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Friday offseason wishlist 4.0: Joe Toussaint-centric offense

Fran has shown an ability to mold his offense around its best players - could Joe Toussaint be that guy?

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Ohio State Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

So I’m continuing the numbering as X.0s until further notice. Honestly a little surprised I’ve been able to keep it up for four straight weeks. When there’s just so much that’s been left on the table, though, there’s plenty of wishing to have.

There obviously remains the uncertainty around Jordan Bohannon’s potential return. Plus, if he’s back, it’s hard to envision him in an especially different role as much as we keyboard cowboys may want to see. Joe Wieskamp declared for the NBA Draft and could absolutely return, but his Instagram post and accompanying comments make it seem like he’s got two feet out the door.

So that leaves the guys who haven’t made moves elsewhere. Patrick McCaffery, Keegan Murray, and CJ Fredrick look like guys who will be the dudes next season but the most intriguing potential starter is Joe Toussaint. After starting a couple dozen games in 2019-20, his role regressed as Fran McCaffery placed high value on ball control, experience, and spacing. Behind Connor McCaffery, at this juncture, as Iowa’s only returning senior that leaves Fredrick and Toussaint as the next most experienced on the roster.

And with that, there’s a real case for a change in direction.

A dropoff in minutes but never attitude

With Bohannon coming off his double hip surgery, he was reinserted into Iowa’s starting lineup with Toussaint losing out on many of those minutes. After playing in 45% of the Hawkeyes’ minutes his freshman season (including 49% in conference play), he saw that drop to 28% and 25%, respectively. After registering just two games where he didn’t have enough minutes to accrue a KenPom offensive rating in 2019-20, that number exploded to 11.

Now, this is the “chicken and egg” argument with JT: did he not register minutes because he was pressing or did he press because he wasn’t receiving minutes? In those 11 games, he played just 66 minutes and they were, um, eventful. He had 12 of his 45 turnovers in those games which averages out to an astronomical 7.3 turns/40 minutes. That number is still too high in his other 20 games (4.6/40) but it’s much more manageable.

He also shot well below his season averages in those 11 games, with a 2-point FG% of 25%, far behind his season’s 44%. Yet the 44% was still above his freshman season’s 40% and he saw an uptick in assists as well.

After two high efficiency games, Patrick shared some of his thoughts about how Toussaint didn’t waver in his commitment to the Hawks:

That’s the stuff.

Slow is smooth and smooth is fast

Too often, though, Joe Toussaint gets ahead of himself.

According to Synergy, he registered the fourth highest possessions in transition despite his limited minutes. Unfortunately, he struggled with pace and was by far Iowa’s worst scorer at .67 points/possession in 46 possessions. The main driver of this inefficiency was turnovers, where he registered 15, or 33%. As the pick and roll ballhandler, he accumulated another 15 turnovers in 55 possessions (27%).

Despite being a turnover machine, there are some really strong points to take from the data. Mainly, when he plays the role of true point guard he is absolutely elite. As a passer in the pick-and-roll, Iowa scored a 1.07 points/possession and Toussaint had just one turnover on 57 registered possessions. He is also great as a finisher around the rim, despite his diminutive size, and shot 65% when he was able to get to the basket.

In Jarek Adrzejewski’s delightful video recaps, he capture all that is great about Toussaint:

Defensive impact

The final piece of what makes Joe Toussaint tick is the effort Toussaint gave on the defensive end. He was a wrecking ball who, despite playing hundreds of minutes less than Joe Wieskamp and Keegan Murray, was third on the team in steals with 24. The video above touches on some of that ability.

Statistically, it translated into strong on/off stats for Iowa. Teams shot 3% less well and turned it over 5% more with Toussaint on the floor, according to Pivot Analysis. With Iowa likely losing two incredibly efficient scorers, the defensive end of the floor will become even more important and Toussaint elevates Iowa there. It did translate in a slightly higher foul rate, though, as he averaged 5.5 fouls/40 minutes.

Toussaint has an athletic ability rarely seen in Hawkeye point guards but has struggled to manage it by way of turnovers. Yet when he controls himself and searches for his teammates, Iowa can be an elite unit on the offensive side of the floor. With his effort serving as the tip of the spear defensively, it will shift the look and feel of the Hawkeyes going into the 2021-22 season.

If Iowa is going to return to the NCAA tournament, they’ll need a number of guys to step up, with the most important being the presumed starter at point: Joe Toussaint.