Is Markus Howard too risky of a prospect to be taken in the first round of the 2020 NBA Draft
Is there still room for an undersized guard in the modern NBA?
In the NBA, players under six-feet tall need to be exceptionally special to find a permanent spot in any team’s regular rotation. Especially considering, no matter what the matchup, their defensive assignment is rarely in their favor.
For some, it’s that bulldog mentality to lay their body on the line and out-work the opponent in the dirty areas that most guards would not dare set foot in that gets them to the NBA. Or maybe, it’s that deadly 3-point shot that makes up for any shortcomings (no pun intended) on defense.
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The modern face of the undersized guard in recent history is 5-foot-9 Isaiah Thomas, who almost single-handedly willed the Boston Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016-17 NBA season.
In the case of the fourth-year guard out of Marquette, 2020 NBA Draft prospect Markus Howard has proved himself to be an elite offensive talent, making the most of his 5-foot-11 frame. The electric senior was on pace for a career-best season with the Golden Eagles, leading the entire NCAA in scoring averaging 27.8 points per contest on 42 percent shooting from the field and 41 percent shooting from 3-point range.
Howard’s offensive talent has definitely been on display this season, putting together a list of impressive performances over the year. Most notably, his biggest game of the year came against the USC Trojans on November 29, 2019. In the game, Howard willed the Golden Eagles to the massive 101-79 win, producing over half of Marquette’s offense and scoring an impressive 51 points.
After watching the game tape from Howard’s breakout performance, one thing stands out; the amount of contested 3’s he made throughout that game. With every made shot, his dead-eye accuracy deflated that USC team further until the score became out of reach. No matter how tight the defense was, his shot continued to fall.
But is this sustainable?
Developing consistency is going to be a key factor for Howard’s success outside of the NCAA. Over the past two seasons, Howard has become the primary figure in Marquette’s offensive system, and because of it, his percentages from the field have taken a dip. Only shooting 42.2 percent from the field this past season, Howard is going to need to refine his offensive game and find a way to produce efficiently in the painted area if he’s going to break into the NBA.
At 5-foot-11, though, that is rather easier said than done.
That might help to explain why draft analysts rank Howard so low on draft big boards, projecting him to stay available early and be scooped up midway through the second round. For the league’s highest-ranked scorer, that does seem a bit low.
As the NBA continually moves towards the age of the 3-point shooter, Howard could prove to be a steal for any team looking to add some instant offense late in the draft. While shooting a reliable 41.2 percent from deep on 10.1 attempts per game, Howard will need to continue improving his shot IQ to effectively produce against NBA caliber defenses.
Despite his low assist numbers as a guard, Howard has still been able to find crafty ways to get it done passing the ball. While working the two-man game with Theo John, a 6-foot-9 big from Marquette, Howard kept defenses on their toes by finding new ways to feed the ball down low.
From throwing lobs across the court to working the pick-and-roll, he kept his teammates involved in the action. For a player with a high usage rate like Howard, that’s an important and often under-looked quality, especially when being drafted into a system where he will not be that primary piece right away.
At the end of the day, drafting an undersized guard can be a deterrent that teams may shy away from. But with Markus Howard’s tools and scoring ability, there’s no question he could emerge as a real sleeper in the 2020 NBA Draft.