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2017-2018 Iowa State Basketball Season in Review, Part 2: The Major Contributors

Let’s look at the guys that had the largest impact on the team this season.

NCAA Basketball: Big 12 Conference Tournament-Texas vs Iowa State Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports

In part one of our Season in Review series, we recapped the season and looked at how the team performed as a whole. Using some more advanced stats, we also dove into a couple of the reasons the team mostly under-performed and was wildly inconsistent. Now, we’re going to examine each of the major contributors this season and determine what they did and didn’t do well.

Zoran Talley

NCAA Basketball: Big 12 Conference Tournament-Texas vs Iowa State Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports

Talley arrived at Iowa State as grad transfer from Old Dominion after averaging 11.3 points in the 2016-2017 season. At 6’7”, Talley is a long, lanky wing with an affinity of scoring around the rim and being a disruption on defense. The main part of his game missing was a three point shot, as he is right around a 20% career three point shooter on the rare occasion when actually attempted one from beyond the arc.

Talley was fairly limited through the first half of the season, as he dealt with a stress fracture which eventually kept him out of seven consecutive games in December and January. This kept him from developing a comfortable place in the rotation early in the season, and delayed his inclusion as a major contributor.

However, once healthy and able to establish himself in the rotation, Talley showed off some of the finishing ability we knew he had, and some ball-handling and passing ability we didn’t.

After Nick Weiler-Babb was ruled out for the West Virginia game in Hilton, many wondered if Lindell Wigginton was going to be able to handle the vaunted Mountaineer full court press. As it turns out, Talley ended up being the perfect man for the job, as he was able to use his length to protect the ball and pass over the West Virginia defenders. He only finished that game with 7 points and 5 assists, but make no mistake, Talley was the MVP of that game.

After diving into his stat line, a few things stand out. First and foremost, Talley clearly became at least a little more comfortable with his three point shot, as he did shoot 39% from beyond the arc, albeit in only 18 attempts. He’s certainly far away from a consistent outside threat at the moment, but he’s gaining confidence from outside and his shooting form does look like he can significantly improve as a three point shooter if he is able to focus on that area of his game.

If he’s able to evolve into an occasional, but effective three point shooter in the mold of Dustin Hogue (43% his senior year on 65 attempts), then he becomes a wholly different offensive piece for defenses to worry about. After NWB went down for the season, Donovan Jackson became Lindell Wigginton’s only three point option on the drive and kick, which allowed teams to collapse into the paint. Next year’s team will certainly have more outside shooting than this year’s team, but Talley’s addition into the ranks of capable outside shooters will be a huge asset to the offense.

Play of the Year

This and-1 fastbreak dunk to tie the Big 12 Tournament game against Texas gets the nod here.

Solomon Young

NCAA Basketball: Iowa State at Kansas State Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

After a solid freshman year in which he played his way into a starting role alongside the four big seniors, Solomon Young was expected to take a step forward and really become a force down low. The 6’8” sophomore had entered college with a Big 12 ready body at 240 lbs, so size and strength were never a concern. One of the primary areas of growth most people looked from from Solomon between his first and second seasons was, along with an outside shot that keeps poking its head out once in awhile, a more aggressive presence on both ends of the floor.

Solomon has the physical presence to be an absolute force down low as long as he remains aggressive. The non-conference schedule didn’t do much to show that growth, but conference play began to show some of the improvement we were all looking for, including noticeable improvements as a passer. Last season, when Young was double teamed on the low block, he often forced up a bad shot or just looked for the nearest kick-out. By early part of conference play this season, Solomon was doing a much better job of recognizing when the double team is coming and passing to an open shooter or cutter before the second defender gets there.

Young’s development as a passer came earlier than I originally anticipated, but it’s a welcome sight to see. Over the summer, the two biggest developments I think Solomon can make are learning to be more aggressive offensively in the low post, including improving his touch around the rim, and really unpacking that three point shot we keep seeing glimpses of. As I mentioned with Talley, next season should have more shooting than 2017-2018, but Young’s development as a shooter would add a really nice wrinkle to the offense that teams haven’t had to guard up to this point.

If he can become at least a 33% shooter from outside, Steve Prohm can then begin running 4-out sets, leaving some massive driving lines open for Lindell Wigginton and Talen Horton-Tucker. If those two are regularly able to get penetration on the drive, look out.

Play of the Year

Solomon isn’t a flashy player, so you don’t necessarily get the high flying dunks you do with other players (spoiler alert), but Solomon Young absolutely shut Baylor down on this possession.

