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How Jordan Bohannon’s Return to Point Guard Has Sparked the Iowa Offense

Bohannon willingly surrendered his starting point guard role once before. Do not expect him to do so again. 

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

When Jordan Bohannon decided to return to the Iowa men’s basketball team for his sixth-year last spring, the announcement came with an interesting twist; after playing point guard for the Hawkeyes from 2016-2021, Bohannon would be shifting over to the shooting guard position during his final season. I, like many other fans and several writers on this staff, were bullish about this transition. While Bohannon had manned the point guard position ably throughout his career, moving to shooting guard would seemingly allow the Hawkeyes to turn the offense over to more athletic point guards in Joe Toussaint and Ahron Ulis while freeing Bohannon up to play off the ball and focus his energy on what he does best: shooting the long ball. With Iowa perilously thin at shooting guard and lacking proven three-point weapons after losing Joe Wieskamp to the NBA and C.J. Fredrick to the transfer portal, moving Bohannon to shooting guard seemed like a match made in heaven.

Iowa’s early season returns seemed to prove these predictions true. Bohannon shot 42.33% from deep in non-conference play (a rate higher than any full season mark he posted during his career), while Toussaint and Ulis showed the makings of a solid 1-2 punch at point guard. However, Bohannon’s offensive production cratered in conference play, where the sixth-year guard struggled to shake Big Ten defenders off the ball as easily as he did against the Hawkeyes’ non-conference foes. Bohannon’s three-point shooting against Big Ten teams dropped to a woeful 25.5%, and his high number of attempts helped drag Iowa’s three-point percentage down to 30.8, the worst of any Big Ten team in conference play. Iowa looked lost after a series of tepid offensive performances, and fans were looking to the coaching staff for answers.

Instead of reducing Bohannon’s role in the offense in response to his struggles, Fran McCaffery opted to go in the opposite direction, shifting Tony Perkins into the starting lineup at shooting guard and returning Bohannon to his former role as Iowa’s lead point guard. The early returns are remarkably encouraging for both Bohannon and the Hawkeye offense at large. The Hawkeyes are averaging 93 points per game since Bohannon reclaimed the point guard spot and the team is riding a three-game winning streak after having previously lost three of its last four contests. Bohannon is averaging 15.33 points per game during this stretch while shooting 50% both from the field and from beyond the arc. Iowa’s road win against Maryland saw Bohannon break Iowa’s single game program record for the most made three pointers with 10, while the Hawkeyes set an Xfinity Center record for the most points ever scored by one of Maryland’s opponents with 110. Neither Maryland nor Nebraska (who surrendered 98 points to Iowa on Sunday) have particularly good defenses, yet Iowa’s shooting numbers against both teams would have been impressive in an empty gym, and it’s worth noting that Maryland had not surrendered more than 87 in a single game all season long before giving up 110 to the Hawkeyes (even then, those 87 points came in a 2OT game against Northwestern).

Why has Bohannon’s return to point guard jumpstarted Iowa’s offense so successfully? The simplest explanation has to do with Bohannon’s comfort in that role. After spending five years as Iowa’s primary ballhandler and the initiator of the Hawkeye offense, Bohannon became accustomed to getting his shots in transition and off the dribble. One can easily see how an undersized guard like Bohannon might struggle to get open shots in the Big Ten, a league that is notorious for allowing defenders to clutch and grab at opponents trying to move without the ball. Bohannon has spoken about how much more comfortable he has felt since switching away from shooting guard, and it’s hard to argue with the results. Iowa’s point guard may not be able to sustain this hot streak for the rest of the season, but his reinstatement as the primary ballhandler has certainly worked to help restore his confidence and his shooting rhythm in the short term.

Still, there are other reasons why moving Bohannon to point guard has sparked this dramatic turnaround in Iowa’s offense. Arguably the biggest factor has to do with Bohannon’s lethality in transition, where he has feasted on lackadaisical defenses throughout the course of his career. Bohannon is willing and able to shoot when defenses fail to pick him up 25 feet from the basket, and putting the ball in his hands from the start of the possession has increased his opportunities to test the defense accordingly in the natural flow of the offense (on the flip side, it sometimes felt like “shooting guard Bohannon” was going out of his way to hunt this shot when it wasn’t there). Furthermore, when defenses have keyed in on Bohannon far from the basket, it has created several opportunities for his teammates by stretching the defense and maximizing Iowa’s offensive spacing and making it easier for the Hawkeyes to get good looks early in possessions. Case in point: Iowa’s past three opponents have had a much harder time sending help defenders to stop Keegan Murray, which has resulted in Iowa’s superstar having the most productive Big Ten scoring run of his career (30.3 ppg, 67.9% from the field, and an otherworldly 63.6% from three). Bohannon forces Iowa’s opponents to dramatically expand the amount of real estate they have to guard in half-court settings, and this effect is clearly magnified when he plays point guard.

Tony Perkins also deserves his share of credit for Iowa’s excellent play of late. The sophomore’s scoring is down since moving into the starting lineup, and he has failed to reach his season scoring average (6.3 ppg) even once over the past three games. However, playing next to Bohannon has greatly reduced the offensive burden he previously carried as part of Iowa’s bench unit, allowing him to focus more of his energy on defense. Perkins has really struggled with his outside shot this season (he is shooting only 20% from three in Big Ten play), but it has been encouraging to see him focus in so heavily on assuming the role of Iowa’s primary perimeter ball stopper with Joe Toussaint on the bench.

Speaking of Toussaint, he has shown that he has an important role to play for this team off the bench. The former starting point guard may well prove to be more effective as change of pace point guard who can put the defense on its heels as soon as he enters the game with his ability to push the tempo in transition. Toussaint has his own shooting woes to work through at the moment (he has scored only 7 points in the last four games on 18.8% shooting), but his defense, playmaking ability, and incredible hustle will ensure that he continues to get minutes for the Hawkeyes even amidst a scoring slump.

As highly anticipated as Jordan Bohannon’s transition to shooting guard may have been, Iowa’s sixth-year senior has clearly made the case for why he should remain in his old position. Hawkeye fans should not expect Bohannon to replicate his 10-16 three-point performance from the Maryland game again this season, nor should they be surprised if he turns out a few more shooting duds before the year is through. But both Bohannon and his teammates are clearly better positioned to make a positive impact on the game when Iowa’s most veteran player is running the point. Bohannon willingly surrendered his starting point guard role once before. Do not expect him to do so again.