Auburn Hills — Former Michigan State forward Nick Ward was back in the state he called home during three seasons in East Lansing, working out for the Detroit Pistons at the team’s practice facility in Auburn Hills on Friday, ahead of next Thursday’s NBA Draft.
Ward has been trying to reverse the negative impact on his draft stock caused by a fractured hand that forced him to miss the final five games of the Spartans’ regular season and limited his role to a reserve in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
Ward said he’s lost 13 pounds since his team’s season ended in early April, and that it’s added a quickness to his game that’s resulted in “great feedback.”
“They’re surprised about my jump-shot ability, the way I move, and my explosiveness,” Ward said. “Put on a lot of muscle, so I’m feeling good.”
Part of that feedback, he said, also includes hearing his name come up regarding “second-round stuff.” The Pistons pick 15th and 45th overall.
While Ward didn’t directly dispute that his game resembles more of a “throwback” style, he did say that his skill-set expands far beyond what he got the chance to show in college.
“I can do a lot more than people see,” Ward said. “I can put the ball on the ground, I can shoot mid-rangers, even spot-up 3's. Even though I didn’t show it much, I can do it. I feel like my game will translate well in the NBA. I can switch on guards, I can get my shot off against anybody. I feel like I can hold my own."
Ward declared for the draft a year ago before withdrawing his name and spending another season in East Lansing, during which time he averaged 12.9 points and 6.1 rebounds over 34 games.
Along with the Orlando Magic, Detroit is the second team Ward has worked out for thus far. Having gone through parts of the pre-draft process before, plus having former Michigan State teammates Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., both selected in the top 12 in last year’s draft, to lean on for guidance, has helped ease Ward’s nerves during times when “natural pressure” begins to set in.
“Me, Miles and Jaren, we talk all the time,” Ward said. “They just tell me what to expect, because I did this my sophomore year and had nine months off, so I kind of knew what I was getting myself into."
Despite that, though, Ward said that his pre-draft experience this time around has been “more intense” because of the pressure to impress as “the real Nick” — not the Ward that averaged just 14.4 minutes and 6.4 points in five NCAA Tournament games.
“That’s frustrating, because I wanted to end (his college career) on a better note,” he said. “But we went to the Final Four. I wish we could have won it all, and I feel like we had a great season.”
The Pistons also worked out guards Bryce Brown (Auburn) and Jon Elmore (Marshall), and forwards Donta Hall (Alabama), Juwan Morgan (Indiana), and Matur Maker (Australia), the younger brother of Pistons big man Thon Maker, on Friday.
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.