Dunk L'Orange, The Ginger Ninja, and the other half of The Cake Bros. You don't get awesome nicknames like those for no reason. You get awesome nicknames like those because you are a talented basketball player. And Aaron White is a talented basketball player. Need evidence? Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I present to you exhibit A (h/t to BHGP's own, Planned Sick Days):
Additionally, I'd like to present exhibit B, as well:
I rest my case.
For the past three years, advanced metrics like offensive rating and win shares have had Aaron White being more valuable or just about equal in value to Roy Devyn Marble. Part of that is the fact that Marble was Iowa's go-to guy on offense and he used 6-9% more possessions when he was on the court than White did. It's hard to be that efficient when you use that many possessions. Another part, though, is that Aaron White's shot selection tends to lead to more efficient outcomes on offense. For his career, White has taken a little over 60% of his shots near the rim where shots are converted at a higher clip, on average. This year, White upped that to 71% of his attempted field goals, and by January, he looked like he was on the way to a career season. Even in February he still put up good numbers, but in March he fell off from his usual standard just like most of the team did.
That end-of-season slide is something that happened with White last year, too. I'll highlight that in a bit, but it's something that Iowa most likely can't afford in his final year in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes couldn't afford it this year, but next year they won't have Marble to shoulder the load on offense. Aaron White enters his final season as the team's best player and the pressure will be on him to take the torch from Marble as the team's leader. The nice thing, of course, is that he's more than capable of taking that torch and running with it.
Season in Review
Like I said, Aaron White had a great season this year. He started off the season extremely hot and at one point in January was one of the most efficient players in the nation on offense. I don't remember the exact numbers, but sometime around Iowa's victory at Ohio State, White had a true shooting percentage (TS%) near 72%, which was in the top three in the country and his effective field goal percentage (eFG%) was also in the top five or so, too. He finished the season with a 60% eFG% and a 66% TS%, which, according to Kenpom, is good for 52nd and 14th in all of Division-I, respectively. So he still finished the season with career highs in offensive efficiency, but his numbers did fall at the end of the year.
Now I don't think his early season pace was necessarily unsustainable. During the first three months of the season White had points per minute totals of 0.54 in November and December and 0.49 in January. Those aren't wildly off the charts, nor are they theoretically impossible to imagine him being able to sustain for an entire season. It was his 0.42 points per minute in February and 0.31 in March that dropped his season efficiency totals and kept him from having an absolute monster season that could have landed him on the First Team All-Big Ten squad. Instead, he ended up Third Team All-Big Ten, which isn't anything to sneeze at, but it is far less than he is capable of.
Okay, so he was extremely efficient, and then he was less efficient. What happened? Well, in February he didn't get to the free throw line at quite his usual pace. His season average free throw rate (free throw attempts divided by field goal attempts) was 65.71%, but in February it was 45.31%. Not a huge deal, as his points per minute only dropped to 0.42 that month, which is still good. It was March that was not kind to him. In those final five games, his free throw rate went back up (80%), but, like with Marble and Basabe, he started taking more shots further away from the rim.
Note: Despite these early Season in Review posts, the whole team did not actually take more mid-range jumpers in the month of March; just White, Marble, Basabe, and Gesell. Collectively, however, the team did decrease their field goal attempts near the rim by four percentage points compared to their season average. Those four percentage points instead went toward more three point attempts, where they shot only 30% in March.
As you can see, White moved further away from the basket and increased the number of three point attempts and mid-range jumpers he took in March. And, of course, that had repercussions for his scoring.
Like I said before, February's main culprit was a dip in White not getting to the free throw line. But the decline in March was from the change in his shot selection, specifically the increase in long twos, where he shot 11.11% in March and 24.39% on the year. Oddly enough, White actually hit 42.86% of his three point attempts in March (only 3-8 from downtown, but still), but he still only made 25.81% of them on the season. The point being, when Aaron White is not living at the rim, he is not very effective on offense. In general, it's good that White wants to add more range to his offensive game; he will most likely need to show that he can do that to play at the next level. With that said, he still hasn't really been able to develop a consistent jump shot in three years, and when he increases his attempts from farther away it tends to hurt his game. Take last season for example:
We see a similar trend last year, too. His drop-off in shots near the rim wasn't as dramatic (remember, this year he really increased his number of shots near the rim), but we still see a similar pattern. Last year he also increased his three point attempts at the end of the year, and it didn't work out too well for him. This year he increased his number of long twos and threes, and we saw a similar result. I don't know if it's him making a point to show NBA scouts that he can hit from places on the floor other than near the rim or if defenses are just doing a better job at the end of the year scouting Iowa and keeping White away from the basket. Of course, similar to Marble, it may also be a case of tired legs.