Nick Weiler-Babb

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

After transferring from Arkansas following the 2014-2015 season and sitting out 2015-2016, Nick Weiler-Babb was primarily used last season as a key role player off the bench. NWB regularly flashed his excellent athleticism and a better-than-you-think outside stroke, no doubt exciting fans about what his first year as a regular starter would bring.

Unfortunately hip and back issues hampered NWB throughout the summer and fall, delaying his growth and making it more difficult to develop chemistry in the rotation. In Iowa State’s first two disastrous games, Weiler-Babb was frequently off the ball as a wing player while Donovan Jackson. However, come the non-conference tournament in South Carolina, Prohm made the decision to switch him to point guard.

It was easy to see right away that Nick was a natural fit for the lead guard role. At 6’5” he’s taller than most point guards, and his calm demeanor kept him and the rest of the young Cyclones in check when the started speeding out of control. Over the tournament’s three games, he averaged 17.6 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 8.7 assists to lead Iowa State to a tournament championship. Though his scoring slowed, NWB still averaged 9.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 8.3 assists in the remaining non-conference games.

Even through the first five conference games, Weiler-Babb continued to nearly average a triple-double against conference competition, including a 13-10-8 stat line against Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse.

However, NWB’s lingering hip injury began to rear it’s ugly head not long after, slowing him down significantly for the next four games. The injury never improved, and ended up knocking him out all but two of the remaining conference games (including the tournament).

It’s difficult to say what the trajectory of not only this season, but of the near-term for the entire program would like had Nick not been hampered with injuries all year. Would he have continued flirting with a triple-double on a night in-night out basis? Would Lindell have gotten run as the lead guard? Who knows. What we can say though, is that Nick and Lindell have two different styles of running the point, and it gives the offense a different set of gears to work with next season. Lindell runs the point in aggressive, attacking manner looking to drive to the hoop and collapse the defense, while Nick takes a more methodical approach, carefully poking and prodding until the defense reveals the soft underbelly.

We’ll get into a more in-depth, Venn diagram-style analysis of how Lindell Wigginton and Nick Weiler-Babb in another piece, but for now let’s appreciate what NWB did while (somewhat) healthy and look forward to more of that next season.

Play of the Year

It has to be this shot clock-beating three pointer against Texas Tech.

Donovan Jackson

NCAA Basketball: Big 12 Conference Tournament-Texas vs Iowa State Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports

Coming out of Iowa Western Community College, Jackson was regarded as sharpshooting lefty that could play the one or the two, perfect for Steve Prohm’s system. In the 2016-2017 season, Jackson struggled early on to find his role and get his shot to start falling. However, by the time conference play rolled around, DJack looked comfortable and became probably the best bench shooter Iowa State has had since Tyrus McGee.

The big question entering this past season was how Jackson would handle being the lead guard and the team’s primary scorer. In short, his two game stretch at point guard at the beginning of the season didn’t exactly go as planned. The offense looked completely out of sorts, and Donovan’s high activity play-style caused some of the younger plays to then speed out of control and turn the ball over or take a bad shot.

After the loss to UW-Milwaukee, Prohm moved Donovan over to the two guard spot, letting Nick Weiler-Babb run the show and freeing up DJack to run off screen to get open on the perimeter. The change was beneficial for all parties involved, as Jackson had more open shots and the offense looked significantly smoother and more organized.

As expected, Jackson shot over 40% from three for the rest of the year in his typical streaky fashion. At times he would really struggle and force outside shots or drive into the paint, where he typically struggled to finish around the rim. At his best Jackson was ultra-confident from deep and taking and making quality looks from outside. If Donovan hit a pull-up three after crossing up a defender, you could bet your house he was taking another on three on the next possession. That confidence is what made Donovan Jackson such a fun player to watch, and a mercurial deep threat that just about every team in America could use.

Play of the Year

Without a doubt, Donovan’s play of the year was scoring 27 points on senior night, including 5 threes, just days after the passing of his father.

Cameron Lard

NCAA Basketball: Kansas State at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Cam’s journey to Iowa State from Louisiana was long and complicated, with academic questions forcing him to redshirt last season. Thus, his role and ability were almost a complete mystery to Cyclone fans coming into the season. After being suspended for the first two games, Cyclone fans were right wary about what Cam would actually be able to bring to the team. Well, Cam showed everybody just how high his ceiling might be.

