Some might say that I've saved the best for last. Perhaps some readers have been more excited about the previous five players I reviewed, there's a lot of solid players to choose from. But, I don't think anyone would debate that sophomore point guard Josh Newkirk is the most exciting player on the team. He's unlike any point guard the Pittsburgh Panthers have had during the Dixon era, and is cut from a similar mold like a lot of prototypical ACC lead guards.
Newkirk is quickness personified, and his ability to push the pace in transition and beat his man off the dribble is a nice contrast to the more traditional junior point guard, James Robinson. Point guard is arguably the most difficult position to play, so it wasn't surprising that Newkirk had his ups and downs last season. He dropped 20 points against UNC on 7-8 from the field, including 5-5 on three-pointers in early March, but he also recorded just seven assists in 10 games (142 minutes) from the middle of January until mid-February.
Above all else, Newkirk needs to improve on the defensive end of the floor. Like sophomore forward Jamel Artis, Newkirk was a mostly willing defender, just one that was often caught out of position especially when chasing players around screens. There were plenty of times that he went under or over screens that he shouldn't have.
There is definitely potential for him to be a pesky on-ball defender. With his quickness he should be able to disrupt passing lanes, particularly when a player drives and looks to kick back to the wings. A lot of this will come with time, and not something I expect to see a lot of at the Pro-Am, beyond his on-ball defense.
Newkirk is also going to really need to improve his free throw shooting if he wants to have the ball in his hands late in games at some point. At 44.7%, granted just 38 attempts, he really struggled from the charity stripe. His form isn't poor, so perhaps it's more a matter of concentration.
With an improved free throw percentage, Newkirk can really take advantage of his ability to beat his man off the dribble by getting into the paint and hopefully getting opposing frontcourt players in foul trouble.
Speaking of beating his man off the bounce, it would be nice if Newkirk improves on finding open players when the defense collapses. Newkirk does a decent job of moving the ball, although his first instinct when he receives a pass is to put the ball on the floor, immediately.
There is a lot to be excited about with Newkirk, especially if he realizes his vast potential. A lot of the mistakes he made consistently as a freshman, like passing the ball behind him blindly in transition after leaving his feet, will go away with experience. He's a player that can generate a ton of "oohs" and "aahs" at the Pro-Am, but can he do the same when the season starts this fall.