Do you know what’s one of the best parts about sports? Letting your expectations soar. Sure, most of us inevitably set ourselves up for disastrous failures, but we all share that ability to talk ourselves into just about anything during the offseason. Like Kevin Garnett so graciously put it, “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE,” even when it probably isn’t. So, as most of you (like clockwork) forget the many nuances that drove you nuts about the 2016-17 Iowa basketball season, I wanted to provide you with the moments and flashes you need to hang on to when it comes time to build up the 2017-18 season in your mind. Because whether it’s now or in November, we’re all going to come to the same conclusion anyway: This is THE year Iowa finally wins... a game in the Big Ten Tournament.
Nicholas Baer, Junior, G
2016-17 Stats: 7.5 points (44.8 FG%), 5.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.4 steals in 23.8 minutes per game.
Best Game of the Season: It seems as though Nicholas Baer continues to save his best basketball for when it matters most: the end of the season. During Iowa’s four game “betta get yoself on the bubble” winning streak to finish the regular season, Baer was a continual shot in the arm when Iowa needed it most. During that stretch, Baer had the following splits (points/rebounds/assists/blocks/steals): 10/7/3/2/0 in an overtime win against Indiana, 11/2/1/0/2 (3-6 from three) against Maryland, 14/5/0/0/3 (4-5 from three) at Wisconsin and the kicker, 20/10/2/0/2 (4-4 from three) against Penn State.
Solid. As. Hell.
Next Best Game of the Season: In the 94-92 overtime loss to TCU in the NIT, Baer finished with his third double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds) of the season. He also blocked three shots and stole the ball twice. Oh, and he was just a ho-hum 4-6 from long distance.
Solid. As. Hell.
That’s What I Like, That’s What I Like
As you know from last week’s piece on Isaiah Moss, these weekly posts are basically a positive therapy session in which I, a BHGP writer, exercise my right to gloat and prognosticate about individual Iowa basketball players. Fair warning to the ever so skeptical or pessimistic...this is about to get all sorts of weird.
But, before we get into that, I must say, for most of last year, I never in my right mind thought Baer would be a thing. He ran kinda funny, he was ultra skinny and even more ultra pale, and had a funky little jumper that looked like he was trying to make a “C” with his body. He basically looked like every dude I would’ve played with at St. Ambrose.
Of course, as things started to break his way, he was able to display more of his overall talent. But even as he became more consistent, I couldn’t help but question when the production would fall off. It HAD to fall off, right? We’re talking about a preferred walk-on that didn’t have a single Division-I offer in high school.
And then, in the best-case scenario, if he wasn’t going to fall off, his minutes were. After all, the cavalry was coming soon with Isaiah Moss, Brandon Hutton and Andrew Flemming already in the fold, and Tyler Cook coming to town. It was only a matter of time before Baer got pushed to the side in favor of kids with the ESPN-approved higher ceiling.
While I could appreciate what Baer was doing with the minutes he was receiving, I just couldn’t sell myself on an eventual Cinderella story.
And thennnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn the Villanova game happened (15 points, four rebounds, two steals).
I was there in person for that game. As the only fan in bright yellow in a section full of Villanova fans, I can’t even begin to tell you how many people turned to me and asked “Who is THAT kid... is he one of your best players?” I would then point to the other goofy looking white kid and explain to them that its actually him and they were honestly shocked.
The way he was able to do the little things that matter so much on the court against the eventual national champions was mesmerizing (he crashed the boards seemingly on his own, his intensity rivaled only Ahmad Wagner’s, and he played like the seniors should have). Granted, there wasn’t much else to look at that day, but on the drive back to Philadelphia from Brooklyn, I finally believed that “Baer Jordan” was going to be one of the more important pieces for Fran McCaffery going forward.
Boy was he.
Not to steal from BoilerHawk, but he hit it right on the nose in his “Lineups in Review” piece a week ago about Baer’s productivity in the 2016-17 season:
“Baer moves the ball on offense, takes open shots when they’re there, and never wavers in his defensive intensity.”
He goes on:
“With his defensive effort, offensive skillset, and athletic ability, he covers up the flaws of pretty much everyone on the roster. Iowa was +67 in 536 minutes Baer was on the court and -95 in 339 when he was off. His impact on Iowa’s wings is perhaps most important to the team going forward (this also accounts for time Baer spends at power forward).”
Let’s take a look at all of those skill sets, shall we?
First, the defensive effort. Admittedly, there is a lot of evidence to pull from (and I will), but for some reason I remembered one play in particular against Penn State that caught my eye. It was senior night, and Baer had just subbed in for Dale Jones. It was his first play of the game and well, I’ll let the tape do the talking for him:
Baer is responsible for the guy taking the ball out, but is forced to help on the big man posting up close to the block. This is where he begins to shine. While Baer gets pinned and eventually losses track of the inbounder, he still recovers enough to provide some sort of distraction to the shooter. But pay attention to what happens after the miss. Baer shoots down low to put enough pressure on the offensive rebounder (Shep Garner) and forces him to kick it out rather than look for an easy bucket. He then picks up Garner full time (his third defensive match up so far) out on the wing. Just as the ball gets dumped into the post, Baer anticipates the cut from Jordan Bohannon’s man (Payton Banks), slides towards the paint to cut him off, and then ties him up for a jump ball/turnover.
I hate to sound like some talking head, but these are the types of plays that we’ll never remember, but mean so much to a team’s success.
One of the biggest things I noticed about Baer: he has a natural “feel” for the game; a knack for knowing how the ball is going to bounce when he’s crashing the glass. And defensively, it’s as though he has a sixth sense on where the opposition might be going in their offensive sets. His anticipation on both ends of the floor is at a superior level for a college basketball player; especially one that wasn’t even getting Division-I looks.
Baer has highlights like these littered throughout every game. Even when the play doesn’t end in an actual bucket, they’re still net positives for the Hawkeyes.
Take this series as the best example:
Baer is in full command of McCaffery’s 2-3 zone. As the eyes for the defense, he’s playing quarterback, moving guys around and calling out cuts and screens that are going on behind them. But that’s only part of how extraordinary his combination of athleticism and recognition is during this series. As the ball gets worked into Lamar Stevens on the block, Baer is trying to get Cordell Pemsl and Tyler Cook to rotate down. He’s super animated, trying to get their attention, but Pemsl is so far out of the play up on the wing that Baer makes a quick decision and dashes to cut Stevens off at the baseline, forcing him to kick the ball back out.
Baer doesn’t stop working there. As Tony Carr lets the rock fly from three, Baer boxes out Stevens so perfectly that if Tom Izzo saw this tape, I bet he would giggle in excitement. Baer then bails out Tyler Cook from having to dribble up the floor (JoBo, come GET the ball!), works his way into creative space on the wing (watch as he climbs UP the three point line to give Pemsl an easy bail out pass) and buries a three.
I hope you all realize how insane that is. When I play pick up, if I box out once, I think I’m good for the next game and a half and now have the freedom to shoot any time I want... because I sacrificed and boxed out.
That’s all second nature for Baer.
While he may not strike the fear of Basketball Gods in most competitors off his looks alone, in his two years of play for Iowa he’s always seemed to find a way to make his opponents pay. I’m interested to see how he does now that teams have enough tape on him to know that you have to pay attention to him at all times, but if the past is any indicator for the future, I think Baer is easily smart enough to figure out how to continue to be an impact player for the Hawkeyes.