Gabe Olaseni has always reminded me of baseball. He's like that super toolsy prospect that your team throws money at, hoping he will blossom into a star after enough seasoning in the minors. Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, they are not a Major League Baseball club, which means they didn't have a minor league system to send him to. Instead, Gabe had four years in Iowa City to polish his game from a cloudy stone into a shiny gem. Looking back on his career, it probably would have been beneficial to redshirt Olaseni in his first year on campus. He clearly wasn't ready for Division I basketball at the time, and Iowa didn't really get a whole lot out of him. Iowa also didn't have much of a choice but to play him, considering Andrew Brommer and Devon Archie were their main options at the center position in his first year.
But just imagine with me here for a second. Picture that this season was just Gabe's junior year. Picture what the roster would look like next year with both he and Woodbury returning. Picture the damage that he would do as a fifth year senior punishing the rim, cleaning up on the glass, running the court in transition, and swatting opponents' shots. He would be an absolute beast as a fifth year senior. Not only would this seriously benefit Iowa, but this would also benefit Olaseni in that he would have one more year to try and make the case to NBA teams that they should take a flyer on him in the late portion of the NBA Draft.
Okay, back to reality. We all know that's not happening and we know Gabe isn't walking out of that tunnel to play in Carver-Hawkeye Arena next year. But instead of being heart-broken over it, let's go ahead and just reflect on how fun he was to watch over the last four years.
Season in Review
Over his career in Iowa City, Gabe Olaseni was the poster boy for positive linear career development, and he peaked during his senior campaign by putting up the best performance of his career. His numbers this year were similar to his stellar ones from last year, but he did so while slightly increasing his minutes played and by playing a bigger role on the team. With Devyn Marble and Melsahn Basabe leaving, the Hawkeyes needed some scoring from Gabe, and he was able to provide it, for the most part. His 8 points per game may not look like much, but you have to remember that he only played 19 minutes per game this season.
When you adjust his points for the minutes he saw on a nightly basis, we see a guy who was behind only Aaron White on the team in points per minute. And Gabe was largely able to accomplish that by having the best shooting season of his career.
(Shot chart courtesy of Shot Analytics.)
He was almost automatic when it came to knocking down shots near the rim this year. And he continued to get to the foul line and make his free throws better than anybody not named "Aaron White." And he also offered a huge amount of value on the offensive glass and by blocking shots on the other end of the floor.
The only issue for Gabe this season was consistency against Big Ten competition.
As you can see by looking at his adjusted game scores per minute, he became more erratic once the competition got a little tougher. After his great game against Michigan State, Olaseni finished his final 18 games by putting up an adjusted game score per minute above the team's season average only 8 times. On some nights he looked great, on some nights he was just kind of there, and on a couple nights he was pretty bad.
Part of the end-of-season troubles for him were due to the fact that his touch around the rim started to leave him.
After making over 80% of his attempts close to the basket for the first three months, he started shooting closer to his career average before this season in February and March. The decline in shooting didn't hurt his scoring in February, but that's because he made up for it by attempting more field goals per minute during his time on the floor. But it caught up to him in March when he simply became less of a factor on offense.
And it wasn't just his offense that started to abandon him down the stretch. His offensive rebounding fell below his career average in February and March and he started blocking fewer shots than he had in the first half of the season. He put together one final excellent game against Indiana, but then he ended the season with a quiet Senior Day performance against Northwestern and carried that on into a sleepy performance in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournament.
But don't take me highlighting some of his struggles as the season wore on as me saying he had a bad season. In fact, this was Olaseni's best season of his career according to win shares.
He actually posted career-highs in offensive, defensive, total, and per 40 minute win shares this season. And thanks to his three-month streak of connecting on over 80% of his attempts near the rim, he put together his best shooting season in his four years in Iowa City, despite having more scoring opportunities and playing a bigger part in the offense than he ever has before.
There still seemed to be a pretty huge difference in the amount of value that Olaseni offered the Hawkeyes when it came to playing a non-conference foe vs. playing a Big Ten team. His drop from an average adjusted game score per minute of 0.56 against non-conference opponents to 0.40 against Big Ten one's was the biggest difference on the team. Not that an average adjusted game score per minute of 0.40 is bad when the team average is 0.35, but you would nonetheless like to see a number a little closer to that 0.56 one. But keep in mind, this could have been Olaseni's junior year if Iowa would have had the depth to redshirt him as a freshman. This is the type of inconsistency that you tend to see from someone who still has a year left to play.
