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Can Iowa Basketball be Better in 2017 Without Peter Jok?

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The case for Peter Jok as the next Ewing Theory victim.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Ewing Theory, for those unfamiliar, stems from an old Bill Simmons column. One of his Knicks fan buddies always though Patrick Ewing’s teams played better without him. Ultimately, it comes down to two crucial elements:

A star athlete receives an inordinate amount of media attention and fan interest, and yet his teams never win anything substantial with him (other than maybe some early-round playoff series)

That same athlete leaves his team (either by injury, trade, graduation, free agency or retirement) -- and both the media and fans immediately write off the team for the following season.

In the run-up to 2017-18, there are very few people prognosticating a strong season for the Iowa Hawkeyes because, well, they lost their best player on a team which didn’t amount to much.

Sound familiar?

Let’s wind through the reasons why the 2017-18 Hawkeye basketball team will be better, perhaps, significantly so, without Peter Jok.

Stat Inflation

Perhaps this is the best place for me to extol my love for how Peter Jok played. I loved watching him shoot the ball. He’s easily the most pure Hawkeye shooter I can remember and he could absolutely fill it up when he was on fire.

But what about when he wasn’t?

KenPom breaks opponents into three groups:

  • A, teams rated in the top 50, accounting for home/away
  • B, teams rated between 51 and 100, accounting for home/away
  • N/A, teams below 100

A very basic breakdown shows the following:

Peter Jok Stats by Opponent Quality

Opponent PPG O. Rtg 2Pt% 3Pt% Record
Opponent PPG O. Rtg 2Pt% 3Pt% Record
A 15.46 89.69 38.6% 32.9% 5-8
B 27.00 126.20 61.5% 34.9% 1-4
N/A 21.43 121.64 50.5% 43.8% 11-3

On the whole, Jok filled it up in games where 1) the competition was dubious, or 2) the individual stats did not project wins. Versus Seton Hall, Memphis, and at Nebraska were three of Jok’s highlight reel performances but none resulted in wins as teams essentially traded baskets.

The easy counter to this is three of Iowa’s best wins - Iowa State, Purdue, and Indiana - were three of Pete’s best games of the season. Yet even that does not show the whole story.

Lineup Data

In my recap of the 2016-17 conference/tourney season, I touched on something which seemed curious to me: Iowa was much better with Jok as a shooting guard than at small forward. The difference was basically a 6-point win vs. an 11-point loss, with the per minute numbers pro-rated to a full game. The reason was simple: Nicholas Baer.

Iowa Wings with/without Nicholas Baer

Player With Baer Without Baer
Player With Baer Without Baer
Ellingson 188 / .09 / +17 98 / -.02 / -2
Moss 119 / .12 / +34 214 / -.44 / -94
Jok (SG) 225 / .15 / +34 21 / .10 / +2
Jok (SF) 106 / .04 / +4 252 / -.40 / -101
(Minutes / Net PPM / Raw Plus-Minus)

Looking forward with the numbers, specifically Isaiah Moss since he still projects as the starter at the 2, we see further cause for optimism:

  • Moss/Jok without Baer: -90 in 206 minutes (-.44 points/minute)
  • Moss/Jok with Baer: -9 in 57 minutes (-.16 points/minute)
  • Moss/Baer: +24 in 61 minutes (+.39 points/minute)

Though the sample size is clearly small (it spans 15 conference/tournament games), I think it lends credence to the positive effects of slotting guys in their true positions. For the Hawkeyes to reach their potential this year, Nicholas Baer needs to play the small forward position as much as possible. Since 252 of Jok’s minutes (~13.5 minutes per game) came from there without Baer, the easiest way to fill those in is allocating Baer’s non-small forward minutes (~6.7/game) straight to the position.

What could make or break Iowa’s season is how Iowa fills the remainder of the time at the three, which would be 15-17 minutes, assuming Baer’s total minutes hold. In extremely limited minutes, Iowa played well with either Dom Uhl or Ahmad Wagner at the position. With the potential defensive liabilities on spotting the court, energy guys like Uhl and Wagner can cover those weaknesses.

Style of Play

Perhaps the softest, most “eye test” reasoning to project a strong season from Iowa is how they might play. Last year, Iowa often forced the ball to Peter Jok in isolation situations and went away from McCaffery’s preferred motion offense. Without a linchpin to build around, I expect McCaffery will preach sharing the ball and finding the open man. We even have two games from last year which might foreshadow how this season will go.

One might say, “Well, of course they played well against Rutgers and Ohio State, two of the worst teams in the conference!” However, Iowa struggled to get off the ground against Rutgers at home in their first game against them, with Peter Jok. Ohio State was also not as bad as their record might indicate, as KenPom rated them as roughly equivalent to Iowa (+10.20 AdjEM vs. Iowa’s +10.48). In those two games, Iowa assisted on 72.5% of field goals, up from 62.4% the whole season.

I also expect a renewed focus on the defensive end. There were many quotes this summer about Iowa not paying adequate detail to that side of the floor. The additions of Luka Garza and Jack Nunge figure to add some sorely needed rim protection.

Summary

While one should discount Peter Jok’s offensive production at their own risk, Iowa is well suited to backfill the 30 minutes and 18 points per game. Two players slated to take his minutes - Nicholas Baer and Brady Ellingson - must maintain their high efficiency in an increased role while Isaiah Moss will have to improve his efficiency, as well. However, Iowa should be able to manage through it with improvement on defense and a return to a more egalitarian offense. Along with individual improvement, I am optimistic Iowa can build on a solid 2017 and surprise the pundits by making a run at a top four conference finish.