After winning back-to-back Summit League Tournament championships during his junior and senior seasons, Tyson Ward of North Dakota State University (NDSU) has taken his talents to s.Oliver Würzburg of the Basketball Bundesliga (BBL) — Germany’s top division.
Besides the obvious team success, Ward racked up an impressive collection of individual accolades and records during his time at NDSU. He made the 2019-20 All-Summit first team, became the fourth player in school history to be named to the Lou Henson Mid-Major All-America Team and was named to the NABC All-District second team. Additionally, he was the only player in NDSU history with more than 1,500 points, 700 rebounds and 250 assists in his career, one of only two players in the Summit League to rank in the top 10 of the conference for scoring, rebounding and assists, and, lastly, he only missed a single game in his four collegiate seasons.
In a basketball sense, the 23-year-old wing can be described as the renaissance man of his conference since he was productive in almost every facet compared to his rivals. He was an efficient scorer, a strong rebounder, one of the best defensive players in the conference and a fine passer. The statistical indicators that best exemplify his value to the 25-8 Bisons were his win-share and box plus/minus numbers as a senior. He led the conference in win shares (6.3), which also ranked 16th in the country, and was second in box plus/minus (6.0). These are unequivocal representations of how his brand of basketball led to victories.
Ward is a physical 6-foot-6 and 195-pound player, who drives to the rim without fear of contact. He is a solid athlete with physical tools that gave him advantages against most of his Summit League competition. He is able to slash and finish above the rim in a half-court setting when there is enough room to go downhill. His physicality also appears in his rebounding ability; the senior averaged nearly two offensive rebounds per game and had the seventh highest rebounding percentage in the conference (13.7). He is comfortable doing the dirty work down low with other front-court players in the paint. His unofficial 6-foot-9 wingspan also aids him with reaching for boards and loose balls.
This past season, Ward averaged 16.9 pointers per game, with shooting splits of .530/.410/.778. His most common way to score was when his back was to the basket (posting up), which accounted for 26.3 percent of his offense, and he notably ranked at the 76th percentile on post-ups. The downside to his post-up proficiency is that it diminished his potential skills as a perimeter-oriented player — the playstyle most advantageous for him to succeed at the next level. Post play is not overly desirable in the NBA, and in high-level international leagues, wings like Ward may not be strong enough to back down physical veterans. At NDSU, it wasn’t necessary for him to be an on-the-ball creator who can use screens, beat his man in isolations or make jumpers off-the-bounce. From the few instances where he did display step-back jumpers or deceptive moves to the hoop, there was some competence — his first step from the triple-threat position is his best weapon outside the post. However, his overall talents will not be best served as an on-ball creator.
As hinted earlier, Ward’s passing is interesting. He had the seventh highest assist percentage (20.8) in the conference, while not being the primary facilitator on his own team. It is the most underrated aspect of his game. He will not run the team’s offense by any means, but he will make the smart read when the defense over helps on any side of the court, or if a cutter is freed by an off-ball screen. This year, he had a turnover percentage of only 12.7 — the lowest of his four college seasons while having the highest usage rate of his career at 27.1 percent. If he doesn’t get the assists, his quick passes normally lead to “hockey” assists.
The biggest swing skill that will decide the heights of Ward’s professional career is his jump shot. He made over 40 percent from deep for the first time in his career as a senior (41.0), but took only 2.5 attempts per game, with a somewhat unconventional lefty shot. It is a one-motion shot, and his release is quick, but he barely elevates off the court when shooting. He also shot well from the free-throw line for most of his career (75.7 percent), a sign that he has touch and can be a good shooter down the road. The extent to which Ward shot the ball did not give him a reputation as a true threat from the outside. What was most worrisome was that he didn’t shoot it well from the corners. He shot 33.3 percent and 16.7 percent on a total of 24 attempts from the right and left corners, respectively, this season. Those will have to be the areas of the court that he is dangerous from if he wants regular playing time as a pro.
Ward’s defensive potential and proven talent is likely a bit more intriguing when projecting for his career. Aforementioned was his plus-three inch wingspan in respect to his height. His length was something that gave a decisive edge when making defensive plays, such as closing out and clogging up passing lanes. He also supplemented that with overall anticipation and effort on that end. His defensive impact is not reflective on the traditional box-score stats since he did not accumulate many steals or blocks — 0.7 and 0.6, respectively, per game this season. However, strong defense cannot be truly judged by the numbers alone.
