For the time being, it looks as though Mitch McGary will remain at Michigan for at least another year as he rehabs from season-ending back surgery. Had he been able to play this whole season, it’s hard to imagine him sticking around and not going to the NBA.
That puts his projected departure date at the end of the 2014-2015 season. But there is another Wolverine I believe will likely join McGary: Derrick Walton, Jr.
It’s been a lot of fun to see Walton take over the point guard position with Trey Burke shipping off the the NBA. Actually, it’s been enjoyable to see that whole backcourt reload. But you can’t deny the fact that Walton has proven to be everything he was hyped up to be coming out of high school, and that puts him in a great position to go to the NBA after his sophomore season, barring any sort of setback.
Seeing him develop in this season alone has convinced me he’ll be a shiner in next year’s draft. Everything about his game is very attractive: He learns well, is easy to coach, has confidence, displays great court vision, is developing his shot, and he can work his way into the paint.
I’m not ready to see he has that clutch gene we saw in Trey Burke last season, but his reliability in late-game situations is astonishing. Specifically, I’m looking at free throws. In the beginning of conference play, I hated seeing Walton go to the line to try to ice a game; he wasn’t a reliable shooter from the line. But he turned the corner against Michigan State, I believe, and has been a great candidate to go to the line late in games.
Sticking to his late-game performance, he’s eager and prepared to handle the ball and possibly have to make a play by himself, usually be getting into the paint. Just as Trey Burke did last season, Walton uses his body so well; he rarely gets his shot blocked in the paint.
Dan Dakich will tell you he’s a great layup shooter. That’s such an important skill to have as a point guard. You must be able to control your body and get a shot off with a 7-footer (or near that) trying to send the ball into the fifth row of fans.
His awareness and vision have also developed this season to the point of being a deadly weapon. Though I hold firm to the belief that Spike Albrecht is far-and-away Michigan’s best set of eyes on the court, Walton can take himself just about anywhere on the court and find the open man. That creates a multitude of opportunities for his teammates, many of which come right around the rim.
The only phase of Walton’s game that hasn’t taken tremendous strides forward is his shooting. But don’t get me wrong, he has still improved his shot. One thing I want to see is a quicker trigger. He doesn’t take too many attempts with a hand in the face for two reasons.
Firstly, e doesn’t need to with some combination of Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert and Zak Irvin on the floor. But secondly, I don’t think he’s quick enough to get off a good look — not yet, anyway. A great example of improvement in that department would be Nik Stauskas, who has developed an incredibly quick trigger, both off the pass and the dribble.
If all plays out as expected through the next 14 months, Derrick Walton, Jr. will be on his way to the NBA.