In advance of the 2020 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops is evaluating prospects with a look at what the Atlanta Hawks might be considering from now until the selection process occurs. Dozens of prospects will be profiled in this space and, in this edition, we glance at Marquette guard Markus Howard.
With the NBA continuing to trend toward point guards that are equipped to generate offense via their own shot creation, it would seem that Markus Howard would be an attractive draft prospect.
The 21-year-old is coming off of a senior season at Marquette in which he averaged 27.8 points on highly efficient perimeter shooting (41.2 percent on 294 three-point attempts) with an absurd free throw rate (8.6 attempts per game). Also, Howard led one of the best offenses in the country, as Marquette finished in the top 15 in offensive efficiency in three of last four seasons.
However, Howard largely projects to be a late second round selection despite possessing a game that looks to be quite transferrable to the next level.
There are two areas of his play that are likely holding him back. He’s an average passer, at best, for his position, and there are questions about his defense that go beyond his size at 5’11 and 180 pounds.
Howard’s best assist mark at Marquette came during junior season, when he averaged 3.9 per game and still managed to commit more turnovers than assists during that campaign. He finished his collegiate career with 392 assists and 380 turnovers, and his assist to turnover ratio never improved as he gained experience as a collegiate player.
In terms of his ability to shoot off of the dribble, especially from a distance that uniquely stress an opposing defense, Howard may be the best prospect in the entire draft class.
When working from the middle of the floor, Howard possesses the full skill set needed to get past a defender that is playing him tightly or to create a shot when allowed to have space with which to operate.
He is a supremely confident shooter, having converted 42.7 percent of more than 1000 three points attempts in his NCAA career. He played with a similar level of confidence, by all appearances, when putting his dribble package to use to get down hill where he can still pull up for a two-point attempt or get into the lane for a runner or to seek contact and a foul.
Because of his aggressiveness in getting down hill in the half court offense, he has a tendency to make tight passes a bit later than would be optimal (as in the play above). These drop-offs need to be either softer or delivered via a bounce bounce or a lob near the rim.
Let’s take a look at some of Howard’s work in the pick and roll.
On this play, Howard never really lets the action materialize. He uses the threat of the screen to get a step on his defender, but he is not able to make much of it apart from the tough shot from near the baseline.
At the NBA level, coaching staffs will want to see this side pick and roll result in either getting the big rolling toward the rim parallel to the baseline with no near side help available or to allow the ball handler to get matched up with the defensive big man in space.
In the play above, Howard abandons the screen before either opportunity can potentially present itself.
He shows more patience in this example and good things come from it.
He wouldn’t be the first young point guard to be able to effectively function at an appropriately lower gear when below the free throw line where there is less space to use to attack the middle of the defense with downhill momentum.
The play above offers a look at his passing limitations even when the play seems obvious. The pass to the corner is late and off target.
As you can see, the help defender showed up in the paint before Howard reached the free throw line. This should be a simple read and basic execution.
If Howard is going to be able function as an NBA point guard, he’s going to have to be able to demonstrate the ability to make, at least, the basic passes on time and on target.
On the other end of the floor, he competes when defending on the ball, even when switched on to bigger players.
A great example can be seen here.
Howard obviously lacks ideal size, but he demonstrates an important amount of core strength. He’s not as easy to move out of the way as one might think, but this will be a different challenge once he is working to hold up against NBA-caliber athletes.
He is a bit of a better defender lower in the defensive half court. However, that is at least partly a result of how much he can struggle in space, where he often struggles to keep a ball handler in front of him.
Like many player his size, Howard has issues getting over screens. He lacks the lateral quickness to get back in the play after getting separated from his man.
When defending off ball, he has difficulty making an impact.
On the play above, Howard doesn’t seem to be making the effort to maintain awareness of where the ball is. NBA offenses will attack this cuts toward the rim.
Howard might uniquely suffer from not having the traditional opportunity to perform in dedicated workouts for NBA teams, in the pre-draft process, where the setting might have allowed him to show what he can do as a passer. For example, this could be true in three-on-three settings. There is some chance that, at Marquette, he was coached to prioritize getting downhill with the ball with little hesitation.
Some NBA teams, the Milwaukee Bucks for example, build around guards than can create the kind of pressure on defenses that Howard may be able to deliver while asking them to just make the simple passes when a second defender is drawn. Team and situation will be critical for Howard as a reliable player development infrastructure could help him significantly get on a path toward rounding out his game. He does have a uniquely valuable NBA baseline skill set from which to work as he starts to put in the effort to develop a more well rounded game.