When Jarrod Uthoff announced that he was transferring to Iowa, Hawkeye fans were giddy with anticipation of what his future held. A 6'9" guy who could shoot from outside and play a little bit down low is an exciting prospect. Unfortunately, when Uthoff finally made his way to Iowa City via Madison, he had to sit the 2012-2013 season out before he could see any real game action.
Once the 2013-2014 season started, Uthoff showed us early on that we were right to be excited, as he was pretty clearly the third best player on the team during the non-conference portion of the schedule. But then Big Ten portion of the schedule started, and he started to look a bit like a freshman. He looked passive on offense at times, and would turn down open looks at the basket. The talent was there, we just needed to see more aggressiveness out of him.
Coming into this year, the question for Uthoff was whether or not he could prove himself against Big Ten competition, and whether or not he could do it while playing a much bigger role on the team.
The answer, if you somehow failed to pay attention this season, was a resounding "Yes!" Uthoff upped his points per game, while keeping his points per minute pretty much stable, and he continued to rebound and block shots with the best of them. And he did all of this while playing exclusively at the small forward position, showing off the versatility of his game.
He will now enter next season as the leader of this team, and as the guy with best NBA prospects of any Iowa player in recent history. Can he live up to those lofty expectations?
Season in Review
Uthoff most definitely took that next step this past season. He went from a guy who saw his production drop and minutes get cut as the season went on last year, to someone Fran relied on heavily down the stretch this year.
Fran continued to up his minutes this year because he constantly gave the Hawkeyes something on the court. Unlike last season, where he seemed to disappear once Big Ten play started, this year Uthoff demonstrated the growth in his game by being one of the better players on the court night in and night out.
But if there is one criticism we can levy against Uthoff, it's that he settled into a groove of just being a jump shooter a little too often at times. Now, that's not always a terrible thing for him. I mean, he clearly has the best stroke on the team, and can hit from pretty much anywhere on the court.
(Shot chart courtesy of Shot Analytics.)
However, I don't think it's a real coincidence that he put up his best scoring month in March, considering that's when we saw him not only knocking down his jump shots, but also attacking the rim more often.
But even that slight criticism doesn't take away from the effectiveness of his overall game. Uthoff is able to do a whole host of amazing things on a basketball court, so let's just highlight a few, shall we?
First and foremost, he can shoot the ball from deep.
And not only can he catch an alley-oop, but he is capable of driving to the basket and finishing in traffic. With his left hand.
He can also hit game-winning fadeaway jumpers on the road.
And for the sake of not having too many vines on one page, I will link his ability to use his 6'9" frame to post up smaller players, block jump shots, block the layup attempts of bigger players, and force turnovers by trapping on defense. The things he is capable off doing on a basketball court are pretty insane when you really think about it. His game is just so versatile.
Jarrod Uthoff is literally Iowa Basketball's swiss army knife, in that he can provide value in a number of ways even if he is unable to score much on a given night. He rarely turns the ball over on offense, and he is an incredible rebounder and shot-blocker for a wing player. He showed off all of those things this past season, and it should be no surprise that it was the best season of his career from a win shares perspective.
His 4.8 win shares this season was actually good for the 12th best season by an Iowa player since 1997-1998. And while the win shares per 40 minutes increase of only 0.05 may not seem like a huge increase, he did do that while playing 430 more minutes this season. But, more importantly, his win shares per 40 minutes went from 0.072 against Big Ten teams last year to 0.185 this season. That is where the huge step forward in Jarrod Uthoff's game happened as a junior. And that is what makes me optimistic for him as a senior.
Scoring-wise, Uthoff averaged more points per game as a junior, but that was largely because he was playing more minutes than he had as a sophomore. He was also shooting the ball more often this year, but his efficiency dropped a little due to more shot attempts and because of the types of shots he was taking.
The big change in his shot selection happened because he went from being a combination wing/post player last year to being exclusively a wing player this season. And, honestly, with how much better he performed against Big Ten competition, it looked like a much better fit for him. Uthoff seems more comfortable out on the perimeter, and I was happy to see the increased emphasis on three-pointers from him this season. My only wish for next season is hopefully he can take some of those long twos and turn them into threes or closer looks.
Because of the change in shot selection Uthoff saw more of his points come from further away from the basket this season. That also meant that his free throw rate was cut in half and his points from the free throw line also fell.
And another part of the reason that his points from the free throw line dropped this year was because he struggled a bit more than we all expected him to once he got there. He was still a pretty good shooter from the line, however, and he was still very efficient from everywhere else on the court as well.
But, again, Uthoff doesn't just give Iowa value with his scoring ability. He also stuffs the stat sheet in other ways.
According to Kenpom, you can see that Uthoff was still one of the better defensive rebounders in the nation this past season, despite playing out on the perimeter. And he also continued to be one of the better shot-blockers in the nation too. He did all of this while cutting his turnovers down this season and by taking a lot more shots on offense. It's pretty easy to see why he was so good this year.
Put simply, this is Jarrod Uthoff's team next year. Iowa will have four returning seniors in Uthoff, Mike Gesell, Adam Woodbury, and Anthony Clemmons. But no one in that group has the ability to take over the game and a season quite the way Jarrod Uthoff can. The big improvement I would love to see him make in his game is to cut down on the number of long two-point jump shots he takes. I'm not arguing that he should completely abstain from shooting them, because he is clearly a great shooter. But if we go back and look at something I did after the second Wisconsin game this year, we see Uthoff was at his best in games in which he took 40% or less of his field goal attempts in the form of long twos.
In the 21 games this season in which he took 40% or fewer of his attempts from the long two area, he averaged 13.9 points per game. In the 13 games in which he shot the over, he averaged 11 points per game. Uthoff shot about 36% from long twos this season and 37% from three-point range. Considering that three-pointers are worth one more point than long twos are, it would be smart to position himself a few steps back before he catches and shoots. Or, if he's handling the ball, it would be nice to see him be aggressive and attack the basket rather than pulling up for a contested jumper. The left elbow area seems to be a strength for Jarrod (he shot 55% from there this season), so keeping that going seems fine. But just about any other long two would be a lot more valuable if he turned it into a three. And if Uthoff can continue to show off his ability to drive to the basket or catch alley-oops, shooting from near the basket -- where he is something like a 68% career shooter -- would also allow him to be more efficient with his scoring attempts next season.
If he is able to improve his shot selection by being more aggressive and not just settling in as a jump shooter, the ceiling for his senior season is incredibly high. He has the tools to be a First Team All-Big Ten selection, compete for Big Ten Player of the Year honors, and be a decently-high NBA draft pick. He was listed as the 54th best junior in college basketball by Draft Express before the season started. I haven't come across any draft-related articles about him recently, but I would imagine that his draft stock went up a bit after this past season. And he has put himself in great position to send his draft stock soaring next year.
But enough of the NBA talk. We still have one more season to watch Uthoff bless us with his amazingly versatile game. With the graduation of Aaron White, he becomes the lone star of this team. The sky is the limit for him next year, let's all hope he can take that next and final step.
Next Up: Mike Gesell