man in order to seal him away from the ball and has great instincts for where the ball will be bouncing off the rim. On offense, his constant tracking of the ball comes from his high effort level and his willingness to do anything to win.
Basketball is not just a physical game, it is also a mental battle. Irvin is one of the guys that does not get upset easily and isn’t afraid of the big moments. He wants to be the guy to take that last shot when his team is down by two and isn’t worried about missing. People don’t realize how big that can be as an asset, many players would rather not take the last shot out of fear of missing. The great players don’t think about the consequences and just take the shot. Irvin is that last type of player.
If he is to play minutes at the shooting guard spot, opposite Robinson, Irvin will need to improve his dribbling ability. In fact, regardless of whether or not he plays at the 2, he should look to become a better ball handler. Irvin already has trouble creating separation from his defender and is not even dealing with NCAA caliber players yet. While he is extremely athletic when he gets to the rim, getting to the rim is a huge problem for Irvin.
Another area that would be nice to see a sizable improvement is in Irvin’s passing. While he is not a selfish or bad teammate, Irvin suffers from tunnel vision and does not often change his mind once he makes a decision on what he is going to do with the ball. It will be important for Irvin to get used to looking up and seeing his open teammates for easy opportunities if he wants to start and play extended minutes for Michigan. This is even more the case considering that they are losing the National Player of the Year and their starting point guard in Trey Burke. Without Burke, passing the ball around will become much more of a team effort in which Irvin will be expected to contribute heavily.
From a purely Xs and Os standpoint, Irvin will need some work with the coaching staff. This is both offensively and defensively. On offense, Irvin will need to get used to playing under structure and having plays called out, while he has done this in high school, a lot of his games were just Irvin deciding to score the ball and winning the match that way. It won’t exactly be a successful strategy in division one. On defense, it will be more of an issue of reading offensive plays and knowing how to react to them. Irvin’s defensive instincts will need to be sharpened and he will have to work on defending the perimeter and the paint since he should play a lot of different positions.
What to expect at Michigan:
Whether or not he earns himself a starting spot from game one, Irvin will be a key member of next year’s Wolverines team. His ability to knock down three pointers will make him dangerous both in the half court and on the break. As well, Irvin’s athletic ability should keep the fans standing with his acrobatics at the rim, especially in transition.
Of course, Irvin will have a lot of work to do to be a dangerous, all around option, but the tools are all there. He is very talented and plays like a natural so with coaching, which should be excellent coming from Beilein and his staff, Irvin should pick up on a lot of things quickly.
Given a few years at Michigan, Irvin could become one of the top players in the nation. His combination of size and shooting ability makes him a very attractive player and if he is able to build on that, he should eventually also become a great NBA prospect.