This Iowa basketball season has had a number of storylines running throughout. Of course, atop everyone’s mind is where exactly this team will finish. We entered the year with sky high expectations and for the first half+ of the year, Iowa lived up to the hype. The Hawkeyes have spent the vast majority of this season ranked in the top-5 nationally.
Then starting shooting guard CJ Fredrick went down with an injury in the second half of Iowa’s home matchup against Indiana and the wheels fell off almost instantaneously. The Hawkeyes would lose that matchup, as well as four of their next five. They plummeted from 4th in the nation to 15th and have all but been eliminated from contention for a Big Ten championship - a Big Ten championship they were expected to win entering the year.
It’s not that Fredrick is the best player for the Hawkeyes. It’s not even that he is one of the top scoring options. But he does all the little things that made the offense so potent through mid-January and added enough on defense to make things passable.
In his absence, we’ve seen head coach Fran McCaffery struggle to find the right recipe for replacing what he brings to the table. By and large, he has started freshman Keegan Murray at forward and moved Connor McCaffery into a guard role. While Murray has quickly become a fan-favorite in Iowa City, the big question is why Fredrick’s replacement from a season ago, Joe Toussaint, has actually seen his minutes decrease in the wake of the injury.
Toussaint reached double figures in minutes played in each of Iowa’s first nine games, averaging more than 15 minutes per game. Then, beginning with Iowa’s December 29th contest against Northwestern, his usage dropped precipitously. The sophomore has reached double figures in minutes just five times in the 12 games since then.
More notably, however, has been the lack of usage at a time when Iowa is playing down a guard with Fredrick sidelined. In the five games in which Fredrick has been unable to play in at least one half, Toussaint has averaged just under 9 minutes per game and reached double figures only twice.
Over the last five games, which includes the first matchup against Michigan State and the last matchup against Rutgers (both games in which CJ Fredrick started and finished), Toussaint has been utilized in just 3% of lineups according to KenPom. Notably, Fredrick himself has played in more than 10% of those lineups despite missing three entire games, while starter Jordan Bohannon has played in nearly 61% of lineups during that time.
If you were to look strictly at the offensive stats for Toussaint and Bohannon, it makes perfect sense why the senior is averaging 30 minutes a game over the last five with Fredrick hobbled. His overall offensive rating according to KenPom is vastly superior to Toussaint, he is Iowa’s best free throw shooter and his turnover rate is significantly below that of Toussaint.
Bohannon has an offensive rating of 121.9, a whopping 28 points higher than Toussaint’s 93.9. For context, Bohannon is only sixth on the team and fourth among current starters (the injured Fredrick actually leads the team in this metric). In other words, Joe Toussaint is not a great offensive player comparatively on this team filled with offensive weapons.
The one area the sophomore compares favorably to his senior counterpart is in assist rate. Toussaint’s assist rate, which measures the percent of field goals scored while the player is on the court that the player is credited for assisting, of 31.0 is fourth in the Big Ten (behind Illinois’ Andre Curbelo, Minnesota’s Marcus Carr and Northwestern’s Boo Buie). It’s also considerably higher than Bohannon’s 24.5 assist rate.
What doesn’t show up in the KenPom metrics, however, is what Toussaint brings to the table on the defensive side of the ball. Fortunately, EvanMiya.com does have a way to incorporate those impacts, as well as some other really informative date.
The site collects box score metrics and play-by-play data to assess the impact of a player on each possession they’re in the game. Thus, the site is able to assign value to defense beyond simply measuring steals or blocked shots by accounting for the points per possession scored when a player is on the court vs. when they’re not on the court.
This is where we begin to see additional value for Joe Toussaint. Here’s a look at Iowa’s roster, ranked by Bayesian Performance Rating, which is the sum of their offensive and defensive player ratings.
