Mike Gesell had a bit of an odd junior year. He really started off the season in a pretty major slump, and by all accounts, his big numbers -- like win shares and offensive rating -- were down from his past two seasons. However, I consider this season odd, because even though some of his important numbers may have been down, I thought he made some major strides. He started finishing at the rim more again, he continued to up his assist numbers and play solid defense, and he really made the offense run better when he was aggressive and attacking the basket. Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff were the stars for this Iowa team this season, but Mike Gesell was the oil that greased the gears of this Iowa offense.
Season in Review
As you all may remember, Mike Gesell got off to a rough start this past season. Iowa's guard play looked pretty damn atrocious for the first few months of the season, and it's no surprise that Iowa's offense was also pretty damn atrocious for the first couple months of the season. Then, all of the sudden, Mike Gesell hyper-extended his right elbow in practice in late January, and we saw a clear change in his game. We also saw a clear change in Iowa's offense, too.
First, we can see that he started taking a lot fewer three-point shots due to the pain in his elbow.
We can also see his assists started to increase in the final few months of the season.
And with his improved play, we also saw a slight uptick in his minutes at the end of the year.
Now while it's really easy to claim that Mike Gesell's injury forced him to play smarter and play better, we also shouldn't forget the makeup of Iowa's Big Ten schedule this year. In other words, the competition early on was against the best teams in the Big Ten (Wisconsin and Ohio State twice, Michigan State and Purdue once), while the end of the season was not nearly as challenging. So, yes, Gesell's game looked better as the year went on and so did Iowa, but how much do we attribute to the new found aggressiveness due to his injury and how much do we attribute to the competition?
And even with the improved play down the stretch, the oddity of this season was that the numbers that are supposed to capture overall performance weren't all that impressed with him.
November was a terrible, awful, no good month for him, but his best month according to points per minute and adjusted game score per minute was in December. And, keeping with the oddity of this season, his adjusted game score per minute didn't really change much from January through March, and he actually scored more points per minute in January before being injured on the 26th of that month. So he looked better to our eyes, but his numbers weren't all that different.
And that goes the same for win shares per 40 minutes this year.
And if you're thinking that November may have just been so terrible that it hurt his overall numbers, you would be partially correct. However, his Big Ten win shares per 40 minutes this season dropped to 0.077 from last year's career-high of 0.105. Essentially, taking out his bad November and only looking at games against Big Ten opponents, he was worth about 8% of a win for Iowa every 40 minutes he played against conference opponents this year after being closer to 11% last year.
So what was the big change? Turnovers, it seems.
After upping his assist rate and cutting his turnover rate last season, Gesell upped his assist rate again this year to the 60th best rate in the nation, according to Kenpom. But he also saw his turnover rate spike back to his freshman levels. That was really his only big step back this season when you look at his stats, but since turnovers waste possessions they can really kill a player's value.
But forgetting about the turnovers, let's look at what Gesell did do well this season. First of all, like I just mentioned, he finished 60th in the country in assist rate. That's great. That is the type of assist numbers you want from your starting point guard. And it was well-deserved. I mean, look at this play:
And this one:
It's pretty clear that Gesell is at his best when he is aggressive and attacking the rim. And that also translated into him shooting better near the rim this year, after looking terrible the year before.
The hexagon under the basket was cream-colored this year and not the icy blue it was last season. And Gesell was also pretty damn good from the right elbow/wing area as well.
And last but not least, Gesell continued to play solid defense this season. As you could see by his win shares chart, he tends to get a little more than half of his value through defense every season, as evidenced by this play:
And this one too:
Outside of the slow start to the year and the increased amount of turnovers, I was fairly happy with Gesell this season. He showed that he was a great distributor and he demonstrated the ability to finish at the rim. He's never going to be a lights out shooter, but if he can cut the turnovers down next year and help make up for the points Iowa is going to lose with Aaron White and Gabe Olaseni gone, he could have a great senior season.
Points-wise, Gesell's scoring has gone down a bit every year. First of all, though, it hasn't been a huge drop, and it's not like point guards have to be double-digit scorers (though it is an added bonus when they are). Second of all, we need to keep in mind drops in per-minute stats because Iowa was a much slower team this past season than they have been under McCaffery in past seasons. That means Gesell (and his teammates) were working with, on average, 6 fewer possessions per game than last year and about 3 fewer than past years. That means Gesell's scoring drop probably isn't as severe as it looks on this chart.
And you can see that any drop in scoring this season likely wasn't caused by increased shooting woes.
Gesell's field goal percentage near the rim shot back up this year after looking atrocious last year. And if it wasn't for a November where he shot 33% from up close, he likely would have been back up to his freshman level.
Gesell's mid-range jumper also bounced back this year, while he continued to struggle with his three-point shooting. Although, his long distance shooting wasn't helped by that elbow injury either. However, despite his reputation as a below average shooter from long range, if you look at the chart from Shot Analytics above and the one from last year (below), we can see that he's actually a pretty good outside shooter from the right wing and the left corner.
But Gesell continues to get more aggressive each year and attacking the basket has become an important part of his game.
He's increased the amount of shots he takes near the rim every year on campus, and this year he also got the majority of his scoring value from inside there, too.
And extra-aggressive Mike Gesell not only scores buckets in the paint, he also opens things up for the offense, as well.
The turnovers weren't great this season, but his assist numbers have gone up incrementally every year that he's been a Hawkeye. But, again, 60th in the country, according to Kenpom, is more than alright with me.
If we look at his career progression, last season was his best from an overall value perspective. That was the only season in which his offensive rating was over 100 and his win shares per 40 minutes was over 0.100. But if you look at his stat line, not much changed from last year to this year. He used a similar number of possessions, took a similar percentage of shots, and shot the ball about the same as he did last year. The only thing that looks to have kept him from being more valuable was the turnovers. In other words, assists are great, but turnovers are killer, man.
The 2015-2016 season will mark the senior campaign for Mike Gesell (and a whole host of other Iowa players). This will likely be a season in which the Hawkeyes need him more than ever. He's been an important player all throughout his career, but with the graduation of Aaron White and Gabe Olaseni from this year's team and no great point guard options behind him, Fran is going to need minutes and production from Gesell next season.
The leading scorers on next year's team should likely be Jarrod Uthoff and Peter Jok. After those guys, though, Iowa is going to need a consistent scorer. I'm not saying this is guaranteed to happen, but I wouldn't be surprised if we saw Mike Gesell's usage rate and shot rate increase next year, and see him come close to averaging double-digit points per game. In addition to points, seeing him maintain that great assist rate from this past season would be a big boost to the offense. And if he could do all of that while cutting turnovers down to his sophomore level that would obviously be ideal.
More than anything, though, Gesell needs to continue to show that attacking mentality. Despite his hot spots on the right elbow/wing and the left corner, Gesell is at his best offensively when he is penetrating and putting pressure on the defense. Not only does this lead to shots near the basket, but it also allows him to hit open men cutting to the basket or find shooters out on the perimeter. It also may lead to more turnovers, but that may have to be something we have to live with.
Next season has a chance to be a special one for Gesell. He is the catalyst that gets the offense going, and Iowa's offensive success will likely depend on how well he's running the point. He's not a perfect player, but if he can play to his strengths, he's definitely an above average Big Ten point guard. A breakout year from Jarrod Uthoff and a big step in development from Peter Jok are huge keys to next season. But Mike Gesell running the offense at a high level is probably just as important for next year's success. Hopefully he can go out with a bang.
Next Up: Adam Woodbury