After a few frustrating seasons of underwhelming in March, the Michigan State Spartans were able to live up to the hype this time around, beat Duke, and make it back to the Final Four. It was an impressive run for Tom Izzo and company. Fans certainly hope that the Spartans can keep up the momentum from the run into next season as well.
But one player who won’t be around for the next campaign is Nick Ward. After three seasons in East Lansing, Ward opted to leave school for the 2019 NBA Draft. And will he hear his name called? Let’s take a look.
Ward plays a lot like an old school big. Yes, basketball has changed since the 1980s and 1990s, but there’s nothing like a back-to-the-basket player that has the ability to punish smaller defenders, hit the boards, and play solid defense. Ward has been a major piece of Michigan State’s production inside the paint over the last few years and there’s no reason to think he won’t be able to play down low at the next level.
Many also underestimate Ward’s ability to facilitate the offense out of the paint. He’s a better passer than many realize and while his assist and turnover numbers aren’t particularly great, he’s not as bad there as some believe. Ward was also a pretty solid shot blocker and part of some really good Spartan defensive groups.
As with many back-to-the-basket bigs, Ward’s downside is his underwhelming perimeter shooting. He was never a threat from three-point range during his career and he doesn’t even really have a good mid-range game, either. Ward relies almost exclusively at what he can do near the basket.
This issue also shows up on the other end of the floor. Ward really isn’t an effective defender outside the arc and has a lot of trouble with mobile big men who can shoot. That’s not exactly something you like to hear about a guy hoping to make it in the NBA, where frontcourt shooters are everywhere.
Given Ward’s draft prospects, there really isn’t a “best fit” for him in this draft. He simply needs to hope someone takes a shot on him in the late second round or as an undrafted free agent. Expect him to try and earn a roster spot in Summer League play.
It seems unlikely that Ward will hear his name called on draft night due to some of the issues noted above. However, he will get a shot to earn a spot in the Summer League, should he wish to do so and skip Europe. What he does after that will largely depend on how he grows his game.