Fran McCaffery, Player Development, and Peter Jok's Senior Year

By Matthew Lundeen on October 31, 2016 at 12:00 pm
There is a ton of pressure on Peter Jok this season. Fortunately, he has a coach who should put him in prime position to succeed.
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
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There is a ton of pressure on Peter Jok this season. Fortunately, he has a coach who should put him in prime position to succeed.

By now, I'm sure most of you have read the Sports Illustrated article, whose player projections model has Peter Jok slated for 21 points per game this season. (For more on that model, an introduction can be found here.) That's a high number, of course, but it's definitely believable due to the lack of experienced scorers on the team and considering Jok has never been shy about putting up a shot.

But that's not necessarily what I want to discuss here.

Instead, I bring up that article because when I saw that SI's model was making player projections, I instantly found myself in an internet wormhole, going back and reading everything about this model that I could find. And, along the way, I stumbled upon something written last March that I had never seen before. It was an article titled "SI study: Which coaches are the best at building elite offenses?" Like any good fan who finds a list about college sports, I immediately set out to find where my team was ranked. 

Digging through, as the authors explained the categories they used to define what made an elite offense, I came to find that Fran McCaffery was ranked 21st on this list. And they even gave a nice breakdown on how he graded out in their various categories.

Rank Coach Recruiting INstant-Impact Recruiting Future Impact Talent Retention In-Season Dev./Optimal usage Future Development Annual Avg. Total
21 Fran McCaffery 0.5 0.8 2.5 3.1 1.4 8.3

These ratings can be read as points per 100 possessions. So, for instance, SI estimates that Fran's ability to develop players in-season and optimally use them gives Iowa an extra 3.1 points per 100 possessions. Over the normal 2000 or so possessions Iowa has each season, that's somewhere around 60-70 extra points per season that comes from player development and usage. So, while the recruiting categories aren't that high, Fran has certainly excelled at getting three star recruits that he likes, keeping them in the program (important in today's world of transfers), and developing them to their full potential. 

If you look even further, Fran actually ranks 8th in this study when it comes to in-season development and optimal player usage.

Rank Coach Team Rating
1 Dana Altman Oregon 4.0
2 Ed Cooley Providence 4.0
3 Lon Kruger Oklahoma 3.7
4 Larry Eustachy Colorado State 3.7
5 Mark Schmidt St. Bonaventure 3.4
6 Mike Brey Notre Dame 3.3
7 Mark Gottfried N.C. State 3.2
8 Fran McCaffery Iowa 3.1
9 John Beilein Michigan 3.1
10 Frank Haith Tulsa 2.9

What exactly does that mean? Well, I'll allow them to explain:

This is where basketball instruction and game strategy is factored into the study, by measuring two things: how much a coach’s players outpace SI’s preseason efficiency projections on a year-to-year basis—aka “offensive development”—and how well a coach maximizes the impact of his best players by putting them in position to take the most shots (chart, right).

Essentially, there are two parts to this measure: 1) Outperforming projections, which sell Fran short because he doesn't have a ton of highly-recruited guys on his team; and 2) Putting your best players in the right positions to score. 

Number one isn't exactly breaking news. I mean, we've known for a while that Fran McCaffery has been doing more with what others perceive as less at Iowa since he got here. As for number two, though, I feel like that's something we may tend to overlook. And that's what I want to focus on for the remainder of the article.

Senior Development

A calling card of Fran, ever since he got his feet under him at Iowa, has been impact seniors. Matt Gatens had a career season as a senior, leading Iowa to the NIT. Devyn Marble had an outstanding senior year, leading Iowa to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006. Aaron White gave us the best season we've seen from an Iowa player in at least 20 years. And Jarrod Uthoff was a potential Wooden Award candidate, along with Big Ten Player of the Year candidate before the Hawkeyes faded down the stretch last season. 

All four of these players had career years in most statistical categories, all four of these players led their team to the postseason when this program was accustomed to the season being over after the Big Ten Tournament, and the final three of these four guys went on to make the First Team All-Big Ten roster. (Gatens, of course, made the Second Team roster.)

If we aggregate this data, there seems to be a pretty clear positive developmental trend from junior to senior year under McCaffery. As evidence, here are the average improvements made by each of the four players mentioned from their junior to senior seasons in a variety of important categories.

Min. Per Game Usage% Shots% eFG% Off. Rating Off. Win Shares Win Shares Win Shares/40 min. Points Per Game
+1.2 +2.4% +2.9% +1.6% +7.4 +1.3 +1.2 +0.036 3.7

As you can see, it's all pluses. Collectively, the workload numbers went up (minutes, usage and shots), while efficiency (eFG%, and offensive rating) also went up, leading to more offensive production (offensive win shares, and points per game). 

