Jack Nunge is Not Your Average College Basketball Player

By Matthew Lundeen on December 13, 2017 at 4:49 pm
Nunge says NOPE

© Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

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Jack Nunge is truly a one of a kind college basketball player.

This probably doesn't come as much of a revelation to anybody or anything, but: Jack Nunge is weird. Not weird in a "Why are you looking at me like that?" kind of way, but more in a "No one his size should be able to do that with a basketball" kind of way. The majority of 6'11" players are relegated to the post, where they can use their size to get rebounds, score near the hoop, and defend the other team's large human beings. And while Nunge can certainly do that when called upon, he can also roam around the perimeter and knock down threes with impressive efficiency.

Again, even if you didn't want to pay extra to watch this team play the majority of their games in November, most of you have at least seen him play a handful of times by now, and I am not telling you anything new. But while you knew that Nunge was unique, did you know just how unique he was? Well, that's why I'm expending my energy writing this.

In order to get an idea of how weird Nunge's game is, I am using Bart Torvik's excellent T-Rank Player Finder tool. I would encourage everybody to check out Bart's website, as it is basically like Kenpom with more tools to play around with and it's free. Aside from being a Wisconsin fan, I can't say a bad thing about the guy, so, seriously, check it out. 

Anyway, the Player Finder tool allows us to filter through various numbers and see the number of seasons in which a player has amassed a certain stat line. In order to do that for Nunge, we need to identify what his strengths are. First of all, he's tall. So, I set the minimum height requirement to 79 inches, which gives us all guys listed as 6'7" and taller. With thousands of college basketball players who fit this description, I could (and probably should) set the bar higher, but for now, I want to try and keep some of the guys in the mix that play on the perimeter like Nunge does. I also set the minimum minutes played to 40% of their teams possible minutes played.

Next, we can add rebounds and blocked shots. Since he plays the majority of his minutes beyond the arc, we do have to take that into account and set the bar for rebounds and blocks slightly lower than we would for someone who roams the paint. After all, three-point shots are often blocked less than shots near the rim and rebounds are harder to come by the further you are away from the basket. Nunge's block rate is currently at 5.5% (200th in the country, via Kenpom) and his defensive rebounding rate is 12.7% (not ranked), so I set the parameters at 5% and 12%, respectively. 

Still, though, that doesn't really narrow down the results. The Player Finder only goes back to 2008, but even then, the list of guys who are 6'7" and who block that many shots and get that many rebounds is still over a thousand. In order to cut it down, we need to add in what makes Nunge so versatile for his size: his three-point shooting. He is currently making 42% of his tries from deep this year (second only to Jordan Bohannon on the team), and I put the cut off at 38%, just in case Nunge can't sustain 40+% the entire season. That puts the list at 212 players since the 2008 season. Now we are getting somewhere. 

Of course, this list includes guys who went 1-2 from three-point range in a season. In order to adjust for that, I put the minimum three-point attempts at 25 (Nunge has taken 26 already this year), and that chopped the list to 82. The interesting part of this list, is Nunge isn't the only Hawkeye. Currently matching all of these criteria are Jarrod Uthoff in 2014 and 2016 and Nicholas Baer in 2017. That's some good company, and part of the reason I set the height minimum so low to begin with. 

Still, 82 isn't that exclusive of a list. There is something else that Nunge is good at, which we haven't given him credit for yet: steals. His 2.6% steal rate is tops on the team among guys who play regularly, and he ranks 409th in the nation, according to Kenpom. What happens when we add in a 2% steal rate? The list drops to 22 guys.

list

And for as good as Mr. Uthoff was during his time in Iowa City, he was never great when it came to steals, so he falls off this list after adding in this extra requirement. Nicholas Baer remains, however. And, would't you know it, Nunge's freshman season looks a lot like Baer's redshirt sophomore campaign. Baer had better rebounding numbers and fewer turnovers, but Nunge is shooting it better (in a small sample size that doesn't include the dog days of conference play, of course) and, all together, it comes out to about the same stellar offensive rating. 

Looking at the entire list, you see a lot of 6'7" or 6'8" players, but not many who are Nunge's size that can do these things. And now that I've made my point with the Nicholas Baer comparison, let's finally see what happens when we make the minimum height requirement 6'10"

list 2

That leaves Nunge in the company of just three other people.

Jordan Heath was a forward for Canisius who averaged 10 points per game over his two-year career with the Golden Griffins. He never made it to the NBA, but he does seem to be having a pretty decent career overseas. Out of the players on this list, Heath and Nunge are the two with middle-of-the-road usage rates. That seems pretty normal for Nunge, since he's a freshman on a team where he is not at the top of the food chain. For Heath -- who was a super-efficient senior -- though, that's kind of odd. For some context, he probably could have scored close to 20 points per game if he didn't have two other seniors on his team scoring 24 and 13 per night.

Bobby Portis is a name you should all recognize, and his 2015 sophomore campaign helped get him drafted 22nd overall by the Chicago Bulls. Portis played in the paint more often than not, however, so while he's good company to be in for Nunge, the comparison is a bit apples to oranges. Portis took 30 three-pointers all season long in 2015, and Nunge could very well hit the 30 mark this Saturday against Drake. Playing closer to the rim also allowed Portis to get more rebounds. 

Finally, Austin Daye is a former Gonzaga Bulldog who also played parts of six seasons in the NBA. Like Nunge, Daye was a freshman when he made this list. (He also would have made it as a sophomore, but his steal rate of 1.6% just missed the cut.) Over his career in Spokane, Daye averaged nearly 12 points per game and shot 42% from long range. Like Portis, Daye also jumped to the NBA after his sophomore season. He was selected 15th overall by the Detroit Pistons. He was never a star in the NBA, but he's got a decent number of highlight videos on YouTube where he went for double-digits. 

Daye is a better comparison to Nunge's skillset than Portis is, but Daye also played more as a stretch four and didn't stay out on the perimeter as often. With Fran playing some smaller lineups lately, Nunge could certainly play more in this mold, going forward. Still, though, his versatility that allows him to play the small forward position is pretty unheard of. The cherry on top of this all, is that the two of the other three players that fit this mold went on to play in the NBA and the other has done pretty well overseas.

Of course, it has to be said that Nunge is still only a freshman and he hasn't even played half of his first collegiate season yet. Still, the early returns have been good. He's averaging nine points per game, has scored double-digits in six of his first 11 games, and has done so now three games in a row. He also has the highest offensive efficiency rating on the team, and really, the only thing holding him back, is that his usage rate is pretty pedestrian. That's to be expected, as the offensive pecking order right now starts with some of the older guys. However, given Iowa's early season struggles, there is very little to lose by Nunge looking for more shots per game. 

It's still early, but he's already made it pretty clear that he's going to be a good one. Nunge's skillset is unique, and as the list above shows us, there is no real player from the recent past that checks all the boxes that he does. Right now, he's essentially Nicholas Baer with four extra inches. But if he becomes more than a role player on offense, we might just have to start throwing out Kristaps Porzingis comps. Until then, Adam's preseason comp of "the unholy offspring of Jarrod Uthoff and J.R. Koch" will be enough to keep me excited for the future. 

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