Ward has the prototypical size to make a shooter guess, the instincts to move slightly to give help to teammates when necessary, and the lateral mobility to give ball handlers trouble one-on-one. This was put to the test when he matched up against the nation’s leading scorer, Markus Howard of Marquette. Howard got his points easier when a different defender covered him halfway through the second half. Meanwhile, Ward was a bright spot on the defensive end (as well as on offense) that kept his squad in the game throughout. The biggest places that the Florida native can elevate his defensive skills will be to improve getting over and around screens. It will also help if his playing weight gets closer to the 205-pound range plus some added strength.
Ward has talent and does a ton of things that simply helps a team win. The highest possible outcome for Ward is as an unselfish 3-and-D wing, who is in and out of an NBA rotation. Before he makes a roster, he will probably have to prove himself through a few training camps and summer-league runs. Two keys to make this happen are making catch-and-shoot shots a much larger part of his offense and becoming dependable as a pick-and-roll defender.
In terms of player comparison, he is not as talented or as long, but Tayshaun Prince is a reasonable archetype for Ward. Similar to Ward, Prince did not have gaudy steal or block numbers, but deterred players from attempting certain passes and shots while giving top scorers problems on offense; it also doesn’t hurt that they are both lefties. Size-wise, Ward is more aligned with Andre Roberson, but the NDSU product is not nearly as dynamic of a defensive playmaker. Ward’s most likely outcome would be a successful international career, playing like a Prince or Roberson, but with an offensive role that accentuates his slashing and passing abilities.
When Hoops Prospects interviewed Ward in August, he was preparing to leave for Germany. So far this season, he has played in all three of s.Oliver’s games, including one start, averaging 24.7 minutes, 9.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.0 steals per outing. Those are very encouraging numbers for a rookie in one of the top leagues in the world.
|Position:||Wing||Team/Class:||North Dakota State University (Sr)|
|Birthday:||July 26, 1997||Nationality:||American|
|Shot Hand:||Left||Stats:||Click here|
- Unselfish player who stayed within his role and looks for correct pass
- Durable, he only missed one game throughout his 4 collegiate seasons
- He has solid physical tools: 6-foot-6, 195 pounds, an unofficial 6-foot-9 wingspan, and a body type that can put on some muscle
- Physical player on both ends; accepts contact on drives
- Efficient scorer, who was at the 93rd percentile for overall points per possession (PPP) this season
- An underrated passer, posting an assist-turnover ratio of 1.4 this season; as a senior, had a career high for usage rate (27.1) but the lowest turnover percentage (12.7) of his career
- Back to the basket-game was respected enough that he would sometimes draw a second defender and find the open man
- Has potential as a three-point shooter — jumpshots accounted for only 25.1 percent of his half-court shots, but he ranked at the 98th percentile for PPP with 77 of his 86 shots being threes
- Good motor that shows up on rebounds and defensive rotations
- Very good awareness and anticipation when playing team defense
- Puts in effort to closeout on shooters, and can slide his feet
- In the final eight games of the season, he clearly elevated his play, averaging 22.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 2.5 assists, with a field-goal percentage of 53.0 on 14.4 attempts, an 88.1 free-throw percentage and a 54.5 three-point percentage on 4.1 attempts per game
- Improvement trajectory is very impressive when going from freshman to senior season, and early pro numbers are very encouraging
- Older prospect at 23 years old
- Played against relatively weaker competition in college
- Weight and strength gain would serve him well
- Although the shooting numbers show that he has potential, it still remains a concern since the volume was low — just 25.1 percent of his half-court shots were jumpers
- Encouraging numbers as an off-the-dribble scorer (61.8 percent on 34 attempts), but volume is low and ball-handling skills are not advance
- Post-ups accounted for 26.3 percent of his offense, which is not a way that he will likely frequently score in the pros
- Struggling to navigate screens, particularly when guarding on the ball, could prevent him from being a high-level defender — at the 28th percentile for PPP allowed vs. pick-and-roll handlers this season
- Low steal and block numbers in his conference show a lack of physical explosiveness
- Non-dominant hand (right) needs to improve when finishing and dribbling
- Although he was solid in so many areas, the lack of high-level skill decreases his viability as an NBA contributor with a limited role
Sources, Credits, and Acknowledgements: Stats used in our scouting reports mainly come from Synergy Sports Technology, RealGM.com, and Sports-Reference.com. Some background information and the photo were courtesy of NDSU Athletics. Other outside sources are noted with links to the source.