DIMONDALE, Mich.-There wasn’t much defense stopping him, however, Michigan State’s Nick Ward did not play like his usual self Thursday evening during the first night of the Moneyball Pro-Am held at Aim High. Fans didn’t see him back players down, make a move into the paint, and finish strong at the rim. Most of Ward’s production and touches came from outside of the paint and away from the basket. An area where, frankly, he has struggled to develop in his time in East Lansing.
“I didn’t do my normal routine,” Ward said.
That is the reason why during the “final hour” on May 29, Ward pulled his name out of the 2018 NBA Draft to return to Michigan State for his junior year. And that is also why throughout the rest of the summer, fans will see more of mid-range shots, ball-handling, and improvement in his overall game. The game that we have seen through two seasons of college basketball doesn’t translate to the NBA. And Ward knows that.
“You don’t see the forwards doing what they used to do,” said Ward. “You see fours dribbling, making plays, and taking jump shots. I am going to be a four in the league”
After a frustrating sophomore season that saw minimal increases in minutes (0.9 minutes) and points (1.5 points), as well as a worse field goal percentage compared to his first season at Michigan State, Ward made the decision to test the NBA waters and declare for the draft early. It was a decision that many college players made, as they have the option to return to school.
Ward did not receive an invite to the NBA combine, however, worked out for eight or nine teams. But ultimately, his place was meant to be back in East Lansing, at least for one more year.
“It was real tough,” said Ward. “You know, I could have left, but I’m gonna give Spartan fans one more season. Im just ready to get on the court with my teammates. It was 50-50. It could have gone either way, but I feel that I made the right choice”
The feedback Ward received from NBA personnel may have been frustrating to hear, but Ward appears to be taking it seriously.
“I got a lot of feedback,” Ward said. “Mainly to trim up my body.”
This has been a reoccurring problem since he has been on campus. However, Ward appeared slimmer entering the summer compared to the end of last season.
“Work on my jump shot and my outside skills, then I should be good,” he said.
That has started earlier this summer, in the offseason, and during the summer practices that Michigan State had in the past couple weeks.
“Ive been working with people like Josh (Langford) and Kyle (Ahrens) and doing things like that,” Ward said.
Nick Ward with some handles, then finishes with contact pic.twitter.com/rYri2JEpsg
— Nathaniel Bott (@Nathaniel_Bott) June 28, 2018
That was evident when on multiple possessions, Ward took the opportunity to test his new-found skills against Langford in one-on-one isolation. Most of the time, it did not go well. As it should have. Ward hasn’t even come close to reaching the level needed to hear his name called in 2019’s NBA Draft. But, they did show promise. Even if it was in a competition with little-to-no meaning.
His handles and his shot still need improvement, and you can see the small improvements that he has made to his game. There is tons of room for more work as well. This process did not start tonight at Moneyball, and it won’t end at it either. And the continued improvements will end up helping more than just Ward’s future NBA chances. It helps Michigan State’s as they defend their Big Ten Championship title.
“I just want to have another chance to win it all and win another Big Ten championship.”
Contact Justin Frommer: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @jbf3498.