The opening minutes of Michigan's trip to Duke on Tuesday night felt like a reach for the past. The Wolverines tried to go to Mitch McGary early, giving the big man the chance to take advantage of his size advantage on Duke's small frontline and recapture some of that March magic that made him a star.
Both of McGary's early touches were isolation plays. The first he started at the elbow, made a wild drive and missed badly. On the second, he faced up from the wing and shot an airball.
McGary was set up to fail. And unfortunately for McGary, Trey Burke wasn't walking through those doors to save him.
It has been an unspectacular start for the big fella, and while his numbers against Duke (14 points and 14 rebounds) resembled the McGary of March, they were empty numbers that came late and didn't have much impact on Michigan's offense.
We're now six games into McGary's sophomore season, and those six games hardly stack up to what he did in the NCAA tournament.
|NCAA Tournament (6 games)||14.3||67.8|
|2013-14 (6 games)||9.3||51.1|
It would be easy to point to McGary's back injury that kept him out Michigan's first two games and say that is the issue—and maybe he isn't 100 percent yet—but I'm going to go out on a limb and say the back is not what's troubling McGary.
McGary hasn't changed. He hasn't regressed. All that's changed is the guys in uniform around him.
Obviously, Burke made everyone else around him better. But the thought was that McGary was so good in his role in March that it couldn't have all been Burke, right?
Right, it wasn't. It was Tim Hardaway Jr., too.
During that brilliant NCAA tournament run by McGary, he made 40 baskets. Of those 40 baskets, Burke assisted on 13, and Hardaway assisted on nine.
That was not the only way they created offense for McGary either. Their drives often cleared the way for McGary to get easy putbacks if they missed. Another five of McGary's tourney baskets came off putbacks of either Burke or Hardaway's misses.
So out of McGary's 40 tourney buckets, 27 were created by Burke or Hardaway.
Michigan has had other scorers emerge this year. Nik Stauskas was averaging 20.3 points before he hurt his ankle against Charlotte, and Caris LeVert is averaging 15.1 points and had 24 against Duke. But no one has stepped into the role of creator for McGary.
McGary has scored 23 baskets this year and here's how they've been set up:
Michigan play-by-play data
What hasn't changed is a majority of McGary's baskets are still being created by others. What has changed is he's not getting as many opportunities as he did in the tourney, and he isn't shooting as well when he does get his opportunities.
|At Rim||2-point Jumpers||3-Pointers|
|2012-13||52-88 (78.6%)||46-112 (41.1%)||0-0|
|2013-14||13-19 (68.4%)||10-24 (41.7%)||0-2|
Those numbers suggest McGary should take some of the blame because he's the one missing more shots, but the opportunities his teammates are generating are not the same as the opportunities Burke and Hardaway created.
Let's look at three pick-and-rolls from the Duke game that were intended for McGary to get a shot.
In this first play late in the first half, McGary was open when he made his roll to the basket, but Derrick Walton Jr.'s pass was behind him, and because McGary had to reach back to catch the ball, his defender was able to recover, and McGary missed a guarded shot.
Early in the second half, LeVert passed to McGary out of a pick-and-roll, and his pass was accurate, but LeVert passed too soon, failing to make Josh Hairston commit. By the time McGary gathered to go up, Hairston had recovered and Rodney Hood was also able to come over and help. McGary ended up missing the shot over the two defenders.
In the final pick-and-roll McGary was involved in with Walton, the freshman point guard tried to make up for his earlier mistake by getting the ball out in front of McGary, only Walton led McGary too much, and the pass went out of bounds.
These were passes Burke would have made on time and in the right spot, allowing McGary to finish in stride. It's not far-fetched to say that McGary's lower shooting numbers are a result of his guards putting him in tougher spots.
What's sad is that some will point to McGary's numbers and say he made a mistake by not leaving for the NBA after his March success, but McGary still shows off the attributes that made him a desirable pro.
He's still a great rebounder. He's still a good defender with great anticipation skills that allow him to rack up the steals numbers of a guard. He's still a good ball-handler and passer for his size. McGary started back-to-back transition opportunities in the first half against Duke by rebounding a miss and pushing the ball up the floor. He can still finish at the rim and is a respectable face-up shooter when he's in rhythm.
This season is not lost either. McGary will get better as the season progresses because his young guards around him are going to improve. He'll continue to fill up the box score in nearly every category.
But unless Walton magically transform into Trey Burke, McGary is not going to be the scorer he was in March.
Follow C.J. on Twitter @cjmoore4.