As The Only Colors continues to take a look at how each returning Michigan State player performed individually during the 2021-2022 men’s basketball season and what we might be able to expect from that player in 2022-2023, our focus now shifts to the backcourt.
One of the more pleasant surprises of the year for MSU was point guard A.J. Hoggard, who really took a huge step forward after a dismal freshman campaign. Despite still struggling as a shooter, Hoggard generates a lot of optimism going forward.
36 games (eight starts), 20.2 minutes, 7.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 43.9% fields goals, 21.9% three pointers, 63.0% free throws
Thrown into the fire early as a freshman during the 2020-2021 season, Hoggard really struggled during his first collegiate season as he wasn’t ready mentally or physically for the minutes he got. On a lot of fronts, he definitely turned it around as a sophomore, improving in plenty of key areas like scoring, passing and on defense. Hoggard actually was among the top-five assist men in the entire Big Ten (4.8 helpers per game) and no other player had a higher assist total (174) in the conference.
While his outside shooting remains a huge concern, Hoggard has improved as a finisher inside and does a great job of generating chances in the paint. His turnover numbers are too high (2.0 per game), but the fact that he basically tripled his player efficiency rating as a sophomore shows how far he has come as a player.
Quite a few people had big concerns about Hoggard after his freshman year and some were actually wondering if he even had the talent to really help Michigan State down the road. He put many of those worries to rest with one of the best performances of his career, scoring 17 points against Kansas in the Champions Classic to begin the season. Of course, he couldn’t stay at that playing level, and for the next few months he struggled with plenty of inconsistency, but nonetheless his scoring explosion was a sign that he had big plans for his second collegiate season.
Those didn’t always align with the ideas head coach Tom Izzo had for his playmaker. According to reports, the two butted heads numerous times about taking care of the ball, playing style and overall approach to the point guard position. Some other question marks like Hoggard’s weight (Hoggard transformed his body from his freshman to his sophomore campaign) or an ejection versus Indiana probably added fuel to the fire behind closed doors. But through numerous meetings and a lot of honest work with each other, Hoggard and the coaching staff found a way to get him back on track. And while he basically split point guard duties with Tyson Walker 50/50, it was hard for the coaching staff to leave him off the court toward the end of the year.
The playmaker responded to his struggles by having multiple big games throughout conference play. He posted 12 points and eight assists at Wisconsin (with only one turnover), he had a double-double (11 points and 10 assists) versus arch rival Michigan and exploded for 17 points and 10 assists against Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament. By then, everyone knew that while still being a flawed player, Hoggard definitely had the mentality and the moxie to put the Spartans on his shoulders for longer stretches.
Part of that confidence in him stems from his defensive acumen. He begged for defending Purdue’s Jaden Ivey, for example, in the Spartans’ regular season upset win over the Boilermakers. He also took on the task of also defending plenty of the best perimeter players in the conference like Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis. With plenty of grit, good footwork and some trash talk, Hoggard more often than not got under the skin of his opponents and showed a lot of promise on the defensive end of the court.
State of his game
Hoggard might have gotten a bit too much praise in the performance section as he clearly is still a player with plenty of holes in his game and inconsistency hampering him throughout the entire year. His biggest weakness is easily his outside shot, which at this point in his career is still almost nonexistent. From time to time, his form actually looks decent, yet his mechanics are mostly all over the place with a very flat shooting arc to boot. His free-throw percentage in the low 60s doesn’t offer much confidence either.
The other big problems for Hoggard are his decision making and his pace control. He can get into the paint against seemingly any opponent, but once he is in there, he at times loses his focus or the fortitude to make the appropriate play. He has a flair for the dramatic with some passes (for better or worse) and he at times leaves his feet too easily. His lack of a true midrange shooting game sometimes forces him into tough situations, which he more often than not responds by driving blindly into a shot blocker and settling for a wild shot.
Considering these flaws, it is astonishing how big of a positive impact Hoggard had on the Spartans at the end of last season. It tells you a little about how good of a player he not only is right now, but also about how great a player he could be. His driving ability and strength are absolutely elite — few opposing point guards can match his strength and he often has no problem finishing through contact. He does a very good job getting defenders “on his hip” and he can break down a defense constantly with his strong handle. Hoggard is a lot quicker than people realize, he has a very good motor and is absolutely fearless attacking the paint.
This bulldog mentality carries over to the defensive end where he loves to mix it up with the opponent’s best player. He moves his feet well, bothers players with his size and won’t give any ground once inside the arc. His rebounding numbers are OK, but considering his strength and decent athletic ability, there might be room for improvement here. Another strong point for him and something to keep an eye going forward is his very good grasp of Michigan State’s transition offense.
Outlook for 2022-2023
Hoggard finished the year extremely strong during the two postseason tournaments, averaging 10.2 points, three rebounds and 5.2 assists per game to go along with only 1.2 turnovers in five games. His shooting averages from the field (48.8 percent) and the charity stripe (70 percent) clearly outdid his overall season numbers. The only damper on his run were his six misses from three-point range on six attempts.
And right here is where all talk about Hoggard’s long term potential will start and where the answers about his legacy will probably end. There isn’t much preventing him from stardom if he ever develops a decent outside jumper and maybe a stronger midrange game as well. As flawed as he is as a shooter right now, it is incredible that he still gets to hole as consistently as he does and this ability of breaking down his man plus the entire defense is of tremendous value for the entire Spartans team.
Hoggard’s gritty mentality, his fearlessness and his physical play are kind of a throwback to great and cherished MSU teams of the past. He just seems like a very confident guy who, if he stays level-headed and continues to accept coaching, will one day be a hard-nosed leader during a long postseason run. While Walker will continue to eat into his minutes, the two should still get plenty of court time together and should be two driving forces behind anything Michigan State envisions for the upcoming season. Hoggard has some things to work on still, but could be a future star for the Spartans.