At 6-foot-8, Nick Ward would stand out in an NFL backfield, but power forward is the Spartans version of a power running back. Which, for all the positives, isn’t always a good thing.
At his best, Ward is a dominant low-post force that can stress even the most talented front-court defender. However, this doesn’t come with the snap of fingers. Ward’s success is clearly dependent on the amount of touches he can get.
Players like Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges can struggle through 10 minutes or even a half, but can bounce right back and finish with an impressive stat line. On the other hand, if Ward doesn’t get touches early and often, he can disappear for the rest of the game.
Ward has done his best Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde impression through the month of January, alternating between dominant play and being a non-factor. Ward scored 16 points against Maryland, followed by three against Ohio State, 17 against Rutgers, four against Michigan, 18 against Indiana and seven against Illinois.
Nick Ward didn't score a point in the first half. He didn't even take a shot.— Nathaniel Bott (@Nathaniel_Bott) January 23, 2018
First offensive possession of 2nd half: Ward lay-in
Second: Dump in to Ward, feed back to Winston, drive and kick for made 3
Third: Ward and-1 in transition.
Gave MSU some needed breathing room.
Unsurprisingly, the Spartans lost Ward’s two lowest scoring games.
In the games Ward has scored fewer than 10 points, he still averaged nearly 18 minutes on the floor. The difference was simple, the amount of attempts – only totaling 10 field goal attempts compared to 18 in the other three games. When the big man isn’t fed, he tends to disappear.
Like the bruising running back, Ward needs touches early in a game to get into a rhythm. Even if those possessions don’t turn into points, it’s worth it just to get Ward the ball. What those possessions do provide is a wearing down of the post-defense that pays off in very real ways later in the game.
While Ward is working in the post in the first 10 minutes of a game, he’s taxing the defense both through tiring the defender out and drawing early fouls. Which, when shooting nearly 75% from the free throw line as a team, is incredibly important.
The expectations for this team couldn’t be higher. Most Michigan State teams get held to the Final Four standard, but if this team isn’t the final team to cut down the nets, it’s going to feel like a letdown.
Michigan State is going to be an elite team with or without Nick Ward playing at a consistent level. But if they are going to be a special team, Ward needs to find his footing early and often. This isn’t going to be easy, considering he’s sharing the ball with two NBA lottery picks.
But if Ward can get rolling, Big Puddin’ is going to be all smiles through April.