We continue our player reviews with sophomore guard, Josh Newkirk. The Raleigh native was one of the major disappointments for the team this season. Still, Newkirk is a player oozing with raw ability and potential. and perhaps he can turn things around in the second half of his Pitt career. I have Stephen once again here to help me break down Josh Newkirk's season and future.
Final Stat Line - 5.9 Points. 2.7 Assists. 1.3 Rebounds. 37% Field Goal. 30% Three-Point. 66% Free Throw
Best Game - 16 points 8 assists in a 81-69 road loss to Indiana.
Worst Game - 0 points in 2 minutes of game action in a 65-61 win over Syracuse.
Stephen, what the heck happened to Josh Newkirk this season? He played reasonably well in the non-conference slate, but really faded/disappeared in ACC play. Is there any logical explanation for the decline in play?
Honestly, what does the sophomore 'point' guard bring to the table that would allow him to succeed in a more competitive environment? I think his decline in play is a direct result of the fact that I don't believe he does anything extremely well. He certainly looks the part, and we'll get into that a little bit later, but there is nothing from a skills standpoint that really jumps off the page to me.
On the outside, it looks like some of Newkirk's problems stem from a lack of a true position. Not a good enough passer to be a true point guard and not quite big enough to be a good shooting guard. Is that a fair assessment of Newkirk?
You may have hit the nail on the head, Jim. His assist percentage of 25.3% does rank nationally (237th), but like all advanced metrics, there needs to be proper context around that. Newkirk doesn't really create scoring opportunities for his teammates. He is above average when it comes to making some plays in the lane when teammates move without the ball. However, he isn't a wizard in pick-and-roll situations as a guy who can create for anyone.
More often than not, he will make the simple pass or the correct pass. With that said, while he understands how his teammates move within the offense, I don't think he understands how the defense will react to that movement. That's certainly preventing him from taking that next step as a point guard.
He's listed at 6'1", but we all know that means he's probably closer to 6'0". Even at the collegiate level, you have to be really special to be a starting off-guard at that size. Aside from the fact that Newkirk doesn't possess a lot of skills that are desirable in most shooting guards, he absolutely won't be able to defend anyone at that position effectively.
Newkirk is one of the best athletes on the team and he can really do some things other guys physically can't do, how big would it be for this team to get him back on track for next season?
Getting back on track would certainly give the team a different dimension on the offensive end of the floor. He's a nice change of pace off the bench that can provide a spark offensively so long as he's doing the kind of things we saw last season. There is no reason that he also can't be a spot starter depending on the matchups.
Consistency, among other things, seem to be things Newkirk needs to improve on for next season. What are the main things you would like to see from Newkirk heading into the 2016 campaign?
Let's go down a quick checklist of all the things that most successful guards around 6'0" possess:
Can he finish around the rim and over length? No.
Does he have a reliable floater in the lane? No.
Is he a quality shooter? No.
Does he possess the kind of handle that makes highlight reels? No.
Can he take his defender off the dribble at will? Mysteriously, no.
Does he understand how to play at different paces, especially in the Pick and Roll and in the lane? No.
Is he a terror to the opposition in transition? Sometimes.
Would you describe him as a pesky on-ball defender? More no than yes.
Does he work relentlessly on the defensive end, causing havoc and eliminating skip passes? No.
My point is that Newkirk has a lot of physical tools, but where has that gotten him? Is he the kind of athlete I can see winning a mile run against his teammates or a 40-yard dash, yes. But is he Nate Robinson or Isiah Thomas (Boston Celtics), no. He may lead all points guards that I've seen this year in how fast he can bound the ball back and forth without advancing against his defender.
Guards of his size have to do something extra special to see the floor for sustained periods of time. Other than look really quick, what does Newkirk do? His quickness doesn't help him get the ball on the rim faster to finish nor does he run tirelessly hunting for an open three-point opportunity. Some of this is certainly the way the team plays, I wouldn't rule that out at all.
On to things he can improve upon; he needs to add a floater immediately. If you throw out transition layups, he's finished below 50% at the rim over the last two years. He hasn't taken a lot of attempts (78) at the rim in two seasons, and some of that is playing time. A lot of smaller guards are used to always being small, so they have a creative layup package and are able to get the ball onto the glass at funky angles that work for them. It's as if Newkirk has always been 6'0" and never needed to develop that.
He needs to be able to hit open three-pointers. He was good at this as a freshman, but that may have been fool's gold. Is 126 total attempts from beyond the arc enough over the last two years enough to make a conclusion, that's debatable. But here's the reality, he is halfway through his collegiate career and isn't above average at any spot on the floor. If you aren't finishing at the rim or hitting shots, what value does he bring to the team when he isn't a plus defender or above average distributor?
Perhaps above all else, he needs to stop allowing a bad play to effect his next play. I felt he led the team, in terms of the players who you knew would play, in making a mistake on one of the floor and immediately making another at the other end. Getting pulled after that certainly hurts the confidence of a young player, but avoiding those mistakes would keep him on the floor and perhaps he'd earn more trust from head coach Jamie Dixon.
I know it seems I am down on Newkirk, but like a coach who wants the most out of his players, I think his ceiling is super high. Adding a staple move and/or becoming a better shooter will force him onto the floor more, and add to his confidence. The sky is the limit with Newkirk, it's about how bad he wants to get there.