Last season, I tweeted that Malik Newman reminded me a lot of Wayne Selden. I also said I thought Newman would end up better than Selden, even in the midst of his struggles. This got a lot of pushback, but with them ranking back to back on the list of the top 30 seasons under Bill Self, I have claimed my vindication. Given that it is my list, some concrete evidence may be in order:
|Selden v. Newman
For more on PRPG!, you can read this link, but the cliff’s notes version: similar to WAR in baseball, PRPG! is a stat designed to show how many more points a player creates than a “replacement” player, adjusted for that player’s usage rate.
Why is he this high?
Now that we have established Newman of 2018 and Selden of 2016 were quite similar, let’s talk about what got Newman up here. First and foremost, he got a huge boost by being Kansas’s best player in March. He was the KenPom MVP in 4 of KU’s 8 postseason games, and averaged a cool 22.5 PPG while shooting 52 percent on twos, and 53.6 percent on threes. Yes that’s right, 53.6 percent. On almost 4 makes per game. He destroyed Duke in the Elite 8, going 5-12 from three and 11-12 from the free throw line, turning it over just once and nabbing a team high 3 steals. Here were KU’s possessions in overtime in the Elite 8:
- Newman 3-pointer
- Graham missed jumper
- Newman 1-2 from the free throw line
- Newman 2-2 from the free throw line
- Newman 3-pointer (off a Newman steal)
- Svi missed 3-pointer
- Newman 2-2 from the free throw line
- Graham missed free throw
- Newman 2-2 from free throw line
Newman had 13 points in the overtime and missed only one free throw. Perfect from the field, 7-8 from the line, and a steal to boot. Is that the best overtime performance in the history of Kansas basketball? Is it the best 5 minute stretch in the history of Kansas basketball? It might be both and frankly given the demons of Kansas losing two very winnable Elite 8 games in the two prior seasons, Newman’s performance in that game alone merits inclusion on this list.
Of course, it wasn’t just that game. The MVP of the 2018 Big 12 tournament, Newman scored 30 points on 7-9 from two, 4-6 from three, and 4-6 from the line shooting against Oklahoma State, a team that had just become the first team to sweep KU in the Self era. With fans (rightly) down on the team and wondering about KU’s chances in March, Newman led the Jayhawks to a comfortable win.
In the semis, Newman poured in 22 points against Kansas State in another comfortable victory, and then finished it off with a 20 point effort on 6-8 shooting from 3 against West Virginia in the title game.
His clutch play continued in the NCAA tournament, when he scored 28 points against Seton Hall to help Kansas stave off an upset. He was 8-8 of the line in that one, and when Seton Hall was fouling at the end of the game it was Newman, not 2018 Big 12 player of the year Devonte Graham, who Kansas went to to close the game out from the line. Newman was 6-6 from the line in the final 36 seconds, and each time he went to the line after Seton Hall had made a shot to cut into the Kansas lead. I can think of few higher compliments than being the guy your teammates turn to to knock down the most pressure free throws of the season.
Outside of his March heroics, Newman emerged as an exceptional catch and shoot guy, making 41.5 percent of his 205 3-point attempts in 2018, and he was also a decent passer (11.2%). He also improved defensively over the course of the season and really added to his value on that side of the floor thanks to a 15.3 percent defensive rebound rate.
Why isn’t he higher?
Newman’s supernova March helps hide the fact he was pretty poor to start the season. He scored fewer than 10 points in 4 of his first 6 Big 12 games, and really struggled both off the ball defensively as well as learning his assignments offensively. It’s also tough for me to rank a guy with a sub 20% usage rate much higher than this, absent an absurd amount of efficiency or some skill that is not captured by usage rate (which we will see in a later edition of this series).
Newman’s full season wasn’t incredible, and there certainly were some down times, but Kansas probably doesn’t get a 1 seed in 2018 without him, and they certainly don’t get a Final Four appearance in 2018 without him. It seems wrong to not celebrate that performance.