Inconsistent play aside, though, Olaseni was still a damn important player for Iowa this past season. He was the third most valuable player for the Hawkeyes behind only Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff, and he was definitely most-deserving of the Sixth Man of the Year honors he received.
Like I said, Gabe was pretty much a perfect representation of a positive linear career arc. He came into college with no semblance of an offensive game and transformed into the Big Ten's Sixth Man of the Year. And that leads me to another hypothetical to ponder. What would he have been able to do with more minutes on the court?
I never really had much of a problem with Fran's playing time decisions unless Iowa was lacking in offense that I thought Gabe could have provided. Woodbury has better defensive positioning, he is stronger, and while he doesn't have the flashy blocks that Gabe does, he alters a lot more attempts than we could ever count. But Fran tended to use Olaseni and Woodbury interchangeably and rarely let the twin towers play on the court at the same time, despite the fact that Olaseni is more than capable of playing the four spot more than he did in college.
But I digress.
When you look back at this season, it's kind of amazing that Olaseni put up the best shooting performance of his career, considering he took more mid-range jumpers than ever before.
Fortunately, it didn't end up hurting him all that much because he shot so well near the rim and he was still able to draw fouls at a similar rate to what he had done in the past.
And he wasn't just busy drawing fouls either, he was one of the best free throw shooters on the team.
I mean, making 75% of your shots near the rim and at the free throw line is about as efficient as you can get when you're a big man. But Olaseni didn't just give the Hawkeyes scoring, he also gave them value in the rebounding and shot-blocking categories as well.
Olaseni was always a great offensive rebounder and shot-blocker over his career, while his defensive rebounding was a little more average. But it still wasn't bad. In order to get more context on these numbers, though, let's look at Kenpom's rankings.
Per usual, the more little yellow and red numbers, the better. Those mean Olaseni is nationally-ranked in that specific category. So, following that explainer, we can see that his offensive rebounding was 6th best in the nation as a junior and it was a still-extremely-good 42nd this season. Meanwhile, his block rate improved from 64th to 38th in the nation this season. Add those stats to an offensive rating of 113.6 (265th in the country) and a fouls drawn per 40 minutes inside the top 150, and you can see how Iowa is really going to miss him next season.
As much as we would all love to see Olaseni taken late in this year's NBA Draft, it just probably isn't happening. Draft Express had him listed as their 51st best senior prospect in college basketball before the beginning of this season. He may have moved up a bit since then, but I haven't seen any real draft buzz around him after this season. And, unfortunately, being the 51st best senior doesn't really mean much in a draft that only has two rounds.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, though. As a guy who has only been playing basketball since the age of 14, he still has some development left in his game. Sure, he's a lot closer to his upside now than he was four years ago, but he could still learn a lot playing for new coaches and in new systems over the next few years. And there's a lot to love about Olaseni's game. First and foremost, he has great size and he has incredible quickness and agility for a 6'10" guy. He's probably more of a power forward in the NBA (he tended to struggle against stronger big men in college), but he could easily play the center position on a team that plays smaller and isn't so worried about old school classifications of players, roles and positions. Either way, he has more than enough athletic ability to defend his man on the perimeter or in the paint. His defensive technique can be a bit sloppy at times, but hopefully coaching at a higher level could help fix that. And, on offense, despite inconsistent footwork (which again, could hopefully be fixed by coaching), Olaseni has developed some better touch around the rim and he's always been able to clean up on the boards. I think he could be a good fit in a pick and roll scheme, where he could get the ball going to the basket without having to make too many post moves.
So where will he play next year? That's really the question.
Despite likely not getting drafted, NBA scouts have had their eyes on Olaseni for a while now as a sleeper guy. Similar to what I said about baseball teams doing with a toolsy prospect, I wouldn't be surprised if an NBA team tried to stash him on their D-League roster with the hopes that they can turn him into an NBA player at some point down the road. If that doesn't happen, there is no doubt in my mind that he will be on a European roster next season. Being closer to his family in London wouldn't be a bad thing, and he's got more than enough talent to have himself a long and prosperous career overseas. And even if he doesn't end up in the D-League right away, he could always showcase himself overseas, and potentially come back to the states after a few years.
But no matter where he ends up, I wish him nothing but the best of luck. It was a pleasure to watch him grow and develop from a raw athlete into one of the better basketball players in the Big Ten. If only we just had more time.
Next Up: Josh Oglesby