How can Marquette maximize Howard’s historic offensive ability?

Markus Howard

(Photo by Ryan Messier/Paint Touches)

Markus Howard needs no introduction.

Everyone and their mother knows what he can do with the rock in his hand. I don’t consider myself much of a basketball tactician, but I’d like to think I could coach a Markus led team to a fairly good offense without even opening my mouth.

He can score off passes, create his shot, get to the rim, you name it, he can do it and do it well.

His freshmen season, the basketball world at large was kind of sleeping on him and he wasn’t really the primary defensive focus until later in the year. No matter, he introduced himself by putting up one of the greatest shooting seasons in college basketball history.

No one was sleeping on him his sophomore year, but as the main focus of opponent’s game-planning, Markus took his world-renown long distance shooting and added an interior game, shooting 53% from 2 on over 200 attempts en route to the elusive 50-40-90 campaign.

But how would he fare without fellow sniper Andrew Rowsey to draw attention away from him? By becoming a one man offense, of course.

But now, he will have to do it once more his senior season, and this time without a 40% 3-point shooter at his side.

I know people are over the Sam and Joey Hauser mentions, but it’s truly a scary new world Marquette will be traversing without them. The past 3 seasons, 3-point prowess has been Marquette’s calling card. Without a second proven shooter on the squad, chances are it won’t be, in 2020.

And yet, as long as Markus is here and healthy, he will be the focal point, same as it has been in 2019 and 2018. So the question I’ve been pondering all summer is, how can you maximize the thing Markus Howard does best in this world, shoot the shit out of the ball, without minimizing efficiency.

The problem that was so taxing last season, was that, with the loss of Greg Elliott to injury and Joseph Chartouny to not adapting to the speed of the Big East, there was no one else to create offense.

It led to it all being dumped on Markus.

Yes, they beat Georgetown on the road without him, but that was without the Hoyas having the opportunity to gameplan against the remains. Once teams figured out Markus wasn’t himself down the stretch, they not only hounded him with doubles and traps, they did so for Sam and Joey as well. The results are clear.

Ortg Players

Markus still did end up the Big East Player of the Year and a 2nd Team All-American, so it wasn’t like it killed him as a player, but relying on him so completely to not only score but set up others to score left Marquette extremely vulnerable to any dip in his play (particularly without a corresponding dip in usage).

Which leads us back to this season. Marquette won’t be the same high efficiency shooting team from the perimeter and that will lead to reduced floor spacing in general, as teams key in (even more) heavily on Markus.

Having Koby McEwen will help, as will adding Symir Torrence and Greg Elliott for stretches, but I was (and am) mostly curious about how well Markus could adapt to a bigger off-ball role. In particular, I envisioned Wojo scheming to have multiple picks on every play as Markus runs through screen after screen to get in position for an open shot.

The exact comparison I want to make is Carsen Edwards, who was Markus’ equal for most of the season and is currently lighting up NBA teams from long range.

As these charts from TRank show, despite being similar players in both size and playing style, Purdue managed to provide assists on his makes much more often than Marquette did for Markus.

Edwards v Howard.png

And well, duh, I just got done telling you why a few paragraphs ago. But my hypothesis was that Markus could really benefit from being used in a similar way, where he has the freedom to shoot at will, but doesn’t have to create for others on every possession.

And then Jordan Sperber dropped this perfectly timed nugget:

And this too:

Basically, Matt Painter’s offense used the threat of Edward’s (and Cline’s) shooting to create space and opportunities for others, not just the snipers. He limited the time Edwards had to spend on the ball and maximized the shot quality he could get. It’s like the exact formula Marquette can replicate this season.

But there’s a tiny rub, and I’m going to whisper so others can’t hear, Markus Howard isn’t as great shooting off of screens. Blasphemy, I know, but here are the Synergy stats to back me up.

Howard Screen.JPG

That’s not to say, he’s bad, per say, just not the behemoth he is in other realms, as we’ll see in a bit.

The one caveat about these off-screen stats, is that they include a lot of actions that I myself would classify differently, like if he receives the ball coming off a screen, then takes 6 dribbles before finishing at the rim. I was more interested in no-dribble shots coming directly off a screen, just to see if that changed things.

