Malik Newman had one-and-done intentions this season. As one of the top 10 recruits in the country this season, it was assumed that the 6-foot-4 combo guard would burst onto the scene, score points in bunches, and then leave as a potential first round pick.
That’s not the way things went down though. After testing the NBA Draft’s waters under the new rule that allows student-athletes to return to school if they don’t like the feedback on their stock, Newman has decided to withdraw his name from the NBA Draft.
“We just weren’t comfortable where he was in the second round,” Newman’s father Horatio Webster said to the Clarion-Ledger.
However, the question now shifts to whether or not he’ll make the attempt to improve at Mississippi State.
Reports on Tuesday night noted that Newman has not decided if he’ll return to the Bulldogs or seek a transfer, with a source telling ESPN that he was “unhappy with his role and how he was utilized.” By the end of the season, Newman had been reduced to more of a bit role, playing only 18 minutes per game in the final five matchups of the season.
This is a difficult situation for Newman. On the one hand, it’s clear that it just was never a great fit with Ben Howland last season. Newman excels in pick-and-roll settings above all else with the ability to have the ball in his hands to create both for himself and others, and that’s simply not what the Bulldogs did on offense last year. The team only finished 14.8 percent of their possessions last year in pick-and-roll situations, that is to say plays that ended in a pass to a shot, a direct shot attempt, drawn foul or turnover. That was 298th in the country out of 351 teams, per Synergy, and it shows how little the team utilizes the ball-screen for its players.
From that standpoint, a transfer would actually make sense, and it would of course be the right call if he’s truly unhappy in Starkville. However, there are plenty of reasons for Newman to stay right where he is. For one, players under Ben Howland tend to improve drastically from their freshman to sophomore campaigns. If Newman was willing to buy in, get on a tough strength-and-conditioning program, and continue to work on his game, he could easily reach the heights that were expected of him next season. Plus, the team around him is going to be much more talented this season due to a top-10 recruiting class, and could really help him out.
Newman would undeniably be a highly sought-after transfer given his pedigree, but is it worth it to him to sit for a year before playing elsewhere? I’m not convinced of that by any stretch. The one thing working in his favor in that capacity is that he’s a relatively young freshman, having just turned 19 in February. He could enter the draft as a true 21-year-old if he can have a breakout season in 2017-18 after sitting for this upcoming one, but it’s a bit of a risk. He’d need to find the perfect situation for him to come in, handle the ball immediately, and play in the right system for his skills.
Newman’s stock wasn’t exactly where it was coming into the season after he struggled throughout the course of the year — and his performance at the NBA Draft combine didn’t exactly win him any suitors after he struggled in the 5-on-5. During the season, he only averaged 11.3 points per game while shooting 39.1 percent from the field this season, a far cry from the dynamic offensive weapon we saw in high school. While Newman has terrific ball-handling ability and can really shoot it off the dribble, he struggled inside the arc this season due to his lack of explosiveness, lack of length, and slight build. He only shot 40.7 percent from 2-point range, and as you’ll see below he particularly struggled around the rim this season.
At the combine, Newman mentioned to me that he struggled with injuries throughout the course of the season, and thought that was the main reason why he struggled to make an impact as a freshman. He suffered a back injury as well as with turf toe throughout the year, a pair of injuries that can definitely pair to hinder a player’s ability to rise up and finish. It’s possible that Newman will be able to pair better skill inside the arc with the talent he displayed from the perimeter this season, where Newman was one of the best catch-and-shoot players in the country, ranking in the 90th percentile nationally.
This is going to be an interesting situation to track moving forward. But there’s one other thing to consider here: above any other decision thus far, Newman’s shows that the NCAA’s new rule regarding testing the waters is working. Had he been forced to make this call immediately after the season, it seems likely Newman would have entered the draft. But because he didn’t get the feedback he wanted, he’s now going to get a chance to return, develop his game, become a better prospect, and possibly help himself going forward.
Newman may not have expected to be in this position when the season started, but it’s the best call for him and it’s now up to him to improve his game.