Normally (and rightfully so) we give the players 100% full credit for their performance on the court. And I'm not trying to rob these guys of their agency. After all, they are the ones that spend late nights in the gym putting up extra shots. They are the ones who go out on the court and ultimately put the ball through the hoop. However, I do think that this string of consistent success from junior to senior can be partially attributed to Fran's ability to coach and optimally use his guys. 

As anyone who watches Iowa football knows, it doesn't matter how much offensive talent you have if the coaching staff doesn't use it right. And Fran seems to know how to use it right. He appears to have a knack for looking at the changes in his roster during the offseason, and making the necessary adjustments for the upcoming year based on need.

For example, the 2014 season saw Devyn Marble bring the ball up the floor quite a bit more than we had seen in 2013. After all, Mike Gesell was a sophomore, and had struggled to safely advance the ball in late game situations as a freshman. Fran not only cut down on turnovers by making that adjustment (a three percentage point drop from 2013), but he also got the ball in Marble's hands more often, allowing him more opportunities to attack the basket or fire an open three in transition. As a result, Marble's points per game increased by two in his senior year. 

Aaron White, meanwhile, played a lot more on the perimeter in 2014 because he was so versatile. Fran moved him there as an attempt to get three of Iowa's best players in White, Melsahn Basabe, and Adam Woodbury, in the starting lineup at the same time. The next year, with the graduation of Basabe, Fran moved White back to the four spot and put Uthoff on the perimeter, and White responded with an absolute monster of a season. He scored about four more points per game, as a result. 

And my last example, is of course, Jarrod Uthoff. After moving to the perimeter from the post in 2015, Fran put Uthoff back at the four spot due to Iowa's lack of depth down low last season. Understanding Uthoff's versatility, Fran knew that even with the increased numbers of post ups, he could still scheme to get Uthoff open looks from three-point range. Of course, he did, and Uthoff saw his points per game increase from 12.4 to 18.9 from his junior to senior year.

Not only does each of these examples show real player improvement from every single guy, but they also show the adjustments that Fran has made to get each and every one of them in the prime position to score the ball. Every player I just mentioned had a unique set of skills, and Fran was able to recognize those skills and make sure that he put them in position to utilize them as a senior.

What This Means for Peter Jok

Fran's next big star in the making is Peter Jok. After an up-and-down first couple of years, Jok finally broke out as a junior. In the offseason, he took advantage of a new rule, and dipped his feet in the NBA Draft waters. Unsurprisingly, he pulled out of the draft when the NBA told him he still needed to work on his ball-handling and defense. What I loved, though, is when Pete announced he was returning, Fran gave a wonderful response:

“I’m going to use him in a way that will showcase him,” McCaffery said. “I’m going to give him the ball more on top, on the wing. We (will) run plays for him that are not baseline runners or down-screens or screen the screener exclusively. There’ll be ball-screen action, opportunities for him to score with space and to go one-on-one, and for you to see all the incredibly hard work he’s put in that’s going to benefit him and expand his game.

That quote is from May, which means that two months into the offseason, Fran was already looking toward the future. He was already acknowledging that he's going to use Jok differently this year. 

In the past, Pete has mainly been a catch and shoot type of guy. Against lesser-ranked opponents he's shown some ability to attack the basket, and he's certainly improved on his ability to jump the passing lane and get an easy dunk or layup in transition. But his bread and butter has been catching and shooting in transition and in the half-court. 

This year, though, Fran has ideas of having him bringing the ball up the court. Part of that is because of the inexperience at the point guard position. But similar to Marble's senior season, it also allows Iowa to get the ball to Jok in a variety of positions to score. Like Fran said above, so much of Jok's offense in the past has been running off a host of screens in order to get him an open shot. This year, though, there should be opportunities for him to demonstrate his improved ball-handling off of ball screens and on ISO plays. And while I don't necessarily expect Jok to blossom into a slasher over night, if he can at least make modest improvements in that area, it will force defenses to to at least respect his ability to drive the basket. At minimum, I think ball screens are at least a good way to get him open looks from distance. And they can also be a good way for him to continue to improve his already-developing pick-and-roll game

Heading into this season, there is an immense amount of pressure on Jok to perform at an all-time high level. He's the only senior, and one of the few experienced upperclassmen, on a roster full of young, raw athletes. Not only is he going to be asked to shoulder a heavy load on offense and guard the opposing team's best wing player for 30+ minutes per night. He's going to have to also be a leader and mentor on and off the court, and teach these young guys how to win. That's a lot to put on one person, but fortunately, Pete has a coach that knows how to showcase his talents and put him in the best possible situation to succeed. Fran just seems to get it. 

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