From the very get-go, Lard’s energy was abundant and obvious as he routinely made hustle plays that every coach in the country wishes they could get their bigs to make. Along with the hustle plays, Cam proved to be an excellent rim protector and transition runner, very much in the mold of Jameel McKay. He’s got a lot more touch around the rim than you think he does, but his most endearing attribute is the unbridled fire he plays the game with.

At times, Cam’s unfiltered emotions do lead to some poor body language and some complacency in individual situations, but make no mistake, there is absolutely nobody on the court that gets more fire up about making a big play than Cam. If he throws it down and you’re within 10 feet of the rim, you best prepare yourself to get an earful of that battle cry. Even though Lard passed virtually every eye test imaginable, the stats show that he actually many not have gotten the ball as much as he should have.

The first few things that will jump off the page are his rebounding stats, shooting/eFG percentages, and block percentage. 19% on on the defensive end and 13.9% on the offensive are very good numbers for anybody, much less a freshman that consistently had to do battle with much bigger players like Mo Bamba, Udoka Azubuike, Zack Smith, and Vladimir Brodziansky. As he continues to mature and learn to focus his energy in conjunction with the athleticism advantage he holds in most matchups, those numbers will only improve, turning him into one of the two or three best rebounders in the Big 12.

One rating you’ll see on there that won’t make any sense without context is his offensive rating. At 111.2, Cameron Lard ranked as the 25th most efficient offensive player in the IN THE ENTIRE COUNTRY, and best on the team. In a little bit, I’m going to give you a couple statistics that will likely speed the Cameron Lard hype train out of f****ing control, but before I do, we need to put this statistic in context.

The offensive rating metric is probably the best existing way to determine a player’s overall effectiveness on offense, but to properly compare players, their usage percentages must be compared.

Per KenPom:

“A very important aspect of offensive rating is that it must be used in conjunction with the possession usage (%Poss) column to have any value. The average player will use 20% of his team’s possessions while he is on the court. The majority of players fall between 15% and 25%. A player that has a high offensive rating and uses a lot of possessions is especially valuable (example: Adam Morrison, 122.8 ORtg, 31.4% possessions used).

The current leader in ORtg is Northeastern’s Bobby Kelly at 141.0. Kelly only uses 11.6% of Northeastern’s possessions, so we can gather he’s very selective about when he shoots, and in his ample spare time he enjoys watching point guard Jose Juan Barea do his thing. Kelly is very good at his role (75% shooting in eFG terms), but no one would suggest he’s All-American material or even all-CAA material, because he’s just that – a role player.”

Alright, time to send this hype train straight off the rails.

Lard-Niang Comparison

Player Ortg %Poss %Shots eFG% TS% OR% DR%
Player Ortg %Poss %Shots eFG% TS% OR% DR%
Freshman Cam Lard 111.2 20.70% 23.40% 60.10% 60.30% 13.90% 19.20%
Junior Georges Niang 106 26.70% 26.80% 51.70% 56.00% 4.00% 15.20%

Obviously, Cam Lard and Georges Niang are different players with different skill sets. BUT, this does show how impressive Cam Lard is on offense this early in his career. With a fairly similar usage percentage, Lard is a decent bit more efficient than Niang was in his junior season, which followed his massive body transformation.

Worth noting is that eFG% (effective field goal percentage) accounts for the added value of the three point shot, and TS% (true shooting percentage) adds in free throws on top of eFG%, meaning Georges’ advantages at the line and beyond the arc are already taken into account. Yet, Cam’s eFG% and TS% are both above 60%, despite a dismal free throw percentage of just 58%. This means that not only has Cam been extremely impressive and efficient with the ball in his hands, but that he should be getting more touches going forward.

Lard’s 8.8 block percentage is also extremely impressive given the fact that he had virtually no help down low on the defensive end. This means that he wasn’t able to poach blocks as a help defender, but swatted shots as the on-ball defender, which is much more difficult to do while still trying to avoid foul trouble.

Going into next season, there are two main areas of development Lard needs to grow in. The first is learning to channel is energy and passion into positive action, rather than negative body language. Most games, fans could probably count at least a handful of times where Cam was visibly frustrated with a referee’s decision or a teammates’ bad play. This often led to him losing focus for a possession or two, possibly giving up an easy bucket or a silly foul. If Lard can learn to refocus himself when things aren’t going his way, he’ll be able to more easily avoid foul trouble and make the big, momentum building plays he made so often this season.

