Aside from freshman Anthony Gaines, no Northwestern player saw a bigger minutes-jump from 2016-2017 to 2017-2018 than Jordan Ash (3.8 to 12.7 per game). After playing sparingly as a sophomore, Ash found meaningful minutes as a junior, largely contributing as a solid defender and complementary player offensively. Ash’s role wasn’t to create offense or initiate many sets, but the Bolingbrook, Ill. native’s defensive prowess and ability to take care of the ball allowed him to surpass Isiah Brown in the rotation as Bryant McIntosh’s backup (though McIntosh rarely sat).
Ash missed the final seven games of the season with a lower-body injury, meaning he didn’t get the chance to prove himself as a starter when McIntosh went down for two games with a shoulder injury. He did play 28 minutes when McIntosh missed the Nebraska game, but didn’t do much in a game Northwestern lost comfortably. He took a significant step this season minutes-wise, but the jury is still out on whether Ash can handle a role as a primary offense-creator in the offense next season with McIntosh — and Isiah Brown — gone.
The following numbers are taken from KenPom.com.
Per KenPom, Ash was Northwestern’s least-used player while on the floor, boasting a tiny usage rate of just 11.3 percent.
So what does that mean? Well, Ash was typically not the guy taking shots or directly contributing to them, which makes sense. Ash took open threes when they presented themselves, but was more of a ball-mover than anything else. His usage rate was a tick down from the previous season, but his efficiency numbers increased across the board, albeit in a small sample size. It’s hard to make definitive claims on Ash based on this small body of work, except that he probably isn’t really a cornerstone or lead offensive player in an offense.
Well over half of Ash’s field goal attempts were threes, and nearly all of his jump shot attempts, both threes and twos, were assisted. For Ash to be able to start at point guard next year, he’ll have to be able to get to the rim off the dribble and score on some unassisted looks, which is something he hasn’t really done yet in his college career.
Ash carved out a role early in the season and held it over Brown for pretty much the rest of the way. That could speak more to Brown’s issues than Ash’s talent, but Ash deserves a lot of the credit there. He knew his job, and did it pretty well. Ash didn’t take many shots, but that also means he didn’t take many bad shots. He may not have been dynamic, but he was solid, which was what Chris Collins appeared to ask him to do.
Defensively, Ash proved to be an asset, especially on a team that struggled to guard the dribble-drive in man-to-man. Ash is a better defender and Brown and McIntosh were, so that helped Northwestern when he was on the floor. He’s also a good rebounder for the position.
As mentioned earlier, Ash doesn’t add a lot offensively. His efficiency has improved, but his total production has remained at a low level on that end of the floor. He’s a decent shooter, but probably not good enough to be a plus-shooter at his position, at least at the moment.
He’s strong, so he figures to be a decent finisher around the rim, but he doesn’t get there often enough. A point guard has to be able to penetrate and collapse the defense to kick out to shooters, and Ash hasn’t done that in his time in Evanston.
Simply put, offense.
Ash should focus on his shooting and ball handling, both of which are necessary tools to start or get serious minutes as a lead guard. At the worst, Ash needs to be a consistent catch-and-shoot three-point shooter so he can get minutes off the ball. Strength isn’t an issue for Ash, so he needs to skill should be the focus of his summer training.
The bottom line:
With McIntosh logging a ton of minutes ahead of him, Ash has never really been in position to take control of the position, and now might just be his time. He needs a lot of work on offense, but he should at least figure into the rotation as one of the first guards off the bench.
Guard depth is thin with McIntosh and Brown gone, and Jordan Lathon doesn’t get to campus until the summer. The spring should be a big opportunity for Ash to impress the coaching staff and solidify his place as a major contributor next season.