Oh yeah, what a feeling! Football is in the air which means Iowa Hawkeyes basketball is right around the corner. We’ll be counting down the days, here and there, until Iowa’s first game tips off. The countdown continues with… Nicholas Baer!
55: Luka Garza
Forward, 6’7”, 218 lbs
RS Senior, Bettendorf, IA (Bettendorf)
After a surprising freshman year and impressive sophomore year, Nicholas Baer’s junior season was one to forget. It started poorly, as he missed the first 6 games with a hand injury. He finished by averaging 5.3 points per game and 5.0 rebounds, down from 7.5 and 5.8 the year prior. The 17 starts were the most he’s had in his three years and he played in 27 games.
It is tough to pinpoint exactly where it went wrong for Baer last year but the biggest dropoff came from behind the arc. After two seasons right around 40%, he dipped to 30.7%. It will be interesting to see how Baer bounces back: were his struggles injury-related? Were defenses able to key on him a little more with Peter Jok gone? Or is it a sample size issue – 25% of his career 3-point makes came in the last 9 games of his sophomore year – and he regressed to the shooter he is?
Ideally, the answer is a combination of the first two and Hawk fans see Baer put up a 3-point shooting percentage somewhere in the range of 38-42%.
With the offseason roster adjustments, one figures he might slide down to play a little more stretch four than last year, when he was sometimes forced out of position at the two. Throughout much of the conference season, he was forced to guard quicker players which saw his block and steal rate decline after being a top 150 player in both, according to KenPom.
His best game from last year was against the Drake Bulldogs in the Hy-Vee Classic as he posted career highs in rebounds (14) and steals (5) and season highs in points (11) and assists (5) in a crisp 23 minutes.
Those types of Swiss Army knife games are what makes Baer special and will be a requirement for Iowa to return to the top half of the Big Ten this season. Good things happen when he is able to turn teams over, as the Hawkeyes are 6-2 when he gets three or more steals.
For the upcoming season, it’s safe to say Baer returns to the role he was most successful: 6th Man. Joe Wieskamp figures to enter the starting lineup as Fran McCaffery’s most highly-regarded recruit on the wing. Knowing Baer, he’ll manage the return to the bench with aplomb. When he entered games during his sophomore year, there was often another gear teams were not ready for and Iowa found success.
If he’s able to focus on defense and more spacing finds the offense, he can be the best version of himself. When he was asked to do too much, he struggled with turnovers. If the offense can be more free-flowing, expect good things from Baer.
As a lifelong Hawkeye fan, there is no question Nicholas Baer wants to go out on a high note. Spurring Iowa to an NCAA Tournament while performing the role he’s most adept at is just the way to do it.