Note that Toussaint comes in 6th on the team while Bohannon is 9th. That’s driven almost entirely by the significant different in DBPR, or Defensive Bayesian Performance Rating. EvanMiya defines DBPR as “ the defensive value a player brings to his team when he is on the court. This rating incoroporates a player’s individual efficiency stats, and also accounts for the defensive strength of other teammates on the floor with him, along with the offensive strength of the opponent’s players on the floor. A higher rating is better.”
Toussaint’s rating at 19.6 is not only the second best on the team behind only Patrick McCaffery, it’s also a near mirror image of Bohannon’s ratings. At -19.3, Bohannon is a severe detriment to the team on the defensive side of the ball. So much so, that it more than offsets the vast divide between his offensive prowess and the relative struggles of Toussaint.
It is worth noting that Toussaint’s offensive rating, while not comparatively good on the Iowa roster, would place him in the 350-400 range for players nationally. Bohannon ranks 13th in the nation in that regard.
On the defensive side of the ball, however, there are no stars on the roster. Iowa’s best defensive player by this metric, Patrick McCaffery, ranks just inside the top-100 nationally. Toussaint comes in outside the top-200. But Bohannon is in another stratosphere. He comes in at 2,442nd in the nation (out of 2,600) in DBPR.
Here’s a look at the definitions of each of the above metrics.
That’s not to say Joe Toussaint should be playing more minutes than Jordan Bohannon or that the latter deserves to have his minutes cut. However, it should suggest that the two should have a more similar distribution of minutes on the floor, particularly in times like the last several games when CJ Fredrick has been out or limited.
Four of Iowa’s top five most efficient lineups, adjusting for both offense and defense, include Joe Toussaint on the floor. However, those four lineups have only played ~50 total possessions. For comparison, Iowa’s original starting lineup has played more than 350 possessions together and the revised starting lineup with Fredrick out has played more than 130 possessions together.
For reasons that have yet to be fully expressed via media availability, Fran has made very limited use of Joe Toussaint of late and has limited time with both Toussaint and Bohannon on the floor together to almost nothing.
Over the course of the season to-date, Bohannon and Toussaint have been on the floor together for fewer than 50 total possessions. Toussaint has shared the floor with reserve Tony Perkins nearly as much as with Bohannon. He’s been on the floor with Connor McCaffery for virtually the same number of possessions as with Bohannon and Perkins combined.
Notably, however, Toussaint makes each of those players and every other player on the roster measurably better than when he’s not on the floor. Despite his propensity to turn the ball over and a low effective field goal percentage, Iowa as a team is most efficient when Joe Toussaint is on the floor an that carries over to each individual player he shares the court with.
The same cannot be said for Bohannon, who has a modestly negative impact on a few players, most notably Tony Perkins.
But more importantly, Bohannon and Toussaint make each other significantly better when they share the floor. The team efficiency is at its best with the dual threat and neither player is as individually good without the other on the court alongside them.
And it’s not even close. Iowa’s adjusted team efficiency margin, it’s offensive efficiency margin net of its defensive efficiency margin adjusted for quality of opponent, is twice as high with Bohannon and Toussaint on the court together than with any other combination of players.
The team’s chemistry rating, a metric that “reflects how much better than average the team performs when these two players on the court together, compared to team averages when they are on the court individually,” is a staggering 3x as high with Bohannon and Toussaint together than any other combination of players.
Fran has been searching since the second half of the Indiana game for an answer to his CJ Fredrick problem. We all know there is no replacement for Iowa’s sharpshooting glue man. But the answer has been staring us all in the face for the past several weeks: play Joe Toussaint at PG and slide Jordan Bohannon to Fredrick’s spot.
We’ve seen it in limited action thus far in the season. But of late, Fran has more often opted to play length with Connor McCaffery in Fredrick’s role and Keegan Murray or Jack Nunge as the other forward. We’ve even seen him opt for Ahron Ulis at PG with Bohannon at SG at times.
He certainly has his reasons for those roster decisions, but the data pretty clearly shows he should be looking to utilize Joe Toussaint more. Not in place of Jordan Bohannon, but alongside him