With a bounty of draft picks from the 2019 Tradepocalypse summer, the Thunder will be scouting young prospects at the top of recruiting and draft classes once again. Daily Thunder will keep you informed on whether those players look like good targets for Oklahoma City.
Last week, I turned on the TV and decided I was going to scout Markus Howard. I have watched a little of his game at Marquette. Little did I know I was going to witness history.
The night before (November 28th), Howard led Marquette to a 73-63 win over Davidson. He dropped 40 points on 11-26 shooting, 5-10 from 3-point range. He would top that off with 51 points the next day in a 101-79 win over USC, while shooting 14-24 from the field and 9-17 from three.
He became the first player in Big East conference history to score 40 points in back-to-back games. What’s even more impressive is he did it in two days. He shows an array of scoring from everywhere on the court, and knocks down free throws at a 90% rate.
I put together a little highlight reel of his day against USC. He is only 5’11″, but plays so much bigger on offense and defense. He is so dynamic that if you play up on him he will burn you and if you play off of him, he will still burn you.
He can shoot the ball very well, he has shooting splits this season of 45.9/42.6/87.5 through six games. Over his career at Marquette he has played in 105 games and his splits over that time are 45.3/43.7/89.9. He clearly knows how to put the ball in the basket and he doesn’t let his minuscule size effect that.
He displays a wide range of scoring abilities. Here are some examples.
Court awareness. He takes the ball up the court and knows where the defenders are set. He takes the lane shielding out a defender and puts up a small floater.
Here he just simply knows he can get a quick handoff. He doesn’t even need to dribble, just gathers and knocks down the three.
At this point he was just on fire. It felt like every shot he took was going to go in. He makes a dribble move, steps back off the dribble, and hits a long 3-pointer.
Here he shows that he can pull-up and knock down a three. He gets the pass, takes one dribble, and shoots before the defense can get out to him.
My favorite one of the day here. He shows that he can go left here, so defenders can’t overplay either side. He drives left, then steps back on a dime, creates space and buries it.
Looking deeper into his game, he is very smart with the ball. Although his assists numbers aren’t great, (he has averaged three per game over his career) he has good vision of the court, can breakdown defenses and find guys for good looks.
There were multiple times he got into the lane and forced the defense to collapse. His ability to do that allowed his Marquette team to shoot 48.5% on the day.
Another area where I saw him excel was defense. He is not known much for his play on the defensive side of the ball but he displayed toughness: closing out lanes and bodying up players.
On this play, he plays much taller then his 5’11″ height, staying with his man down the lane and sizing him up:
His height will scare off teams. 5’11” is very small. When you’re that small, the only position that you can fit in is point guard. He does have the talent and passing ability I mentioned already, but again has only averaged three assists per game in college. Sometimes he become too shot happy. He can get in a mode of only trusting himself.
Marquette is not much of a team without Howard. But when you have as much talent as he does, top-level defenses are going to hone in on defense to stop him. When that’s the case, you have to trust your teammates to knock down shots.
He must improve this part of his game to make sure he locks into a first round draft grade. In college you can score 60% of your teams points and win games; it won’t happen in the NBA.
Lastly, he needs to work on his turnovers. His career assist/turnover ratio (1.03) is very bad. This goes hand in hand with improving his assist numbers, with the low amount of passes he makes, he should not be turning the ball over 3.6 times per game as he has this season
You might argue that if he passes any more, he will turn that ball over more. That could be true, but that just means he needs to work on his decision making at the same time. Know when to pass, know when to shoot, don’t force so much, and trust your teammates to make shots.
Where will he be drafted?
It’s very hard to put draft grades on guys unless they’re top prospects. Howard, although a very talented scorer, is not a guy that you’re going to hear of as one of the top prospects. His height is going to be a concern for a lot of teams wondering whether he can adapt at the next level.
Last year he had thoughts of entering the NBA draft. He backed out, but there were second round grades on him, with some scouts saying he might be able to sneak his way into a late first round selection. Looking at the draft board, I think teams will still be looking at him as a cost-efficient option in round two. With his scoring ability, the reward is way higher than the risk if you get him with a second rounder. He might not be a steal in round one, but his shooting abilities and chip on his shoulder are an intriguing combination for a still-affordable rookie scale salary in the late first.
If a team gives him a draft promise late in the first round, he should take it. That could mean cancelling your workouts with teams considering you in round two, and becoming a draft and stash player for a team like the Thunder1. The reason this arrangement would be intriguing for Howard? His salary would be guaranteed on the rookie scale, so he wouldn’t have to negotiate a weaker deal as a second rounder, if he didn’t get selected in the first round.
Could OKC draft him?
Oklahoma City is lottery bound, it’s just a matter of where they will pick in the lottery. That will be way too high to take Howard, as they will be in position to get a legitimate top prospect. But OKC does own the Denver Nuggets’ 2020 first round pick. The Nuggets are a very good team, and more than likely that selection will come at #26 or later. If OKC is looking for value there and willing to take a chance, Howard aligns perfectly with what they could be looking to accomplish.
Sam Presti is known to make draft promises; he has made them multiple times, and the majority of them have been draft and stash players. This is an interesting situation, though. Would Howard be a draft and stash or would he be someone OKC is willing to roll the dice on and give NBA minutes in 2020? The franchise is set asset-wise for the future, and more than likely will take a few years before they’re back in playoffs talk.
Howard could be a guy try to develop quickly with their other young stars, maybe as they answer the question of whether Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will truly be a point guard or shooting guard (despite them being adamant he’s a PG, this is not clear yet).
If Chris Paul is still in OKC next year, he could be a great mentor for Howard. Keep in mind CP3 is 6’0″2 so he also is very small for his position and could teach Howard many things.
Should they draft him?
Howard is as good as I’ve seen in a long time when it comes to scoring the basketball. OKC could use a catch-and-shoot player who can light up the scoreboard.
More importantly, what OKC has lacked over the years is guys who can create their own shot. During the Westbrook and Durant days, only Reggie Jackson could create his own shot outside of that duo. A reality of today’s game is that you need players who can create when games slow down.
Howard has that ability. SGA and CP3 do as well. Guys like Terrance Ferguson and Steven Adams do not. If I’m OKC, I’d happily take Howard with that Nuggets pick, confident the reward far outweighs the risk.