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Should he stay or go? Assessing Nick Ward’s NBA Draft decision

Ward has shown some signs of dominance during his two years at Michigan State, putting him in position to possibly leave school early.

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State knew they’d most likely be losing two great players to the NBA early in Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. However, one other Spartan is testing the NBA Draft waters and it’s his decision that’ll determine a lot for next year’s team.

Michigan State forward Nick Ward has also entered his name into the NBA Draft and could have very well played his final game in the Spartans’ green-and-white. However, unlike Bridges and Jackson, Ward has not signed with an agent and is keeping the door open for a possible return to East Lansing for his junior season. Ward’s upcoming decision will be a huge factor in how good Michigan State can be in 2018-19.

Ward declaring shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. There’s really no downside/risk for him for entering his name into the mix without signing an agent. Head coach Tom Izzo voiced a similar opinion when it became official Ward would declare.

”I fully support Nick’s decision to take the opportunity to explore his draft stock,” Izzo said in a press release in late March. “He has continued to improve and worked very hard over the last two years to put himself in this position. The process will allow him to receive direct feedback and an assessment as to where he stands in his dream to play at the highest level.”

While it wasn’t a surprise for Ward to test the waters, I’d be shocked if he infact didn’t return to Michigan State next year. After evaluating a number of elements, it simply doesn’t make sense for Ward to go pro just yet.

One of the most telling indicators of whether or not a player is ready to make the jump to the NBA is by looking at mock drafts. And those, my friend, don’t point towards Ward being ready for the next level.

A number of mock drafts I found failed to have Ward being selected. That included NBADraft.net, MyNBADraft.com, Basketball Insiders and Tankathon. Also, keep in mind that these were a few of the sites that offered two-round mock drafts — which isn’t the case with other bigger news outlets that only do a first round mock draft. One site had him going 53rd overall to Oklahoma City, but other than that I struggled to find him even being picked in most mock drafts.

The mock drafts indicate he should return to Michigan State, and parts of his game do as well. At this point Ward is a back to the basket post-up player, who can also rebound very well. He really is what most college teams are looking for out of a power forward. However, the college game doesn’t directly translate to the NBA — especially when all of the bigs seem to have a jumpshot in their arsenal.

Ward doesn’t have that jumpshot in his game right now. He’s not someone who stretches the floor in that regard, and at only 6-foot-8 he lacks the size to solely be a post-up guy at the next level. So with that being said, unless he develops a shot from outside the paint then his game won’t translate to the next level. That’s one of the main reasons why he isn’t projected to be selected in many of these mock drafts.

The good news for Ward is that he has a proven track record of improving key aspects of his game. Entering his freshman year he was told he needed to lose weight, so he dropped 30 pounds. He was horrific — just above 50 percent — from the free throw line in the first half of his freshman season, and made a note to improve that part of his game. He’s now shooting just above 65 percent across his last 47 games — that’s still not great but it’s a sign of improvement.

Those were just two examples of where he’s proven in his first two years that he’s got the ability to improve his game when he puts his mind to it. So I have confidence that he can develop a jump shot during his junior and possibly senior season — should he return.

When you look at the facts, it doesn’t make sense for Ward to leave early. He’d need to put on a great showing during the NBA Combine, and even that doesn’t seem like it’ll be enough at this point in time. I believe he can truly benefit from another year in East Lansing, especially when you factor in that he’ll be the Spartans’ go-to threat in the post.

If Ward ends up leaving, then I won’t criticize his decision. I don’t know all of the other off the court factors that go into this type of decision — does he enjoy playing for Izzo or living the college-life for instance are good examples. So without knowing all of the details it wouldn’t be fair to pass judgement should he leave his name in the draft. However, from a pure-basketball breakdown — this is an easy decision in my opinion.

Ward has until May 30 to make up his mind. Don’t expect any decisions until after the NBA Combine, which is from May 16-20. We’ll know more in about a month, but as of right now it looks like the best thing for Ward would be to return to Michigan State next year.