From the moment that Malik Newman left Punta del Esta, Uruguay as the MVP of the 2013 U-16 Americas Championship, his destiny as a one-and-done prospect seemed guaranteed. That was mainly due to how Newman just stood above future college studs (i.e Jamal Murray, Ivan Rabb, Diamond Stone) just due to his all-around offensive ability. Averaging 16.2 points on 47% from the field and 36% from 3, Newman exhibited the all-around scoring ability that you rarely see from someone so young.
After Newman left Uruguay, DraftExpress stated that Newman was arguably the best scorer in high school basketball, an amazing label to put on a junior. Newman was able to hold on to that status during his junior year, as he led Callaway High School to win a Missouri state title while averaging 25 points per game on 51% from the field.
Following that, Newman donned his Team USA jersey once again in the 2014 U17 World Championship. That tournament in Dubai was basically deja vu for Newman, as he helped lead the young core to another gold medal, while also named as the MVP of the U-17 tournament. Newman also held on to that offensive efficiency by putting up 14.9 points and 3 assists per game on 47% from the field and 36% from beyond the arc in 25 minutes per game.
Coming off the high of winning back-to-back titles with Team USA and a state title with Callaway, it seemed like Newman just couldn't be stopped. Not only did Newman lead Callaway to another state title, both Scout and ESPN rated him as the best backcourt prospect in the class of 2015. Of course, that status would allow Newman to receive offers from some of the top schools that included: Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio State, LSU and Mississippi State.
While the consensus opinion would make you believe that he'd go to a national powerhouse like Kansas or Kentucky, he decided to take a much different route. On April 24th, Newman announced to the world that he was going to play with Ben Howland and the Mississippi State Bulldogs, a team that 13-19 during the previous season. The announcement was intriguing due to both the school's continued status as an SEC cellar dwellar but also because his father, Horatio Webster, played at the school in the late 90's.
Despite the weird decision to join Mississippi State, Malik Newman still seemed on his way towards being a one-and-done player. Right before the season, DraftExpress had him listed as the 7th best prospect on their big board, and going 15th in their mock draft. That early-season hype was only elevated when Newman hit 13 three-pointers in Mississippi State's Marroon Madness pre-season event.
However, that hype and promise seemed to evaporate once the regular season started. While he didn't necessarily have an awful start to the season, Newman didn't really shine in the way that you'd expect from one of the top freshmen in the country. During Mississippi State's non-conference slate, Newman averaged 12.5 points and 2.5 assists on 40% from the field and 38% from beyond the arc. Again, not awful numbers but still disappointing for a player that showed so much promise during his high school and FIBA career.
Things actually became worse for Newman as the season went on, as had to battle through numerous injuries. Towards the beginning of the season, Newman was hindered by a turf toe injury that limited his minutes in some of the opening games of the season. Alongside that, Newman dealt with back spasms and a knee injury as the season wore on. Those ailments definitely limited Newman once he started SEC play as he averaged 10.4 points and 2.1 assists per game on 37% from the field and 39% from beyond the arc.
Especially with the problems with the problems with his knees and back, Newman wasn't able to have that mobility that he was so known for. That severely hindered his ability to drive towards the paint and score around the rim. In fact, Newman had the worst two-point percentage (40.7%) of any Mississippi State player, as he hit more threes (61) than two-pointers (50). Alongside that, Newman's 52.1% True Shooting Percentage pushed as the fourth-most efficient scorer among the roster's five players that got at least 60% of the minutes played.
Those slew of problems ultimately pushed Newman down NBA Draft boards to the point where some mock drafts didn't even have him being picked. While that scenario didn't even seem in the realm of possibility just 12 months prior, Malik Newman unintentionally put himself at the crossroads of his basketball career. He'd either decide to stay in the NBA Draft with the risk of not being picked or head back to Mississippi State to try to redeem himself during sophomore season.
Ultimately, Newman might not take either offer, as he withdrew from the NBA Draft on Tuesday night with the idea of transferring over to another school. While that may seem like a solid idea for a person looking to get a second chance, it isn't really the best plan for a potential NBA Draft prospect. That's primarily due to the NCAA rule that forces non-graduate transfers to sit out an entire season before they're able to play with their new squad. Newman going for that transfer route would mean that he'd have to be inactive for an entire season, which would allow the incoming freshmen or current college players to take that shine that Newman once had.
While it's not the most ideal situation for a former stud prospect, the NBA D-League might be a good idea for the future of Malik Newman. The biggest reason behind that is the NBADL would give Newman the freedom that he definitely wouldn't have if he transfered to another school. The most promising part of a potential NBADL move is that Newman would be able to play basketball next season, something that won't happen through college transfer. While Newman could put himself into the NBADL draft where he'd probably be a top-5 pick, he could decide to wait until the start of the season, where he'd get an opportunity to select the D-League squad would be the best fit for his offensive skill-set.
That would allow Newman to decide which offensive system would best for Newman to make progress as an off-the-dribble threat and as a facilitator. Because while his scoring ability is solid, teams at the next level would expect a 6'3 guard to be able to a good decision maker. Although he's occasionally shown that ability, his 2.1/1.9 Ast/TO ratio means that he needs to make some drastic improvements as a decision maker to progress as a prospect.
This summer is going to be a critical time for Newman's basketball career, as he has three situations to choose from: return to Mississippi State, transfer or move to the D-League or overseas. While a return to the Mississippi State might seem like the most obvious move, Newman's playing style and the mindset of head coach Ben Howland never meshed. Newman's game fits best inside a pick-and-roll due to his ability to work the ball in his hands to create opportunities for himself. However, the team only finished 14.8% of their possessions in pick-and-roll situations, which ranks 298th in the country out of the 351 teams according to Synergy.
Although Newman might try to transfer to find a better fit for his style of play, would it really be worth it to miss one full season. Because while Howland and Newman's basketball ideologies didn't immediately mesh together, it would seem a lot easier for the young guard to fix those issues rather taking the risks that would come with transferring to another school.
For one, Howland has a nice history of developing players and helping them making improvements from their freshman to sophomore seasons. An example of that would be how Howland helped develop current NBA guards Aaron Afflalo and Darren Collison. Both Collison and Afflalo went from being role players during their freshman year, to landing on the First team All-Pac-12 teams as sophomores. While every player is different, Howland's track record of developing players is definitely relevant in this case with Malik Newman and his potential as a prospect.
Whether he stays at Mississippi State, transfers or takes the D-League or overseas route, Newman is one of the most intriguing players to track going forward. It's just incredibly rare that a player goes from being a surefire one-and-done prospect to being in the crossroads of his career in just 12 months. And while there may be some disappointment directed at Newman, there's going to a wider group of people that will be following his journey and hoping that he can be that promising player that he once was.