Is Markus Howard clutch?

One of my blurbs from last week’s post mentioned that Markus Howard was very unclutch in the Butler game, which was surprising, as he had been really good in crunch time this season, using the NBA definition of clutch to mean the last 5 minutes of regulation and overtime in games within a 5-point margin.

But further analysis from Joe McCann of Scrambled Eggs Podcast led me to dive a bit deeper than just this season, and just points scored, to answer this question and put it in proper context.

For starters, I took the Synergy clutch stats of him and Myles Powell, the player Markus gets frequently compared to, as seen in the Tweet above. But I left the names off intentionally, so as not to bias your thinking. Can you identify which one is Markus?

Clutch Stats.JPG

There is one column I added that should be a giveaway, but the point is that these two players, with vastly different perceptions about their “clutchness” nationally, have basically identical stats.

Sure, the bottom player has a tad better shooting numbers, and 12 more points, but that difference is erased a bit by the 15 extra shots needed to put up those 12 extra points. Neither is lighting it up from the field, and both have 50+ free throws made.

The only statistically significant difference, and the data point that should have given away Markus, is the percent of field goals that were assisted. Markus is at the top, and only 9.3% of his 43 field goals made came via an assist, vs 50% for Myles Powell.

(And before we move on too much, I do want to note that Myles was extremely clutch last season, and earned that rep, he just hasn’t been very good in these situations this year. That’s not to say he isn’t good or won’t be good, just that the stats to date aren’t particularly impressive, and are actually worse than Howards’, even after the Butler debacle.)

Markus has never needed a good pass to score, he is the preeminent shot creator in all of college basketball, and that’s why, as impressive as his 3-point shooting numbers have been this season, they deserve another level of adulation for the degree of difficulty.

However, when the game is on the line, you don’t get extra points for making a more difficult shot. When all that matters is putting points on the board, settling for a stepback long two with over 15 seconds left on the shot clock even though you’re ice cold isn’t ideal.

But again, this isn’t about 1 game, as recency bias would have us blinded by it. Going through each crunch time possession for Markus, 29 in all when you take out intentional fouls, he has created the shot for himself (either in ISO or off of a screen) 25 times. This isn’t just talking about makes, either, this is all shots regardless of the result.

Of those 4 “assisted” possessions, only 1 resulted in a made basket. So I don’t want to give you the impression that simply by having Markus off the ball, he will all of a sudden become unstoppable. What is true, though, is that taking him off the ball a bit more opens the floor for teammates who have for the most part been incredibly good in clutch situations.

Non-Markus players have scored 47 points in these spots, shooting 50% from the field and 55.6% from distance.  Anim has scored 18 points in 11 attempts while Koby has been nearly perfect from the line, icing multiple games away from the stripe. (Funny enough, Koby’s 3 to send the game to overtime was his first made FG in crunch time as a Marquette player. His previous 11 points had all come from the free throw line.)

Having seen this data, I joked on Twitter that Wojo needed to have a come to Paxon moment with Markus, much like Phil did with MJ.

Capture.JPG But I wanted to see was if maybe he was making the right passes, and teammates simply weren’t hitting. Of the 22 non-Markus, non-intentional foul shooting possessions, exactly half came directly from a pass.

5 Markus (1-4, 5 points)
5 McEwen (4-5, 11 points)
1 Elliott (1-1, 3 points)

To recap 11 possessions with a pass resulted in 19 points, a fantastic figure. Compare that to 11 points scored on the other 11 possessions, and you can see how valuable moving the ball becomes on this team, even if Howard isn’t doing the shooting.

To wrap it up though, I did want to point out the instances where Howard has been phenomenal in the clutch, just this year, that may be getting memory holed.

Against Davidson, he took 4 of the 5 clutch possessions, scoring 11 points and assisting on the only other made field goal.

And then he would add 4 more points from the line to prevent Davidson from inching back into clutch time territory.

Or when he scored 8 clutch points against Georgetown just 2 weeks ago, including this cold blooded 3.

(Side note, turn up the volume and watch the Hoya students groan as soon as Markus faked the defender out of the building, and before he even released the shot. Too good.)

All of this is to say, although historically, Markus has been worse in clutch time than in other game situations, he hasn’t been bad, or even worse than someone with the sterling reputation of Myles Powell. He struggled late last season because of an injured wrist and struggled mightily against Butler. He simply hasn’t had the memorable game-winner to let the good overshadow the bad.

That is not to say  he can’t improve. With the attention he draws, and with the options available, he can definitely do a better job of getting teammates involved, putting them in good shooting spots, and the team in a position to benefit.

But don’t let 1 game or 1 play alter your perception. The story is much more complex than that.

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