Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Way Too Early Basketball Expectations-o-Meter: Jordan Morgan

People I've already talked about: Tim Hardaway Jr.

After starting with THJ in the back court, it's time to shift to the front court. Upon the graduation of the gritty warrior poets known as Zack Novak and Stu Douglass, Morgan officially assumes takes up the vacated title of "Not Superbly Talented But GRITTY Basketball Player Who I Will Endearingly Refer To As GRITTY and TOUGH Whenever I Talk About Him." So, let's talk about Jordan Morgan for a little bit.

Career to Date 
Morgan will be a redshirt junior this year, which, to be honest, is kind of hard to believe for some reason. Regardless, Morgan has seen it all the last two seasons. When you consider everything, it's sort of remarkable that he's contributed as much as he has thus far.

He came into Ann Arbor as a not very highly touted 3-star after having committed way back in December of 2007 (remember, he was a class of 2009 prospect). Per Rivals, his other offers came from CMU, Oakland, and Xavier. Before you continue on to this next paragraph, take a look at that photo in his Rivals profile. Done? Okay. Meet me at the next paragraph.

Remember how I just told you to look at the photo. Well, there was a reason for that. By the time Morgan's redshirt year was over and he was hitting the court in 2010-11, he looked absolutely nothing like that. A knee injury derailed Morgan's first offseason, which ended up in a redshirt. By all accounts, he was kind of overweight, whether of his own accord or weight gain due to not being able to work out normally because of the knee injury. Either way, it's clear that he worked his tail off during that redshirt year. Michigan needed him to play right away, and because of his hard work in the weight room, he was ready to do so.

Fast forward two seasons and Jordan Morgan has played in every single game, starting 68 of 69 throughout the last two seasons. He might not be the most athletic or skilled big guy in the world, but he's been incredibly durable and dependable. Can you imagine where Michigan would have been in either of the last two seasons if Morgan had gone down, especially last season? Trey Burke's offseason workout videos have become stuff of Michigan Internet legend at this point, but the work that Morgan put in that first year cannot be understated.

Last Year 
Of course, there were highs and lows, just like for anybody else. Before I get to the stats, I'll say this: I think that he had a solid year, one worthy of praise. While he still struggled in a few aspects of his game, he did the dirty work for Michigan down low all season, a taxing role given the lack of depth in the front court.

With that said, Morgan's numbers went down a bit last season, playing almost identical minutes his sophomore year as he did his freshman year. After averaging 9.2 ppg during his freshman season, he averaged 7.3 per last year. He averaged a touch over one field goal attempt per game less in 2011-12 (6.4 to 5.2 per). He also made less trips to the FT line, taking 73 in 2010-11 and 62 last season. Otherwise, his stat line was almost eerily static. His rebounding, turnover rate, and FG% remained practically the same. On the bright side, he fouled way less last season (2.4 per game vs. 3.2 his first year, a delta of 31 fouls), which makes sense given the aforementioned lack of depth and the need for him to stay on the court.

Regarding the slight decrease in certain statistical areas...I created a tag for tis during the season: "Jordan Morgan's life after Morris." Although the pick and roll connection between Trey and Jordan picked up as the season went on, it was clear early on--and even later on in the year--that Jordan's game was missing Darius Morris's expert facilitation. Morris's size allowed him to maneuver and bust through and around hard hedges in a way that Trey wasn't able to do with the same consistency. As such, Morgan's stat line suffered in a subtle way. As we all know, Morgan gets basically all of his points on put backs on the offensive glass or on pick and roll dives to the basket. Take away the latter and Morgan's ability to chip in on the offensive end suffers, as his post game is still very unrefined and his jumper is deployed about as often as Al Borges calls the bubble screen.

Things That Were Good 
First of all, I'll reiterate this point: Morgan was a good soldier for Michigan in the front court. He was durable and tough, which doesn't seem like much of a compliment but is given Michigan's lack of viable front court options and Jon Horford's injury that kept him out for the conference slate.

While he isn't a supreme athlete by any means, he was able to use his strength to play solid defense most of the time. His shining moment of the 2011-12 season came against Ohio State at home. Against the Buckeyes on February 18th, he notched his lone double double of the season, putting up 11 points and 11 boards, plus a pair of steals. More notably, he held Jared Sullinger to 14 points on 6-14 shooting. It doesn't sound that impressive in retrospect, but Morgan stonewalled and frustrated Sullinger in the post all game, one of the main reasons why Michigan held the Buckeyes to 51 points that day.

Morgan also pitched in a few other excellently efficient offensive performances: 16 points on 7-10 shooting against Iowa State, 15 points on 7-12 shooting against Bradley, 16 on 7-11 shooting at Arkansas, and 12 on 5-7 in a big win at Purdue. His numbers dipped after the OSU game at home--averaging 5.6 ppg through the last seven games of the season. However, it's unfair to expect Morgan to put up 10+ on any sort of even semi-regular basis. His offensive game needs significant polishing, but he came up big for Michigan on a number of occasions, and that doesn't even begin to include his yeoman's work on the defensive end.

