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Should Nick Ward return to Michigan State after not receiving NBA Combine invite?

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Not being invited to the NBA Combine should help push Ward towards returning to East Lansing next year.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Northwestern Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The best decision for Nick Ward is pretty obvious now — he should return to Michigan State for his junior season.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the huge decision that the Spartans’ forward was going to have to make regarding whether he should return to East Lansing or turn pro. Ward entered his name into the draft process — without signing an agent — to see where he stacked up, and all signs are now pointing towards a return to school.

When I last wrote about this topic I felt the smart decision was for him to return to school to improve his game, but I didn’t consider it an obvious choice. However, things have changed since then making it seem like the hands down best decision for Ward is to come back for another season at Michigan State.

The NBA Combine invites were announced last week and Ward was left off the list. He joined a group of many other Big Ten players who didn’t get the call and are in a similar position as him. Without having the extra opportunity to showcase his game, it doesn’t make sense for the Spartans’ 6-foot-8 forward to leave school.

Ward has had a very productive two years at Michigan State, averaging 13.1 points and 6.8 rebounds across 70 career games. Those are very good numbers, especially in a competitive league like the Big Ten and on a team like the Spartans that featured plenty of other talented players. However, his game as of right now doesn’t translate to the next level.

At only 6-foot-8, Ward lacks the size to be a solely post-up, back to the basket kind of player at the next level. That means he’ll need to develop a jump shot, and potentially even start hitting shots from behind the arc. He hasn’t proven through the first two seasons that either of those dimensions are part of his game — he’s made one career three-point attempt and a majority of his other buckets come in the paint. Lacking that part in his game is going to hurt him going forward and certainly has hurt his draft stock.

Not having this element in his game partially explains why he hasn’t been found on a number of mock drafts as of late. NBADraft.net, MyNBADraft.com, Basketball Insiders and Tankathon all left Ward off their mock drafts that had both rounds. It’s not a good sign when you see that happening.

Not getting an invite to the NBA Combine is damaging to Ward’s case to leave school early, but it doesn’t guarantee he’ll return to East Lansing.

Brendan F. Quinn of The Athletic reported earlier this week that Ward has had individual workouts with numerous teams, including the New York Knicks and Oklahoma City Thunder. He’s also expected to workout for the Detroit Pistons this weekend and has received workout requests from at least eight other teams. So all of that does indicate there is some interest at the next level, and it only takes one team to convince him they’re interested for him to take the risk.

There’s also the other unknown factors that could play a role in his decision. Maybe he’s done with the college life and would be willing to play in the G-League or Europe if he went undrafted. There’s also been times when Ward and head coach Tom Izzo noticeably butted heads on the sidelines or where we saw Ward get benched by Izzo. So for all we know, Ward could be sick of playing for Tom and just ready to move on.

So when you look at all of the factors, what do I think will happen? I’m predicting he’ll come back for another year. That seems like the most logical thing for him to do, and if he keeps working at his game then he could possibly leave after next year. Especially when you realize he’s going to be the hands down go-to-guy downlow for Michigan State next season.

But that’s truly nothing more than an educated guess. It’s the logical thing to do, but things don’t always work out how they are supposed to. Should Ward return, Michigan State is again one of the favorites to win the Big Ten and will contend for a Final Four. If he leaves, then the Spartans will be in a tougher spot, especially in the post.

The speculation on Ward’s decision will last only for a few more weeks as he’ll have to make his final decision by May 30. By then we’ll know whether Ward will be returning to East Lansing, and if the Spartans will again be threats to cut down nets next year.