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Malik Newman’s struggles nothing new

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Malik Newman was a five star recruit in the class of 2015, ranked 8th nationally by 247 Sports coming out of high school. A McDonald’s All-American, Newman committed to Mississppi State, which was entering its first year under Ben Howland. Naturally, when he transferred to Kansas, his pedigree as a recruit was the main highlight for fans.

Unfortunately, holding a college player accountable to his recruiting rankings is frequently unfair. Wayne Selden found himself frequently maligned by the Jayhawk faithful during his three years in Lawrence, despite being a generally solid player. True, part of this was due to his tendency to disappear at times (more on this later), but it seems unlikely he would have drawn such ire if many mock drafts hadn’t considered him a one-and-done with lottery potential.

Such is the case the Malik Newman. If you looked at his freshman year at Mississippi State and ignored the recruiting hype, you never would have expected greatness from Newman. He scored 11.3 points per game, shooting a very respectable 38% from three, but a worrisome 41% from two. His offensive rating was a flat 100, with unremarkable rebounding and defensive numbers. Certainly not bad for a freshman, but not what many expected.

Fast forward to this year, six games into Big 12 play, Newman’s numbers are better, but fairly similar. There’s been considerable improvement in his two point shooting, which sits at 51%, but a decline in outside shooting (35%). His assists are down slightly, but his rebounding is up. He’s up over 1% in both block and steal rates, with an offensive rating of 104.7. His scoring sits at 10.6 points per game, and he’s become a solid on-ball perimeter defender.

These numbers aren’t bad, but they aren’t great. Unfortunately for Newman, when you have the McDonald’s All-American label, greatness is the expectation. Newman early player, mostly against weaker opponents, also likely fueled the lofty expectations for him. The following documents his game-by-game scoring this year:

If his scoring had maintained the same pace you see on the left, I wouldn’t be writing this. He was in double digits for each of the first six games. Even if there weren’t any eye-popping totals, consistent double digit scoring would likely have been satisfactory for most fans.

Unfortunately, Newman seems to suffer from Selden Syndrome. Newman’s scoring spikes, most notably the 27 point outburst against Iowa State (game 16), may bring to mind Selden’s big performances (think Kentucky in January 2016), while surrounded by far quieter nights. For reference here is a chart of Selden’s scoring output in his sophomore season:

Holy inconsistency, Batman! Selden had some great games that year, but also head some spells where he struggled to score, including the swoon toward the middle where he was held to single digits in 10 of 12 games, bookended by two 20+ point performances.

Wayne Selden scored 12.8 points per 40 minutes his sophomore year, while Newman currently sits at 14.9. He also has a lower turnover rate, rebounds better on both ends, and boasts a higher offensive rating. Selden had a higher turnover rate and got to the line more (though he hit just 66% at the stripe).

Overall, Newman is probably doing more for this team than Selden did in his sophomore campaign. Perhaps that’s not the highest bar to clear, but looking bad, Selden did a lot of good things in a Kansas uniform, especially if you divorce his production from his early expectations. If you do the same for Newman, you might be a bit more satisfied with what he brings to the table.

Hat tip to our own Fetch for inspiring this comparison, and KenPom and College Basketball Reference for all the stats in this article.