In what was perhaps the most laudable aspect of his game, Morgan hustled and ran the floor with the best of them. He is obviously a completely different player, but, as a Bulls fan, his ability to beat the other team's big down the floor for an easy transition thunder dunk was reminiscent of Joakim Noah. When Morgan is running the floor, he is arguably my favorite player to watch on this Michigan squad, and yes, that statement does take into account guys like Trey and THJ.

Things That Were Bad 
Although his foul rate went down, Morgan had the tendency to pick up two cheapies early on in some games. With Michigan's added depth, this won't hurt as much going forward, but it still isn't something you want to see. For instance, in two games against Illinois, Morgan played a combined 32 minutes. In the first contest at Crisler, he picked up two in the first 8 minutes. Not good.

Otherwise, most points of criticism revolve around his offensive game, naturally. Despite shooting over 60% from the field, his ability to convert on put backs and miscellaneous bunnies was a frustratingly erratic venture. I don't really know how to explain it, but too many times he'd just gather an offensive board and put it up off the heel of the rim.

Throwing the ball into the post has not been a part of Michigan's offensive arsenal, but Morgan's little baby hook, when deployed, came with somewhat mixed results. Additionally, his game didn't extend outside of the painted area at all really. I only remember him converting on a jump shot once all year, an elbow jumper against Bradley and wow don't ask me why or how I even remember that. I guess that sort of proves the point that Morgan, uh, doesn't really have a jumper. It's either that or he's told not to shoot it, which makes sense given: a) Beilein knows what he can do due to seeing him in practice and b) there are obviously better shots for this offense to take than a Jordan Morgan jumper of any length, really.

If JMo Was A Literary Figure
Ernest Hemingway. Understated but powerful. His worth is often summarized in few words, but that doesn't make them any less weighty than the more verbose artists in the game. He deliberately paints a picture over time, one of solidity and basic, sturdy truths, only to thunder dunk occasionally drop the metaphorical hammer on us in ways that we may not have expected after being lulled to sleep by his minimalist raison d'etre.

Things That Would Be Prettyyyy Prettyyyy Prettyyyy Good

  • Pick and roll connection. Obviously, this bullet necessarily involves Trey as well, but Morgan's offensive game still essentially depends upon the pick and roll game. He might not receive the ball in the perfect spot every time--i.e. anywhere close to the painted area--and as such he'll need to develop a little creativity with the ball in his hands on the catch. Whether that means popping a jumper somewhere in the nebulous area between the short and medium range or simply catching and ripping a one or two dribble power move to the block, the offense can't stop if Morgan doesn't catch it in the so called sweet spot on the floor. 
  • Early fouls. Again, increased front court depth etc. etc., but Morgan needs to avoid the dreaded "two fouls within the first 10 minutes of the game" scenario. He did a better job of this as the season went on, but Michigan still cannot afford to lose him for extended periods of time, even with Horford's return and the introduction of guys like Biefeldt and McGary to the rotation. 
  • Finishing. This is somewhat redundant, but I'd like to see JMo finish around the basket with more consistency, especially on put backs. I understand that he isn't the tallest or jumpiest guy around, but it's a little frustrating to see the ball bounce around the rim on bunny shots in the paint. This point is basically me channeling Ray Ratto going "just win the game", so...yeah. Finishing around the basket. 

Like I said, I'll make it no secret: I think Jordan Morgan is awesome. For the most part, what you see is what you get with Morgan, which I like. However, even though he still has two more seasons in a Michigan jersey, he's probably not going to become Hakeem Olajuwon on the low block.

With that said, if guys like Novak and Douglass have taught us anything, the 4-year college player is the most rewarding one to watch as a fan. They come in and aren't the most naturally talented or athletic, but they work hard and improve in subtle ways that a fan can spot and feel legitimately good about. Neither Novak nor Douglass were doing much at all on the bounce during their first three seasons in Ann Arbor. But, lo and behold, both improved their ball handling skills and flashed the ability to contribute offensively in ways other than the spot up three. Novak developed a little drive into a jump stop for a mid-range jumper, and Douglass showed a sneaky--and if we're using sports cliches here, "crafty"--ability to get to the rack and find ways to finish.

Similarly, I expect Morgan to improve his offensive game. It won't seem tremendously apparent, but, at some point, Morgan will start doing things that are notable simply for the fact that he couldn't do those things before. Finishing with authority. Converting on jump hooks with confidence. Hitting the occasional jumper. It might not happen right away (or even this season), but he'll up his game in ways that you might not notice until February/March.

Morgan will continue to provide a durable, GRITTY presence on defense. Offensively, I think it's a good bet that he'll return to his freshman season form statistically. A return to averaging over 9 ppg is a reasonable expectation, and his overall offensive arsenal will improve incrementally as the year goes on. Post-season recognition, awards-wise, is probably not in his future, but I would imagine that he wouldn't really care about those all that much.

1 comment:

  1. Agree that Morgan is a valuable player for U-M, but I'm questioning if his scoring average will increase. His playing time may decrease with a healthy Jon Horford and we might see some rotations with McGary at center and GRIII at the four.

    Hopefully, we'll have enough guys playing so well that playing time becomes a challenge.