Will Howard’s enormous usage go up in 2020?


(Photo by Ryan Messier/Paint Touches)

Markus Howard’s usage in 2019 was an historic 36.1%, the highest by a Marquette player in the KenPom era (since 2002) and the highest in the Big East in the TRank era (since 2008). No other player, in either era, had topped 34% usage.

Enormous does not do justice to how heavy Markus’ burden/contributions were.

(For those not completely sure, when basketball nerds talk about usage, we are referring to the number of offensive possessions that end with a specific player. For example, if Markus shoots a 3 and makes it, that goes down as his possession, same as if he would turn it over, get to the free throw line or miss and his team doesn’t get the rebound. However, if he misses a shot that draws an offensive rebound, that does not get counted as his possession under usage.)

So with the loss of the next two best offensive players in Sam and Joey Hauser this off-season, it only makes sense that a bigger burden/role/usage would fall on Markus this season. Indeed, if you’ve read or listened to any season previews, they are all a variation of this.

But seeing as his usage was already an anomaly, I had to dive in and compare with other anomalies to try and see how likely this was to happen.

For starters, I limited the search to just high major players with the thought that high majors usually play with much more talented complementary players. It’s easy to see someone like Steph Curry launching away as much as he wants whenever he wants, but when you play in a top league, there’s more talent filtering in and out of each team each year.

I then limited the search to just those high major players with usage over 32%. Ken Pom highest level of usage, the “Go To Guys,” are those above 28%, and has intervals of 4%, so I figured putting the “Uber Usage” cutoff at 32% made sense. That resulted in 27 individual season results.

Of those 27, only 7 players returned the following year, with the Trey Youngs and James Hardens of the world going to the NBA, while the rest were usually upperclassmen that exhausted eligibility.

And of those 7 players, only one of them, Luke Harangody, proceeded to post an increase in usage. The full list is below.

Player Uber Usage Year Year After
Markus Howard 36.2
Ethan Happ 35.6 34.9
Craig Brackins 34.9 25.1
Luke Harangody 33.9 31.8
Luke Harangody 32.7 33.9
Tim Frazier 32.7 25.9
Shamorie Ponds 32 27.6

On average, usage decreased from 33.6% to 29.9% the year after uber usage.

To make matters even more interesting, Harangody appears on the list twice, but only saw his usage increase once, from his sophomore to junior year. Even though it remained high his senior season, it wasn’t an upwards trajectory season after season.

Howard obviously still has a chance to make it two, so let’s dive in to his particulars before we just write it off based on previous history.

(And in case you are wondering, when we look at just mid and low major players, and bump the usage cutoff at 33%, we only get 3 players in the last 10 years as well: Chris Clemons, Jordan Davis and C.J. McCollum. It really is a rare feat.)

I think the best comparison for Howard in particular is Ponds of St. John’s. He came back to Queens as Howard’s equal, and was actually named the Big East Preseason Player of the Year last fall. He had a good team coming back but was still going to be the focal point of the offense.

And yet, his usage dropped to below 28%. I think the easy answer there was there were more options for the Johnnies last year, with the addition of Mustapha Heron and the emergence of L.J. Figueroa. He simply didn’t have to shoulder such a heavy load each night.

Obviously, Marquette is in a bit of a different spot overall, but I think Howard will actually see a similar significant drop in usage for much the same reasons.

We’ve gone over ad nauseam how there were no other creators or ball handlers on the team last year, but it’s worth pointing that out in this case once more. That will not be the case this season.

Koby McEwen played on the ball about 85% of the time down the stretch for Utah State his sophomore season according to Ken Pom, and although I do not think that will come close to being the case here, he will obviously be a second creator, whether shooting himself or driving to the hole, boasting impressive free throw rates both seasons.

Greg Elliott missed the entire 2019 season due to injury, and while he’s not a natural PG coming out of high school, he has been talked about as a creator by the staff, and also boasted a high free throw rate, though in much more limited usage.

Symir Torrance probably won’t be seeing heavy minutes this season, but he’s a natural point guard that can and will fill the spot for a couple stretches each half.

I still do think Markus’ usage will be high. I still think he will be the primary ball handler on this team. I don’t think he has changed his identity as a player or a scorer one bit. So don’t take all of this as a sign of me saying Markus transformed into something he hasn’t been.

What I do think is that having additional ball handlers that can initiate offense on their own will reduce some of the broken possession shots that automatically went to Markus last year.

When I posed this question on Twitter, a slight majority tended to agree.

So for those of you that may be expecting Howard to set new usage records, history and circumstance may have another result in mind.

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