When you think of the 2016-17 season for the Michigan State Spartans, a lot comes to mind, but none more than Miles Bridges.
The freshman Bridges has brought star power, top-tier talent and is the Spartans’ go-to-guy. For all intents and purposes he has been what the Spartans have heavily relied upon this season.
But one guy whose gone under-the-radar and has been just as effective, in his own right, is one of his freshman running mates: Nick Ward.
Ward is a 6-foot-8, 250 pound back-to-the-basket big man who has the ability to use his length and size to disrupt opponents on both ends of the floor. As the season has progressed, the very animated player has really settled into his role, figuring out his game, and has showcased what his talent means to the Spartans.
Not only does it seem like he’s figured it out, and has come full circle, but he’s been consistent — a word all basketball pundits like to hear.
Ward has played in all 27 of the Spartans games this year and while he only scored double-digits in nine of those games, he scored nine points in six more. In short, he’s put up impressive numbers for a true freshman in 15 games already this season.
The freshman forward is averaging roughly 13 points, six rebounds, and nearly two blocks a game and is shooting almost 60-percent from the field on the season, taking eight shots every game. Those aren’t staggering numbers, but the most impressive part of his gradual accent is Ward has accomplished these numbers getting approximately 19 minutes-per-game.
Remember the seven game span when Bridges was injured?
Many wondered how the team would respond in his absence. Well, Ward didn’t disappoint and acted as a catalyst in helping propel the Spartans to a 6-1 (2-0 Big Ten) record. In that stretch, Ward’s minutes were a tad higher then his collective season average (22), but his 17.2 points and 8.3 rebounds saw noticeable spikes.
His best game might’ve been the Big Ten opener on the road at Minnesota where he dominated in an overtime victory notching 22 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks, while also shooting 64-percent from the field.
Though, Bridges returned during their third game of conference play on Jan. 4, Ward has continued the pace of keeping his efficiency rate extremely high — despite Bridges shooting 141 shots compared to his 97 in the last 12 games. In that time, Bridges has averaged about 16 points in 31.5 minutes, while Ward’s racked up 12 points in about 20 minutes.
This is not a comparison, between the two, because their roles are completely different on this team. But it’s more of an look into what Ward has meant for the Spartans and how he’s quietly become the stability this team can rely on [even if a dominant player like Bridges gets injured].
There’s no debating that Bridges is a great player. But it’s time to start giving Ward the respect he deserves this season. He’s flown under the radar all season and it’s about time that fans and the media start to appreciate the big man.
After all, Michigan State’s NCAA hopes might already be dead without him.