After four years, the time has finally come to say goodbye. Parting ways is rarely fun, but this time it seems harder. You see, Aaron White is probably my favorite Hawkeye player I've ever watched on the hardwood. Now, before people step in and tell me about the Roy Marbles and such during Iowa basketball's heydays under the likes of Lute Olson, George Raveling, and Tom Davis, keep in mind that I'm relatively young, and my memory of Iowa basketball only stretches back to the late 90s. The first time I really remember watching and caring about Iowa basketball was as 10-year old, during the 1997-1998 season. I was the biggest Ricky Davis fan at the time, and I had a toy basketball hoop attached to my bedroom door and I frequently pretended I was Davis himself, dunking on it time and time again.
Davis stayed one year, of course, and then moved on to the NBA. But I was hooked.
Then came Dean Oliver, then Reggie Evans and Luke Recker had me captivated, and then Greg Brunner, Jeff Horner, and Adam Haluska put together a season I will never forget, despite the heart-breaking fashion in which it ended. And then it all went downhill.
Unfortunately, a good chunk of my recent memories, the ones that I can recall ever-so-vividly, are of an Iowa basketball program that lost their leading scorer year-after-year to transfer and played in front of eerily empty home crowds. Those were terrible times because I still watched every single game and held out hope that Lickliter could put together a winning team. But he couldn't, and Iowa basketball was a smoldering wreck because of it.
Fran McCaffery may have his flaws, but what he has done for this program should not be understated. He pulled Iowa out of a nuclear waste land and returned the program to respectability again. And when I look back on his first five years at Iowa, the representatives of this era are easily identifiable as Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White. Both guys were lightly-recruited kids that joined an Iowa program that was a raging dumpster fire at the time and took it back to where we knew it could be. Marble helped lead Iowa to the play-in round of the NCAA Tournament last season, but White finished the job this year by getting Iowa securely into the round of 64 and helping them advance to the round of 32. There is still more work to be done, but the legacies left behind by these two are invaluable.
But White's legacy is the one I will remember most. His above-the-rim style of play was exhilarating and he put together two of the best statistical seasons in recent Iowa basketball history (more on that later). More importantly, though, he leaves Iowa much better than he found it. And for that, I will forever be grateful.
Season in Review
Coming into his senior year, there were definitely some question marks about Iowa's best player. First of all, White had faded down the stretch the past two years, so there were concerns about him handling the large amount of minutes he was playing. Secondly, there were doubts about whether he was a true game-changing player that could just take over when his team needed him to. Luckily, White answered both of those questions and left no doubts this year.
According to Sports Reference's win share calculations, White's senior year was the best, according to win shares, that we've seen since the 1997-1998 season at Iowa. Minutes data is not available for everyone during that time, but I'm fairly positive that his win shares per 40 minutes of 0.270 would be at least near the top as well.
And if we look at the top best seasons in recent memory, White's sophomore season was actually third best.
|8||Roy Devyn Marble||2012-2013||4.9|
*Erek Hansen being 4th on this list should simultaneously give you pause about how well we are able to measure defensive value, while at the same time demonstrate how much we also probably undervalue good defensive players.
His senior year was truly a special season, though, as White finished second in the Big Ten in total win shares behind only Frank Kaminksy. Guys like Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker could surpass him because they have at least one more game to play this season, but that doesn't take anything away from White's accomplishments this season. He was still amazing.
With questions about whether or not White could sustain an entire season logging an increasing number of minutes, McCaffery didn't back off on his best player, he simply let him loose on the competition.
White's time on the hardwood shot up from about 30 a night to 35-36 in the final two months of the season. But his performance didn't fall off. Instead, he maintained his points per minute average from January to February and then went bananas in March. And a huge part of why White became so much dangerous at the end of the season was because he started making his three-point shots.
White's shot distribution was remarkably consistent all year. Part of his downfall the past two seasons came when he started shooting the ball away from the rim more often. This year, though, he consistently took about 60% of his shots near the rim, 22% of the long two variety, and 18% from long distance. At the end of the year, White continued to hit on two-pointers at a fairly consistent rate, but his three-point shooting went from 25% in the non-conference portion of the schedule to 38% in the Big Ten portion.
(Shot chart via Shot Analytics.)
But things weren't always looking so rosy during the season. White's points per minute and other stats were good, but they didn't always look as elite as they do now at the end of the season. The turning point for Dunk L'Orange and the Hawkeyes came after the loss at Northwestern, which was also the game in which Aaron White had his worst performance of the year.
After that loss to Northwestern, Iowa rattled off six straight wins and a big part of that was because Aaron White went absolutely nuts. He averaged 21 points per game, threw down 14 dunks, and made 8 of his 13 three-point attempts during Iowa's six-game streak. He helped keep them off the bubble and put them firmly in the big dance as a seven seed. He continued his hot play into the postseason, but it ultimately wasn't enough get Iowa past a really good Gonzaga team.