The next area of growth which can really begin to unlock his potential and benefit the entire offense is as a passer in the low and high post. Right now, Cam still struggles at times in recognizing the double team and knowing when to go up with it or kick out. Once he begins to consistently recognize double teams and find open shooters or cutters, the offense becomes significantly more dangerous. Solomon Young showed some of this growth from year one to year two, so Cam Lard should be able to follow suit. If Cam Lard becomes at least an above average passer out of the post, guys like Lindell Wigginton, Nick Weiler-Babb, Zoran Talley, and Talen Horton-Tucker will be able to utilize their cutting ability more freely.

To put it simply, Cam Lard’s development as a passer is the second most important area of growth for the offense for the 2018-2019 season.

Play of the Year

There were quite a few highlights to parse through, but these two huge blocks on one possession against Baylor came out on top.

Lindell Wigginton

NCAA Basketball: Big 12 Conference Tournament-Texas vs Iowa State Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports

The explosive freshman guard out of Canada came to Iowa State has the most hyped Cyclone recruit since Marcus Fizer, and he did not disappoint. Any fan who watched one of his highlight tapes could easily see the absurd amount of bounce and quickness Lindell brings to the table, along with a Big 12-ready body that was strong enough to finish in the lane against the toughest players the Big 12 had to offer. Beyond that, his ability to finish at the rim and score in the mid-range had plenty of fans excited.

I mean, look at this step back mid-range jumper. That is not the move of a freshman. Hell, most upperclassmen don’t wouldn’t bust that out in a game.

And take a look at this spin move against Texas in the Big 12 title game. This might be the filthiest spin move performed in a Cyclone uniform in the last decade. If you’re reading this, Georges, please don’t hate me.

Even given everything we knew about Lindell coming into this season, we still didn’t know a couple of key factors. The three biggest question marks for Lindell going into the season were:

  1. Can he shoot the three?
  2. Can he defend?
  3. Can he play the point?

We already knew he was strong and quick enough to physically match up with anyone he was asked to, but we didn’t know what his instincts would look like. As we somewhat expected, Lindell made plenty of freshman mistakes and still has work to do when defending on the ball, but he’s learning quickly how to defend well off the ball, and he showed what kind of defender he can be when he shut down Trae Young (at least more than anyone could expect someone to) while acting as his primary defender.

Wigginton’s ability to shoot from outside was somewhat of a mystery, and most fans probably would have been satisfied with anything around average. Instead, what we got was 40% from deep, which tied Donovan Jackson for the team lead, and a legitimate outside threat both in catch and shoot situations and off the dribble. Take a look at this three against West Virginia. In the face of the Big 12’s best defender, Jevon Carter, Lindell knocks down an NBA range three with absolutely no hesitation.

If Lindell continues shooting 40% from three through next season, I think he’s the odds-on favorite to win Big 12 Player of the Year.

As far as his ability to play point guard goes, we saw a mixed bag. His natural scoring ability helps open up the offense, and his tendency is to be aggressive and push the ball up the floor, a trait the great Cyclone teams of the past decade have all had in common. Given the athleticism advantage this year’s team had over some of it’s opponents, the offense tended to look better when pushing the pace and running in transition. In a later piece, we’ll take a look at the point guard position for the 2018-2019 season, and look at what effect both Lindell and Nick Weiler-Babb can have on the offense.

Regardless of whether he ends up running the point next season, Lindell’s primary focus should be improving defensively, as well as growing as a pure point guard. As it stands, Lindell’s body is too quick for his ball-handling to keep up. When he’s changing direction on a drive to the hoop, he tends to bring the ball wide and high on his crossover, which leaves the ball handler prone to turnovers. If Lindell can learn to control his pace and tighten his handle when running at tempo and changing direction, he can all but eliminate those silly self-made turnovers where he dribbles off his foot or loses the ball during a crossover.

Beyond his handle, learning to see the floor and find his teammates in transition will be an important area of growth as well. Wigginton is a score-first guard, as he should be. What this also means is that he tends to have tunnel vision in transition, looking to score it himself on the fast break. On more than a couple of those occasions, Cameron Lard was also running the floor and had an easy chance to a dunk or layup, but Lindell elected to take the pull-up midrange, which he missed more often than not. To take the next step up as a distributor, he’ll need to not only get better at finding his open teammates in transition, but also trusting that they can get the job done. Do that, and the days of the Run n’ Gun Cyclones will be back next season.

Play of the Year

This was the easiest pick in the history of sports blogs picking things.

Keep an eye out for part 3, where we’ll take a look at the role players from the 2017-2018 Cyclones.