Ja’Quan Newton came to Coral Gables as a marquee four-star recruit for the Canes, and showed promise over his first two seasons. His sophomore campaign in particular was one where he showcased the abilities of a player who could help the team win.
This season, however, had been rough for him. The senior point guard seemingly stagnated in his development and has felt the ire of Hurricanes fans:
Ja'Quan Newton: Proof that one guy can consistently lose games in a team sport.— Nathan Skinner (@writelikenate) January 25, 2018
Fire Ja’Quan Newton into the sun and give Chris Lykes all his minutes— Josh Richard(my)son (@MichaelEFranca) January 25, 2018
Why is Ja'quan Newton still in the game— Bing-Ah-Stick-Stick! (@coopandaquarter) February 3, 2018
How does Jaquan Newton get worse every game?— Joshy With The Good Hair (@JoshMarino420) February 17, 2018
JaQuan Newton would draw boos from the Watsco crowd for merely touching the ball earlier this season. What a moment for that kid. Absolute nails.— Chris Wittyngham (@ChrisWittyngham) February 28, 2018
Because of this, his Tuesday night heroics against the North Carolina Tar Heels were shocking. The surprise, however, wasn't merely a result of unwarranted negative fan perception. His stats on the season illustrate just how unlikely the performance was.
By several measures, Newton has been the Hurricanes’ worst player this season. Of the players receiving regular minutes, he ranks last in box plus/minus, win shares per 40 minutes, player efficiency rating, and true shooting percentage. He is also the only player on the team receiving regular minutes to post a negative offensive box plus/minus (-0.5) to this point in the season.
None of these stats actually capture every aspect of a player’s worth to a team, but when they all point in one direction it is fair to assume there is merit in what they say about that player. In this case, they also happen to match the eye-test.
The more conventional stats also paint the picture of a rather nondescript season for Newton. He is averaging 8.7 points per game on 44 percent shooting, with 2.8 assists per game and 2.3 rebounds per game.
Despite all of this, Newton was undeniably the team’s hero against the Tar Heels. It wasn't just the buzzer beater either, as Newton finished with 15 points on 11 shots and 3 assists with no turnovers. It was a well-rounded performance that showed Newton can still be a positive influence for the team.
Naturally, it was the late-game productivity that made the difference. Newton hit a fading mid-range jumper with about 55 seconds left in the game (his second such shot of the night). He then proceeded to hit all four of his crucial free throw attempts in the last 30 seconds, and of course, sink the running 40-footer at the buzzer.
MIAMI UPSETS THE HEELS!— ESPN (@espn) February 28, 2018
The Hurricanes snap No. 9 North Carolina's six-game win streak to get a huge win in Chapel Hill. pic.twitter.com/EJCt1V1XaN
Each of these accomplishments flew in the face of what would have been expected. On the season, Newton had struggled with his jumper and was shooting just 17 percent from three and 60 percent from the free throw stripe.
So while all of these factors emphasize just how unlikely it was that the game went the way it did, they also serve as a reminder of what Newton can contribute. Granted, he is unlikely to ever replicate the game-winner, but if he is able to mimic the rest of his performance the Canes should receive a nice boost.
At his best, Newton can be a scoring point guard who gets to the rim frequently and efficiently. He has also shown better touch in previous seasons, so improvement in this area isn’t unrealistic. Throughout the season he has been a decent defender, but he has the athleticism and size to be a force on that end. He even stuck with Joel Berry II on his game-tying three-point jumper.
Newton’s ability to rediscover these talents may be what pushes Miami over the top come tournament time, as the team had seemingly not yet reached its full potential. If he continues in this vein, he is also likely to garner some more support from the fans who jumped back on his bandwagon Tuesday (including myself):
I TAKE BACK EVERYTHING BAD IVE EVER SAID ABOUT JAQUAN NEWTON HE HAS BALLS OF STEEL— Josh Richard(my)son (@MichaelEFranca) February 28, 2018
Me deleting all my quan slander pic.twitter.com/Yj9Q3SuT98— Lamar Jackson-ville (@MXB_) February 28, 2018
I take back anything bad I’ve ever said about Ja’Quan Newton (or at least some of it)— Ben Hightower (@BassoonBen) February 28, 2018
I never thought the play of the year would come from Ja’Quan Newton. I’m confused.— Johnny Carver (@CarverJohnny) February 28, 2018