Mississippi State's Malik Newman, the heralded 5 star recruit from Callaway High School in the 2015 class, will soon be required to announce whether or not he will be returning to school for his Sophomore season. Several weeks ago, Newman announced he would declare for the NBA draft without hiring an agent - a new stipulation implemented this year that allows players on the fence about forgoing their college careers to declare for the draft and go through workouts and the combine to receive evaluations and then decide if they want to return to school or leave for good and await their fate in the draft.
This puts Newman in a situation where he is faced with a life-changing decision - the kind that very few other college freshman entering their summers have to make, most are just worried about things like what will their Sophomore year roommate be like. Should he stay in the place he is comfortable, in his home state, playing for the same school, with his friends, or should he take the opportunity that he has dreamed of since he was little and declare for the draft and wait for his name to *hopefully* be called on June 23rd.
To analyze this situation, let's first look to some numbers.
Newman's freshman season statistics:
11.3 points/gm, 2.8 rebounds/gm, 2.2 assists/gm
39.1% FG, 37.9% 3PT FG, 68.7% FT
For comparison's sake, here is a look at another combo guard who just finished his freshman season and is projected as a second round pick.
Dejounte Murray, PG/SG, Washington
16.1 points/gm, 6 rebounds/gm, 4.5 assists/gm
41.6% FG, 28.8% 3PT FG, 66.3% FT
Despite my fandom of college hoops, I had not previously heard of Murray until researching, but it seemed like an intriguing comparison. Obviously, very different situations all around as Murray was not as highly recruited, played in a completely different conference for a very different team, didn't deal with the same injuries, etc. But it is still interesting to look at the statistics that the two put up throughout their freshman seasons as guards.
Looking through this, I realized I was interested to see what another former Howland-coached combo guard did his Freshman season. So naturally, I looked to Russell Westbrook. He actually backed up Darren Collison his rookie season at UCLA and put up only 3 points per game. To get a better idea of his production as a young player, under Ben Howland, I took Westbrook's career at UCLA (2 seasons) and averaged them together. These are the results:
8.3 points/gm, 2.4 rebounds/gm, 2.5 assists/gm
46.4% FG, 35.4% 3PT FG, 68.5% FT
As you can see, Newman's numbers were not nearly the same as Murray's, but as I mentioned there were many reasons for that as obviously no situations are the same. However, I was surprised to discover the averages Westbrook put up. That looks very pedestrian for a guy who is currently leading an NBA team through the playoffs. These numbers look much more like what Newman put up this past season.
I think the biggest thing to takeaway from these comparisons is that it's really hard to judge how good a player is and might be based solely on one season in college (which is why I think the NBA should adopt a rule like the MLB where a player that doesn't go pro straight out of high school has to be 3 years out of high school before he can be drafted again, but that's a whole other story).
Malik Newman has a very difficult decision facing a lot of pressure from many angles. Jeff Goodman's report also indicates that Newman may not return to State even if he doesn't go to the draft and will perhaps transfer or play overseas. I have no reason to believe this has truth to it, but perhaps it does and he will leave and not for the draft.
Despite what seemed to be a struggling season, there were plenty of glimpses into why he was so highly coveted and why NBA scouts still think he could be worthy of being drafted. His impact will almost positively be felt on the Bulldog basketball team whether or not he actually returns, because his return would likely boost State's win total at least a couple of games solely thanks to his experience. I want to say I think he will be returning to school, but it also seems like he may decide he is ready head somewhere else entirely. No matter the decision, I would hope all State fans will respect his choice and support him the way we support all of our athletes in our big Mississippi State family.