After all, he and Marble were both asked to play at least 30 minutes night in and night out from January on. And that many minutes, playing at the pace that the Hawkeyes like to play at, can really add up as the year goes on.
I don't mean to put a damper on an extremely good season by Aaron White. But we've now seen two years in a row where he has moved further from the basket at the end of the year. If Iowa wants to go dancing two years in a row, they are going to need him to not do that next year.
White has been a consistently good scorer ever since he arrived on campus. 0.47 points per minute in 24 minutes per game as a freshman is extremely good, and he didn't have a Sophomore slump, either. His Junior year was also very impressive, despite his end of season struggles. The goal for next season is to cross the the 0.50 mark for the entire year.
Like I said before, it's not a coincidence that this year was White's most efficient performance, as he really put an emphasis on playing around the rim.
White's offensive value to the Hawkeyes comes down low and at the line. White specializes in layups and dunks and drawing fouls. His second season with Iowa was crazy from a drawn-foul perspective, as he got almost 40% of his value from the line. His 87% free throw rate was ranked #5 in the country by Kenpom and his 6.5 fouls drawn per 40 minutes was good for #27 nationally. This year wasn't bad, either, as his 66% free throw rate was 113th nationally and his 5.2 fouls drawn per 40 minutes was 328th. Making it even better is the fact that White averages less than 2 fouls called per 40 minutes. Foul trouble is not an issue for him.
Yet another chart that just reinforces what's been said above. White is very valuable near the rim and at the free throw line, but loses quite a bit of value when he goes beyond that.
I haven't talked much about it yet, but rebounding is the other thing that White brings to the table. He can be a decent offensive rebounder when he plays the power forward position, but the more he plays at the small forward spot that diminishes a bit. That's not too surprising, since he's less likely to be on the block. I'm not sure what happened to his defensive rebounding rate last season, but other than that blip on the radar, he has been very good on the defensive glass. His defensive rebounding rate this season was 268th in the nation according to Kenpom and 11th in the Big Ten. With the graduation of Zach McCabe and Melsahn Basabe, White could see less time at the three spot next year and more at the four. I could see him being the starting four and Jarrod Uthoff the starting three. And, based on his career outside shooting, I would not oppose that move at all.
Make no mistake, this is Aaron White's team next year. Marble was the face of the Hawkeyes this season, but next season Aaron White will be expected to step into that leadership role. Josh Oglesby and Gabe Olaseni can help be senior leaders too, but Iowa needs White to have a complete season. That entails not moving away from the basket and falling off a cliff in terms of scoring down the stretch. If it sounds like I'm being negative about his game, I'm really not. I just think he's capable of putting together an amazing season start to finish. He's got the talent, but he's just got to sustain that level for an entire season. Maybe a move back to power forward only (or a significant majority of the time) is just what he needs to ensure that happens. I don't know. But I would say he has a great chance of putting up an excellent senior year.
Overall, this team come next year will still have some significant skill returning. White doesn't necessarily have to cross that 0.50 points per minute threshold for Iowa to have a successful season, but if he did that would most likely improve the Hawkeyes' prospects. There are still a ton of very good players on this roster that can take large steps forward next year and make Iowa tournament-bound again (hopefully without a play-in game). That list includes Aaron White. He may have three great seasons under his belt as a Hawkeye, but I don't think he's reached his full potential yet. We all know he's a gym rat. And I know we've all heard the story of him getting locked in the locker room bordering on a million times now, but it does serve a point: he is extremely motivated to improve his game. And other than Devyn Marble, I can't think of anyone on the roster that you would argue outworks Aaron White.
In other words, next year is your season, Aaron. Make the most of it. We all know you can.
Up Next: Josh Oglesby