Q&A with The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie on Markus Howard’s NBA draft outlook

Markus Howard

(Photo by Ryan Messier/Paint Touches)

Despite the uncertainty and altered timeline around the 2020 NBA draft, there will be a draft at some point.

And with Markus Howard hoping to hear his name on draft night, we wanted to talk to The Athletic’s NBA Draft guru Sam Vecenie to get an expert’s take on all things Howard. And boy did he deliver. But as I went to transcribe the interview, only my side of the call was recorded. Fail.

So here is a condensed version of our conversation, based on some slapdash notes:

Q: In your estimation, how does he project at the next level?

A: Ideally he would have a sort of role like Patty Mills has with the Spurs. A guy who plays both on and off ball, can lead the secondary break, but also plays off ball in halfcourt often and spaces the floor with his elite level shooting. There are physical differences, as Mills is extremely strong, but Markus does have underrated core strength. He’s not as athletic though. In general, teams will have to build around him on defense and it’s not a sure thing that he’ll be good enough on offense where they’d be willing to do that. Markus will be more of a situational player. He can get out on the break and pull up from anywhere, but in the half court, teams will have to pair him next to a PG that can both defend and get a shot at the end of the clock. So the question becomes, are his flaws worth it to get him on the court.

Q: I’ve used the Carsen Edwards comp for college, and Carsen carved out a bit of a role on the Celtics at least early on, is it fair to keep using him as a comp?

A: They are very different players. Just from a size perspective, Carsen has 25-30 pounds on him and is built like a free safety with tremendous athleticism. The role fit is much cleaner for Carsen. The way Carsen can sprint off of screens and release instantly is a really translatable skill. Markus just isn’t as fast, but Carsen would definitely be a good player for Markus to watch and try to emulate. 

Q: Can he improve that aspect of his game of shooting off of screens?

A: It’s something he can definitely improve upon. He can get better at timing his sprints off of screens. He can get better at using angles to drive defenders into screeners’ bodies. But I’m not sure it will be something to where it will be the most important part of his game, a la a J.J. Redick or Landry Shamet. He’s not quite as quick or as big as those guys

Q: Do you think his shooting as a skill will translate at the same proficiency against NBA defenders, or are NBA evaluators down on that as well?

A: The length of the release worries me but there’s no doubt he can shoot. He’s only 21 and can improve the quickness of his release. I mean, he was the best collegiate pull-up jump shooter since Steph Curry. And from a physical perspective, Seth Curry is someone Markus could look and emulate how he is used and how he gets shots off. It would be a better comp than Carsen or Shamet. 

Q: You currently have him 58th on your draft board, about in line with the other prominent boards (DE, CBS), but don’t have him in your most recent mock, what are the odds he gets drafted at all?

A: I’m not sure what his willingness is to take a two-way contract in the back half of the second round. If he was willing to do that, I think he’d have a real shot. At that portion of the draft, teams are trying to get guys under terms that are beneficial to them. I’d say his chances of getting drafted are slightly under 50%. But in that range, decisions will fluctuate a lot over the next few months, so I can see it going up or down. 

Q: Does the COVID-19 issue cancelling in-person workouts and combines help or hurt Markus at this point?

A: He’s such a known commodity that it does not really help or hurt him. Teams know exactly what he is. 

Q: If you could pick 1 landing destination, draft or not, that would be best for him, what org would that be?

A: That’s a tough one. I think the Pacers have a good development staff and the team with Oladipo and Brogdon as capable defenders could shield him. The way Milwaukee defends screens would not make him a good fit there. On the Mavs, he could play a similar role to Seth Curry and Luka can find anyone that’s open. The Pelicans have an uptempo scheme and a lot of length and interior quickness. They do need floor spacers. San Antonio again because they have Dejounte Murray and Derrick White to take tough perimeter defensive assignments. But for the best fit, I’d say either the Pacers or Pelicans. 

Q: Would Markus have been better off leaving last year?

A: He definitely could have gotten a 2-way contract and an extra $400K last year, so from an earning potential returning was definitely more harmful than leaving. But ultimately it was his call, and I’m not sure he’d tell you he regrets it given his incredible season and career. I think what it does show is that if you are a junior in college that had a fantastic season, it’s really, really hard to top that from a narrative perspective. Even if you do, like Markus did, you might not get as much attention. But the NBA won’t think less of you, it just becomes harder for you to stand out.   


If you just go by the Q&A, it makes it seem like Sam is not very high on Markus, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I simply missed the first 8 or so minutes of our conversation where Sam was extremely laudatory of Howard, noting that he deserved to repeat as Big East Player of the Year and continued to be one of if not the most exciting players in the country. Howard was one of his favorite players to watch over the last decade of college hoops.

He believed Markus’ personality and off the court stuff, while not being a reason to be drafted, is also a huge positive, as there wasn’t a bad word to be said about Markus. Even the Hausers transferring, which nationally has been spun as a negative example of Markus’ high usage playing style, didn’t reflect as negatively on him as people have made it out to be. 

In general, Howard’s success in the NBA will be predicated on falling into a good situation where the athletic deficiencies can be masked and his ability to shoot highlighted.

And just because it doesn’t get enough recognition, Sam was probably the first national analyst on the Markus bandwagon, leading the charge for years.

Sam has followed Markus’ career about as closely as any national media member, and has the receipts to prove it. For more of his work be sure to follow him on Twitter and read his work at The Athletic.


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