Overall, though, Aaron White took that next logical step in his career and ran with it this year. There are so many things I could mention that Aaron White did this year: He finally earned First Team All-Big Ten honors; he had a dunk in every Big Ten game this season and finished the season on a 22-game dunking streak; he scored 12 straight points on 6 straight possessions against Ohio State; he scored at least 20 points in 6 of his final 7 games in an Iowa uniform. But most importantly he stepped up and showed that he could be the team leader this year. He stomped out any trace of doubt that existed before the year began, and put together a hell of a senior season -- one that I won't soon forget.
Aaron White's career at Iowa was fairly linear, but there was a little bit of a stasis moving from sophomore to junior year. But that's not because White was disappointing as a junior. Rather, he was just as good as he was as a sophomore (which was pretty damn good). However, he and the rest of the team collapsed at the end of last season and that took what looked to be a career year for him, and turned it into a similar performance to his sophomore campaign. Again, that's not bad, but the hot start and the slow ending left everybody with a sour taste in their mouth to end last year.
But that wasn't an issue this season. White put up similar shooting numbers to last year and cut his turnovers almost in half, all while using more possessions when he was on the court than he had the year before.
The table above is from Kenpom, and it demonstrates the growth in Aaron White's game from year-to-year. Just look at the little yellow and red national rankings that Kenpom assigned to White each year. The number of rankings seems to grow just about every year. As a freshman White finished nationally ranked in six categories. As a sophomore and junior that number grew to 7. And then as a senior, that number peaked at 10. Most impressive, of course, was the fact that White finished the year with the 11th best offensive rating in the country while playing more minutes than he had before. You usually expect the efficiency to fade a bit with an increased workload, but it really didn't with White as a senior. His shooting took a slight dip from last year's extremely high levels, but it was still very good considering he took more shots away from the rim as a senior than as a junior.
However, that difference also could have been due to the increased amount of times that White was fouled this year compared to last. Fouls are more likely to occur near the rim and they don't count toward your season total field goal attempts. So, while White's shot distribution shows that he took fewer shots near the rim this season, the 10 percentage point disparity may be a bit misleading because he did see an uptick in the percentage of points he scored from the free throw line compared to when he was a junior.
But for as much as White's game has always been about dunks and free throws, it was the development of the three-point shot as this season went on that made him more dangerous than he had been in his entire career.
Really, though, White made all the growth that you could ask for from a player over his four years in Iowa City. He continued to do what he had done well all throughout his career and added a few things to put him over the top this season. He continued to play near the rim and generate steals on defense for fast break opportunities. However, he also cut down on his turnovers, brought back his free throw rate from his sophomore year, and added the three-point shot that we all wished he would develop but had given up on. And he did all this while playing more minutes and a bigger role on the team. Aaron White is the poster boy for what we all hope a player's senior year will look like.
White will not be with the Hawkeyes next year, of course. He will be making that next step in his life, most likely playing basketball for an NBA team or a D-League team. Similar to his cake bro Devyn, Draft Express currently has White going #52 to the Orlando Magic. You'll remember that Marble was drafted by the Magic last year with the 56th pick of the draft. And I can envision a similar rookie year for White, where he could split time between the NBA team that drafts him and their D-League team.
As a professional, White is a hard guy to peg. He's got the dreaded "tweener" label, in which he's not quite tall or strong enough to make people feel comfortable labeling him as a true post player, and his outside shot has not been consistent enough to make people feel like he can be a threat away from the basket. His recent three-point demonstration has probably helped his draft stock, but we need to keep in mind how small the sample size was, especially since he doesn't shoot all that many threes in the first place. The biggest concern with White's size and strength for NBA teams will be on defense, though. Can he match up to bigger, stronger guys in the post? That's the main question that he's going to have to answer if he wants to get a chance to stick in the NBA for a while.
Let's not just emphasize his weaknesses, though. White could probably flourish on a team that loves to get out in transition. He's very good away from the ball as an alley-oop machine and he is very good at cleaning up on the boards. And any coach that drafts him should know that they are getting an extremely hard-working player with a very good basketball IQ. White has proved doubters wrong before, so it wouldn't necessarily be a surprise to see him do it again in the NBA. But if that doesn't work out, he should still have a long and successful career overseas.
But, alas, it's finally time to say goodbye for good. So goodbye, Aaron. You will be missed. Thank you for helping to not only put out the raging inferno that was Iowa basketball, but thank you for rebuilding this program from rubble. There's still improvement to be made -- there's always improvement to be made -- but thanks to you, Iowa is a much more attractive destination than it was four years ago.
Next Up: Gabe Olaseni