After all the dust settled from the Iowa Hawkeyes’ 2017-18 season there was little reason for hope outside of optimism that the next year simply would not be as bad as the one we just watched.
Some of the chaff was separated from the wheat, as Brady Ellingson transferred to Drake and proceeded to have a very good season for the Bulldogs. Ahmad Wagner moved to the gridiron to ply his trade for Kentucky football. Dom Uhl graduated. Yet Fran McCaffery stood pat in his recruiting with Joe Wieskamp as the crown jewel of last year’s recruiting class. If improvement was going to happen, it was going to come from those already in the fold.
It was a bet which paid off.
Greatness under the radar
Wieskamp committed almost four years ago to the Hawkeyes, halfway through his record-breaking high school career. He was so staunchly committed to Iowa that he kept other teams - and arguably talent evaluators - at bay. When he committed to Iowa, he ranked 27th in the country before settling in at 57th.
His illustrious Muscatine career defined his loyalty to his friends and hometown. He had opportunities to go elsewhere to play at a prep school but decided to stay and play with his “best friends.” He knocked off goal after goal as the only option on a team. He faced defenses designed to stop him but still led the state in scoring at 33.5 points per game en route to Muscatine’s first state tournament in 16 years.
When he left the Muscatine ecosystem, he continued his high performance in a lesser role. On the Adidas US-Select Team, he averaged 8 points and 2.5 boards as one of 21 American players on two teams. He was voted onto the NBPA Top 100 all-tournament team after shooting over 60% from the floor.
Everything pointed to him being a star.
Wieskamp immediately slid into a starting role. KenPom tallied his percentage of minutes played at 68.6% ($), primarily at small forward. More or less, the 57.7% of minutes previously allocated to Ellingson, Wagner, Uhl, and a diminished role for Maishe Dailey went to Wieskamp. The additional 10% come from power forward minutes previously allocated to Cordell Pemsl or Jack Nunge, both of whom redshirted.
If there was one thing which defined Wieskamp’s game during his freshman campaign, it was his efficiency. Each of the players mentioned above had a turnover rate at 18.4% or above and their offensive rating topped out at Nunge’s 107.8 in 2017-18 ($). Wieskamp’s clean game resulted in a turnover rate of just 13.2%, combined his eFG% of 60.4%, and factored into a team-high 122.7 rating. The rating is eclipsed only by Aaron White’s and Matt Gatens’s senior seasons, 128.1 and 125.4 respectively, during Fran’s time at Iowa. When one takes a look at his shot chart, it’s easy to understand why:
With just 10 shots from midrange (3.9% of total shots), Wieskamp practically eliminated the least efficient shot in basketball from his game. In fact, there is the case to be made that Joe was overly selective in his shots. He had the sixth highest usage rate on the team, behind even Nicholas Baer (17.2%) and Ryan Kriener (20.6%), at 17% of Iowa’s possessions while he was on the floor. With just 22 shot attempts coming as the pick and roll ballhandler or isolation, Iowa rarely went to Wieskamp to generate his own basket.
Voids to fill
With Nicholas Baer, Tyler Cook, Maishe Dailey, and Isaiah Moss departing, there was already a huge opportunity for Wieskamp to enhance his role in the offense. They played 85.7 minutes a game and, perhaps more importantly for this exercise, shot 25.8 times a game or 45% of Iowa’s attempts. Considering Iowa has averaged between 56.2 and 62.3 shots a game under Fran, it’s fair to expect Wieskamp to take a significant portion of these lost shots. The picture is further muddied with news of Jordan Bohannon’s surgery and his 8.4 shots potentially coming off the board.
As a purely mathematical exercise, the departures averaged 1.01 points/attempt. Wieskamp scored 1.21 points for every shot he took. There is a lot of room for Wieskamp to be less efficient but still more efficient than guys leaving from last year’s club. Perhaps the best one-for-one substitution are non-spot up shots from Moss.
