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Should Marquette Fans Start Thinking About Markus Howard Leaving Early For The NBA?

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I mean, he’s REALLY good at this basketball thing, right? Getting paid to hoop soon seems like a possibility, right?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Greenville Practice Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t think this needs much introduction. Markus Howard is really good. Like, stupid good. I mean, look at this table that Synergy put together.

Twitter.com/SynergySST

This doesn’t take into account Saturday’s games, but I doubt Markus Howard did anything to lower that efficiency number after his 23 points on 18 shots and 61% effective field goal percentage performance in Madison. I don’t know who Fletcher Magee is, but I do know that I irrationally hate him for having better efficiency numbers that Howard.

So all of this this begs the question... Should we prepare ourselves for the possibility that Markus Howard leaves early for the NBA, perhaps as soon as this coming spring?

I’ll start with a fairly heavy assumption. This assumption is that for the rest of the year he will continue to perform similarly to how he has up to this point. This could potentially be a negative and positive for him. The possibility could also be dependent on Marquette doing well this year. If they make the tournament and Howard pulls off an RJ Hunter/Kyle O’Quinn (LOL @ Mizzou) situation, he’s a lot more likely to show up on draft boards. If not, it could be more of a Marcus Keene situation where he is known as just a great college player at the end of the year.

One more point that I can’t stress enough. This is his decision for his career and his life. He is getting “paid” peanuts to what he could potentially be making in the NBA under far superior coaching without the NCAA breathing down his neck. If he feels as though he owes something to his teammates and/or doesn’t think the risk is worth it, awesome. If he does want to make the jump into professional basketball, though, then it should not affect you in any way and under no circumstances should he have taken your feelings into account. Don’t be a Badger fan. #DBABF

Why He Would

I’ll start with a somewhat obvious reason. His offensive game is about as perfect as you could possibly want in any player, much less a 5’11” player. His usage is in the 94th percentile and his offensive rating is in the 99th percentile. Oh, and he also apparently just decided that he wanted to cut his turnovers in half and increase his defensive rebounding to be third on the team. Again, at a listed height of 5’11”. But that’s probably not even his most important development as it relates to his NBA prospects.

He can score at the rim now. You’ve seen his floater, right? I want to show that floater a nice evening. Maybe buy it a nice bottle of wine, take it to see Christmas lights in a nice Whitefish Bay neighborhood and talk about our dreams, then nervously think of a follow up text the day after.

He’s become an grotesquely efficient scorer inside the arc now. Like it’s just disgusting. A year ago he shot 45.4% from 2 point range, which, y’know, for a guy shooting 55% from behind the arc is totally fine.

This year? It’s 66.1%. Yeah. That’s a thing. Between that, his three-point shooting percentage (41.7% on the year and climbing), and his currently perfect free throw shooting, Howard has the 80th best true shooting percentage in the country.

It’s not even just the floater, though he is hitting those about 23 of the time, assuming those account for almost all his 2 point “jumpers”. He’s 15/23 around the rim, which is bonkers. AND, he’s not even relying on assists, even for his threes. Last year, 51.5% of all his shots came off of assists. This year it’s down to 41.8%.

Markus Howard was an Earth-consuming behemoth on offense last year and has improved in almost every imaginable way this year. Don’t even think about telling me his three point percentage has come down. We all knew that wasn’t sustainable, even if he is shooting 53% over his last four games.

So now what we have is a perfect offensive player with defensive limitations due mostly to his size. You may be thinking that’s only good enough for a late second round pick. My response is that you’re likely correct, but that’s not the full scope of the situation here. The reason I’m taking this possibility fairly seriously is that Howard might have reached his peak draftability (To any aspiring rappers out there, I’m selling that sentence for $10 million). His offensive capabilities can’t really improve, because at this point, all he could possibly legitimately add is a post game and that’s just not a legitimate need for a guy of his size. It is reasonable to think that continuing to play in college is just risking scouts and teams finding a flaw that could make him less draftable, and his defense can’t really improve much because of his size.

So now put on your scout shoes and your critical thinking hats. Would you rather have a 19 year old near-perfect offensive player with limited defensive capabilities due to his size or a 21 year old near-perfect offensive player with limited defensive capabilities due to his size? Even if he stays at his peak for 2.5 more years, he wouldn’t be doing himself many favors by being an older draft pick and giving teams less service time potentially. It could be worth taking the risk now just for that first pay check.

