Derrick Walton Jr. spent last season learning John Beilein’s high-scoring, motion-heavy offensive system. Now he’s expected to orchestrate it.
Thrust into a starting role as a freshman, Walton was able to absorb lessons from future NBA players in his first season, doling out assists to the likes of Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III as they made highlight-reel plays.
But after losing three starters and two key role players, that luxury will no longer be afforded to him. The sophomore guard will need to put those lessons together to build his own name in a system that has helped so many make theirs.
“I understood (last season) that there were guys like Nik and Glenn and (junior guard) Caris (LeVert), guys that waited their turn, and it was their time to do the things they sat and watched other guys do,” Walton said. “I was very comfortable with letting those guys make the plays and just contributing to the team any way I could.”
But the departures of Stauskas and Robinson have created a need for scoring in the Michigan offense. Walton often passed off that role to Stauskas and others last year, but not for lack of ability. He averaged 7.9 points per game in the 2013-14 season, but did so shooting 41 percent from 3-point range.
In Michigan coach John Beilein’s hyper-efficient offense, though, even that high percentage didn’t translate to more than three shots from beyond the arc per game for Walton. Stauskas nearly doubled Walton’s total, taking 5.8 3-point shots per game and shooting 44 percent on them.
Sophomore forward Zak Irvin seems to be a natural replacement for some of Stauskas’ shots — many of which came off the ball screen, a key tenet of Beilein’s offense. But Walton will also be counted on to make up for a large chunk of the Wolverines’ lost scoring.
“We talk about it every other day, almost every day, just how important it is for me to be aggressive this year,” Walton said.
Already a dynamic athlete, Walton spent his summer in Ann Arbor working out with Irvin and strength and conditioning coach Jon Sanderson to develop the physical tools necessary for his increased workload.
Players like Trey Burke, Stauskas and LeVert have made the same commitment in recent years, and all made noticeable gains athletically from season to season.
While the 2014-15 campaign doesn’t begin until Nov. 10, Walton says he has already noticed the strides he has made through Sanderson’s summer program.
“(I’ve been) able to recognize different stuff as it’s thrown at me on the fly, (shoot) the ball a little bit better, and I just feel a lot more athletic,” Walton said. “I credit that to Coach Sanderson.”
While those physical gains will heighten Walton’s ability to generate offense, an equally important aspect of his sophomore season will be his level of maturity.
The Wolverines have one of the youngest teams in the nation, boasting only one senior, forward Max Bielfeldt, and just two juniors, LeVert and guard Spike Albrecht.
And as the starting point guard, Walton knows he’ll be expected to be a leader on the court and in the locker room.
“My teammates are trusting me a lot more this year to make plays for myself and them,” he said. “You’ve just got to grow up quick.
“At the end of the day, you’re one of the most experienced guys on the team, so taking ownership of the team, as a young player yourself, you just want to be successful, so you do as asked. We need leadership this year, and that’s what (us) younger guys are gonna do.”