After watching all 128 possessions in his career, I can tell you only 70 of those 128 resulted in no-dribble jumpshots and only 21 of those makes. So we can roundabout say that Markus shot 30% on off screen, no dribble shots. Compare that to his career 43.3% average on all threes, and you can see the problem.

(Not that it’s a huge problem, he still scored over 1.0 PPP in his career on these shots when you factor in Free Throws off of fouls, scoring 75 points on those 70 attempts, but still something to keep in mind.)

As I was finishing that analysis, Jordan once again dropped a very timely chart, you should really follow him on Twitter and pay for his newsletter.

EHKh2PyX0AALQTq.png If you zoom in, you can see that’s Wojo all the way on the right there, so his teams make more off the bounce 3s than almost everyone in the country. But digging a bit deeper, it’s less of a Wojo thing than a Howard and Rowsey thing.

According to Synergy, Marquette made 73 off-the dribble 3s last year, shooting 34.4%. Here was the player breakdown

Markus 60/161 (37.3%)
Sam 2/22 (9.1%)
Bailey 3/14 (21.4%)
Chartouny 4/7 (57.1%)
Joey 2/4 (50%)
Anim 1/3 (33.3%)

If you add up those 3 Howard numbers, he’s shooting 41.5% (125/301) on off the dribble threes in his career. That’s significantly better that the 30% he’s shooting coming off of screens.

Of course, just because something happened in the past, doesn’t mean it will happen in the future. Take Markus’ numbers in isolation as an example. He was pedestrian as a freshman and has morphed into one of the best in the country at it.

Howard Iso.JPG

The strangest part about all this, is that he’s absolutely lethal when it comes to spot up shots, with a lifetime 70% eFG% on heavy volume.

Howard Spot Up.JPG

So it isn’t that he’s a better shooter creating for himself than shooting off a pass, it has something specifically to do with shooting on the move. But even then it’s strange, as his P&R Ball Handler stats are absurd.

Howard pick.JPG

The efficiency dipped below 1.0 PPP in 2019 off pick and roll, so we’ve probably maximized volume there. If he could get back down to 300 or so P&R Ball Handler possessions and cut down on some of the contested floaters in the lane (ideally by finding one of the bigs at his disposal or shooters waiting in the wings) it could yield some positive results for Marquette as a whole.

Damn, that’s a lot of numbers and way too many words so let’s boil this down to the basics.

As historically great as Markus Howard is and has been, shooting off of screens hasn’t been a strength in his career. Unless he was specifically working on this skill (and if he wants to play in the NBA I sure as heck hope he was) it probably won’t be a major feature of the offense next season.

With more ball handlers, Markus shouldn’t have to near 400 P&R possessions either, so his halfcourt efficiency should see a bit of a bump up.

Isolation isn’t really something you plan for, but it isn’t exactly a bad scenario. Unless it’s at the end of a game and everyone knows exactly what is coming. (Please for the love of my sanity, stop running isos at the end of games.)

That leaves us with spot ups. In a perfect scenario, Markus gets 7 to 8 spot up 3 attempts each game and Marquette scores around 10 points a game this way. But this is reality, and barring a monster Koby dribble drive game to go with improved Sacar finishing at the rim, Markus won’t have the kind of space needed to get that many shots off in a game.

The most attempts he’s gotten was in 2017 with Rowsey at the helm, where he still only average 3.6 spot ups a game.

Here are his career stats in one tidy package.

Howard Career.JPG

So let’s say Markus stays at around 34% usage in 85% of minutes next year and Marquette averages about 71 possessions a game, due to the increase in turnovers created defensively. That gives Markus about 20 possessions used a game. Factor in the 18% TO rate so he will still get about 16ish shots a game.

To (realistically) maximize those 16, I think 6 or so should be in pick and roll, 5 in spot up, 2 in isolation and 1 off of screens with the rest coming in transition and other miscellaneous play types.

If he does show improvement coming off of screens, I do think implementing that into the offense could be positive for everyone on the court, but I’m not going to assume something just because I want it to be so.

That’s not to say there should be a hard cap or anyone on staff should be yelling at him to cut back on anything, obviously he can and should ride the hot hand and take advantage of any opportunities given. I do think it is important to put him in the best situation to succeed, though, and that was not the case towards the end of the year.

And in Markus’ case, more spot up attempts is the most efficient option, by far.

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