While there is a huge efficiency gap, Wieskamp’s isolation game was borderline nonexistent. He had just one make on five shot attempts.
He saw a modest uptick in both usage and efficiency (8/17 for 24 points) as a pick-and-roll ballhandler, though, which might foreshadow what Iowa’s end of shot clock offense looks like next year.
What to expect from next year
The opportunity is there for Joe Wieskamp. That much is known. But there are a variety of ways it might look, given past stars, and seasons, under Fran McCaffery.
Aaron White (2015)
In his senior year, he averaged a laughably low 9.6 shots per game and was fouled a TON. White averaged 7 free throw attempts per game and hit them at a clip of 82%. His game more or less excluded the three pointer, which we know is a very significant part of Wieskamp’s game. White, to his credit, only took 14% of his 324 shots from midrange.
I wouldn’t put it past Joe to average White’s 16.4 PPG on less than 10 shots a game, especially if he limits his midrange attempts like White. However, it feels very unlikely Iowa could replicate a 2015-type season with pretty good defense and opportunistic offense. Gabe Olaseni was Iowa’s third leading scorer that year which would feel like Ryan Kriener averaging over 8 points a game.
One area Iowa could replicate this squad is by slowing the game down. They played the slowest of any Fran team (by adjusted tempo), though it was driven by a defensive possession length ranked 324th in the country.
Jarrod Uthoff (2016) or Peter Jok (2017)
Uthoff had Jok in 2016 as a clear number two scoring option and Jok had Cook and Bohannon as secondary scorers in 2017. In each season, though, Uthoff and Jok had usage rates in the high 20s and that would be a real step up for Wieskamp from the modest 17% mentioned earlier. Uthoff and Jok both had effective field goal percentages over 50% despite a high rate of midrange jumpers in their senior seasons (28.1% and 32.1%, respectively, according to Synergy). Both guys averaged 19 points on just over 14 shots a game. A similar points/shot ratio would actually put Wieskamp over 20 PPG, barring no loss of efficiency if he matched their shot total.
However, it might be a lot to expect Wieskamp to be the hegemon of an Iowa offense after being a very selective scorer in his freshman year.
Matt Gatens (2012)
Matt Gatens was a freaking Iron Man for Iowa basketball. To say nothing of him wallowing in the swampy offenses of Todd Lickliter, he maintained his 35ish minutes per game despite the higher-paced offense of Fran. Perhaps the best way to frame Gatens utilization at Iowa is he is just 8th in all-time leading scoring despite averaging 34.7 minutes/game while he was at Iowa.
To his credit, he never really forced the issue on offense. Unless he was hot. Like “February of his senior year” hot. The same could be said of Wieskamp. He led the team in KenPom-calculated MVPs at 7 but had a number of games he was comfortable sliding into the background.
Putting a finer point on it, Gatens’ usage rate topped out at 22.3% in his sophomore year during the lowest point in the history of Iowa basketball. His senior year usage rate was just 18.3% in 34.6 minutes a game, which was probably still too low in both categories, en route to averaging 15.2 points per game.
For Iowa in 2019-20 to have a good year, that usage rate is probably too low, but the Hawkeyes will probably need a similar minutes/game from Wieskamp if Iowa is able to manage the losses in the backcourt.
Iowa can maintain last year’s performance, even if Jordan Bohannon is out. With experienced role players like Luka Garza, Cordell Pemsl, Ryan Kriener, and even Connor McCaffery, Iowa has the infrastructure to elevate a player like Joe Wieskamp. But he will need to jump levels of development we saw in past Iowa stars. After all, the above comps are all senior years and Wieskamp is just a sophomore. In fact, Wieskamp will need pieces from each player - Gatens’s minutes, Uthoff’s/Jok’s output, White’s efficiency - to help Iowa be their best version of themselves.
They’re long odds but it’s a gamble Fran will need to make. And If there’s anyone worth betting on, it’s Joe.