The 2019 College Basketball season became much more interesting when Markus Howard decided to forgo the NBA Draft and return for his senior season. One of the most electric players in the nation, Howard will be a focal point for every opponent’s defensive game plan this year. Last season, the senior guard was named Big East POY and 2nd team All-American due to his prolific offense. Howard averaged 25.0 PPG last year, ranking #5 in the nation, ahead of current NBA players such as Carsen Edwards and Ja Morant. He also ranked Top 5 in the nation in usage rate at 36.1%, joining Edwards as the only Power-6 athletes to make the Top 10 in that category. Last year, Howard was one of only three players in the nation to score 50+ points in a game, a feat he has accomplished in each of the last two years. This season, Howard will likely break the all-time points record at Marquette within his first two games. He is currently 30 points behind current record-holder Jerel McNeal, who last played in 2009.
Howard’s lethal three-point shot is one of the main ways that he is so effective on the offensive end of the floor. In 2018, he attempted 298 3-pointers, and averaged 40.3% from beyond the arc. Although the Golden Eagles occasionally attempt to screen him open for a 3-point shot, most of Howard’s threes come from 1-on-1 situations, or in transition. One of his most effective attacks is the step-back 3, similar to James Harden’s signature move. The left-hand dribble, right foot jab, step-back shot is always a threat to opposing defenses, especially at the top of the key.
As seen twice in this clip, Howard is able to create enough space to pull up for the shot because his defender must honor a potential drive to the hoop. However, he is also able to score with a hand in his face. He is almost always matched up with his opponent’s best defender, which limits the number of clean looks that he sees. Last season, Howard shot 10+ threes in 44% of his games. Like any volume shooter, he had varying levels of success throughout the season from long range. His best shooting day led to a 53 point outburst against Creighton, in which he shot 10-14 from the three-point line, and broke the Big East single-game scoring record. But, in his showdown with Ja Morant and Murray St in the NCAA Tournament, Howard shot 4-14 from downtown, ending his junior season in disappointing fashion.
The complement to Howard’s outside shooting is his ability to drive to the basket. His three-point shot demands respect, and forces defenders to play closer than they would against almost anyone else. The step-back 3 allows him to drive to the basket with his left hand as well, especially if a defender gets too tight to cheat a potential 3-pointer.
This clip shows how Howard uses a quick hesitation dribble and head fake to open a driving lane. This move forces defenders to quickly commit to either the drive or the shot, and Howard excels at both. His driving ability also contributes to his knack for drawing fouls. Last season, the 5’11 guard ranked 5th in the nation with 7.2 fouls drawn per 40 minutes (FD/40). In his sophomore season, he averaged only 4.2 FD/40. This increase is partly due to his increased usage, but also shows an improvement in aggressiveness to get to the line. In his junior year, Howard was Top 10 in the nation in both free throws made and FT%, with 227 made free throws, shooting 89% from the stripe.
Despite such immense talent, Howard will need to improve in a few areas if he wants to enhance his NBA stock. He often receives criticism for forcing shots, instead of playmaking for a teammate. Last year, he had the 8th-most FG attempts in the nation, which caused some to call Howard a chucker and low-efficiency player. Limiting turnovers is another area in which he can improve. In 2018, Howard averaged 4.7 TO per 40 minutes, and his 134 turnovers were 8th-most in D-1. While it is natural for a high-usage player to have a high TO% (see Westbrook, Russell), lowering that number will be key. On a positive note, Howard improved his numbers every year since his freshman season in points, rebounds, assists, and steals per game. In 2019 NBA mock drafts, he projected to be a mid-2nd round pick. With another dominant offensive season, and improvements on the defensive end, Howard could improve his stock in a major way for next June’s NBA Draft. As one of the favorites for conference POY, and potential first-team All American, Markus Howard is one to watch this season.