Markus Howard might not be the biggest guy on the court, but his scoring imprint is gigantic.
“Gifted scorer” is a phrase thrown around a lot. It’s the basketball equivalent of “genius,” a word that many people utter but few truly mean. There are a lot of good scorers out there, but only a few scorers are really gifted, those guys that can go out and get a bucket when their team absolutely needs one. No matter the defense, no matter where they are on the floor, some guys can just put the ball in the basket. In the collegiate game, not many of those guys exist. But Markus Howard — that guy is a gifted scorer.
Howard was only 18 years old when he stepped on the floor at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence to take on the Friars. Marquette was just a couple games into conference play in January, going 1-1 in its first two matchups. Howard was a virtual non-factor in those games, putting up 13 points in each on 30% shooting with more turnovers than assists. The game before that, Howard scored just 10 points on 40% shooting with six turnovers against American University. The 5’11 sophomore was anything but hot to start off the new year.
A first half in which Howard shot 2-8 from the field only continued the narrative of a player finally coming back to Earth after shooting his load in November and December. After all, he couldn’t be expected to put up 20- and 30-point nights on a regular basis in the Big East. But Howard continued to work. Out of the locker room, he scored eight points on Marquette’s first three possessions. Minutes later, he would hit three straight threes to give the Golden Eagles the lead. Finally, after a solo 15-point run helped send the game to overtime, Howard hit three more triples to ice the game. When he looked up at the scoreboard, he had 52 points.
It was the kind of performance that left shockwaves throughout the college basketball world, but it was perfectly in character for the Arizona native, who averaged 20.4 points per game his sophomore season. Anyone who had watched Howard play knew that even at 5’11, he was going to burn you. It was only a matter of how and when.
Like any great scorer, Howard relies heavily on his jump shot: a smooth, silky stroke with a quick release and a high enough arc to shoot over taller defenders. It’s a jumper that’s impossible to completely take away. Just one game after his 52-point performance that featured a Big East-record 11 threes, Howard put up 37 on Villanova, draining one three after another, and Jay Wright’s defense had no answer.
Howard doesn’t have to take this shot. He has all 30 seconds left on the shot clock, the offense can reset after an offensive rebound, and Sam Hauser, a 49% three-point shooter, is just a quick pass away. None of that phases Markus Howard. Instead, without hesitation, he gathers and rises up over the outstretched arm of 6’9 big man Eric Paschall, making a contested three look easy. Howard’s confidence in making tough shots like these fuels his game. And he’s far from just a catch and shoot guy. He is more than capable of converting nearly impossible looks on the move, and he shows it off later in the same game against the National Player of the Year in Jalen Brunson.
With the degree of difficulty on a lot of these shots, it’s surprising that Markus Howard shoots as high of a percentage as he does. He’s a 45.4% shooter beyond the arc over two seasons at Marquette. But Howard is a lot more than just an elite shooter. He understands that when defenses try to take away his three-point looks, he can beat defenders off the dribble and take them to the basket.
After Howard hit five threes against Villanova, Brunson and Phil Booth are determined not to let Howard hit again from deep, and they sprint to the perimeter to lock him down after he receives the inbounds pass at the top of the key. As quickly as they’re there, Howard is gone, splitting the defenders, taking two quick dribbles, and pulling up from just inside the free-throw line for an easy short jumper.
This isn’t against just any old team either. This is the National Champion Villanova Wildcats, and Howard made them look downright silly all night.
Howard’s ability to score the basketball both inside and out is unparalleled for a guy his size. Among high major conference players under six feet tall, Howard ranked second last season in two-point field goal percentage at a whopping 53.3%. And when you throw in how often he has the ball in his hands compared to Lourawls Nairn Jr., the only player above him, it’s not even close. The only player used more is Howard’s teammate, Andrew Rowsey, who’s field goal percentage doesn’t even touch Howard’s.
With Rowsey having graduated last May, Howard figures to have the ball in his hands even more this year, and he’ll take advantage of it. It’s far from a stretch to expect him to score nearly 30 points per game this year. He’ll be playing on the ball significantly more and getting more opportunities at the line, where he’s arguably the best free throw shooter in the nation at 93.8%.
The scariest part about Howard’s abilities is that he’s only 19 years old. After reclassifying, he played most of his freshman year as a 17-year-old kid. He won’t turn 20 until the end of the upcoming season, which means he still has so much room to grow. After raising his scoring average by seven points from his freshman to sophomore year, he can continue to raise that average again, and when all is said and done, he has a very good chance to lead the nation in scoring.
If and when he does, there is a place for Markus Howard in today’s NBA. Sure, he’ll struggle a little on the defensive end trying to square up against bigger guards. But so do other undersized guys like Isaiah Thomas and Kemba Walker, and neither of them were ever as efficient as Howard is now. Sometimes good things come in small packages, and Howard is more than just a small package. He’s a gift.
Edited by Emily Berman.
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