That’s the other thing we can’t ignore here: Markus Howard will be eligible for the NBA Draft for the first time in 2018. As you may have heard, he was just 17 years old for most of his freshman year. The NBA Draft requires a player to be one year clear from his high school graduation AND 19 years old. Howard doesn’t meet both criteria until early March. It would be foolish of us to think that Howard’s only reason for starting college a year early was merely to challenge himself as a basketball player, or because he was really looking forward to taking college classes. Part of his decision making process on reclassifying to the Class of 2016 had to be the intent of getting to the point of getting paid to play hoops sooner rather than later. Well, you don’t get more sooner than right now unless you attend Oklahoma.

Why He Wouldn’t

We’ve established that this might be his peak right now, right? Well, there haven’t even been whispers of him on draft boards that I click on when I google “Markus Howard NBA.” Maybe it’s just not something that ever happens and we are treated to 2.5 more years of him. Optimistic Ben really tried to minimize his size. That guy’s an idiot and you should never listen to him. I’m the voice of reason. An average NBA guard is 6’2” and they were playing near Howard’s level in one way or another in college. We can’t just throw away his defensive limitations just because he’s elite offensively.

The fact of the matter is that there are just three players listed at 5’11” or shorter who have played a single minute in the NBA this season: Shane Larkin, Tyler Ulis, and Kay Felder. Yes, there’s also Isaiah Thomas, but it would be foolish of us to ignore the fact that his current injury that is keeping him out of action may have something to do with the beating his 5’9” frame takes in the course of a season. Back to the other three: Ulis is the only one of the trio playing more than 11 minutes per game, and he plays for an absolutely atrocious Phoenix Suns squad. Kay Felder gets his playing time for an equally horrible Chicago Bulls team. Larkin is with Boston Celtics, but has played in just three games since Thanksgiving.

Guys of Markus Howard’s stature just don’t seem to have a notable place in the NBA. Facts are facts. Last year, it was just six guys at 5’11” or shorter: Thomas, Ulis, and Felder, of course, along with Ty Lawson, Pierre Jackson, and John Lucas III. Jackson and Lucas played a combined 95 minutes in 13 games. I could keep going back here, but the numbers just aren’t varying from year to year all that much.

Even the risk of being a projected second round pick is tremendous. He could go undrafted, leaving him likely to spend time in the G League or play overseas. Given the permanently noticeable flaw of his height, once the NBA passes on him the first time, it’s going to be a nearly impossible fight to get in the door. Look at how long it has taken Vander Blue to get to a total of nine games played right now, and he has a prototypical NBA guard’s physical frame.

The final point is definitely not a point I thought I’d be making. Last Friday, it was announced that Markus Howard would be one of two student athletes joining the NCAA Basketball Oversight Committee, joining known NCAA Committee Oversight junkie Kevin Vannatta from UNC-Asheville. Guess he decided he wanted Vannatta student to help him out.

**cough**

Guess what I know about this role? Nothing. No real explanation about the role was given and the committee itself seems like a very made up NCAA thing, all the way to the point of being created to replace a different committee. But Howard is on it, and more importantly, according to the roster list, he’s expected to be able to keep his seat until June of 2020.... which would be when his collegiate eligibility is scheduled to end. He’s working with the NCAA, meaning he and/or Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowskis and some higher-ups in the NCAA have probably talked about this. I’m sure at least 3 of the people he talked to have seen his numbers and know how good he is, and I’m sure at some point in the discussion they asked about his intentions to stay. Clearly they can’t force him to stay in college just to be a part of this committee, but I also have some doubt they’d want a guy who is even thinking about leaving early for the NBA. On the surface, it looks odd that he would throw this variable into his decision, but this must be something he cares about, so good for him.

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If you asked me right now what I think he’ll decide after this year, I’d say he’ll at least declare for the draft and see what his options are in April. College players are allowed to declare and withdraw as many times as they want now, so there’s no reason for Howard to not at least explore his options and see what NBA minds have to say about his prospects. Ultimately I would put the odds right now at 3/1 that he stays because he has work to do just to get on the mock draft boards, but this could change if he stays smoking hot and Marquette becomes prominent on the national scale. REMEMBER IT’S HIS DECISION AND YOUR DESIRE TO WATCH HIM WEARING A MARQUETTE JERSEY HAS NO EFFECT ON THIS. #DBABF