In April following Markus Howard ‘s freshman year at Marquette, I published this (somewhat long) breakdown of how it would be okay if he shot a lower percentage from behind the three-point line as a sophomore. It was essentially a exercise in mental preparation, because it was absolutely ridiculous to expect Howard to drop in 55% of his long range shots for a second straight season. It was doubly ridiculous to expect him to shoot as well if he shot it more than the 4.8 attempts that we saw in 2016-17.
As expected, Howard did not shoot over 50% as a sophomore, but he did shoot over 40%, which is more than okay, especially with 8.1 attempts per game.
In any case, Howard’s decrease in accuracy with an increase in shot volume made me wonder if there was a sweet spot for him. If he shoots a three-pointer six times per game, is he more likely to connect for half of his shots than he is if he shoots 10 times? Stuff like that.
So, I made some charts. Here’s Markus Howard’s per-game shooting percentages against his shot attempts for his freshman season.
Before we talk about this at all, I do want to point out that any game marked with a dot above the 30% line is at worst acceptable and at best amazing. Shooting 33.3% from behind the arc (2-for-6, let’s say) nets you the same amount of points (six) as shooting 50% inside the arc (3-for-6, let’s say), and shooting 50% from the field is a very good day at the office.
It seems like, given the little three stripe rainbow on the left half of the graph, that as Markus Howard’s attempt total in his freshman year approached six, he was a better and better shooter. The bottom two lines of the graph also seem to continue on to eight attempts, which lends itself to the theory that Howard generally got more accurate the more that he shot the ball. The results past eight are split, with Howard throwing in a 4-for-10 (we can make that work at 40%) and a 9-for-12 (75%, aka “where do I sign the contract to repeat this performance forever?”). They don’t particularly help to fit into the model of “he was more accurate with more attempts” that the rest of the graph seems to point out, but they’re also both very good shooting performances, so it doesn’t really matter.
It’s also worth noting that Marquette won both of those games, with the 10 attempts coming against Western Carolina and the 12 attempts coming at home against Xavier in a game that MU very much needed to win to shake out of the post-Villanova victory downward spiral.
Okay, so let’s move on to Howard’s chart for his sophomore season.
The first thing I want to talk about is the 0-for-2, 0-for-4, and 0-5 that you can see on the bottom of the page. Think about this: Give Markus just one made triple in each of those three games, his shooting percentage jumps from 40.4% to 41.5%. They’re not insignificant shooting performances. It is worth pointing out that none of those performances ended up being noteworthy. 0-2 is 72-69 over DePaul in the Big East tournament, 0-4 is the 94-83 loss at Butler, and the 0-5 is the 94-84 win over LSU in Maui. Sure, making one three against DePaul would have maybe provided some breathing room, but in that case, the bigger deal is that Howard was prevented from shooting a lot in the first place.
As you can see from the chart, there doesn’t appear to be a consistent theme of a trendline like there was in his freshman campaign. It kind of looks like someone took a shotgun and fired it at the chart, scattering buckshot in something of a circle with a couple of stray pellets veering off from the rest. It is, however, slightly tilted towards having higher shooting percentages around... wait for it.... six attempts per game. For the most part, though, Howard didn’t shoot less than six times in a game in 2017-18, so there’s not much data to show us if things went up as his attempts approached six and then went back down after that.
Here’s the other thing about this chart: There’s a lot more games that fall below the 33.3% efficiency cutoff. This was probably always going to be the by-product of encouraging Howard to shoot more. A part of “you should shoot more” is always going to have to be “you should be less judicious about your decision to shoot.” I don’t have available film of Howard’s 1-for-8 outing at home against Xavier (a 91-87 loss, by the way), but I’d be willing to believe that some of his seven misses were shots that Freshman Year Markus never would have attempted. Defender is in his face, it’s in transition, it’s an unsettled situation, whatever. Part of unleashing a dragon is always going to be taking the risk that you get caught in a huge blast of fire and get burned. The flipside of that coin is when the dragon wreaks absolute havoc and Howard shoots 11-of-19 (the 52 point Providence game) or 11-of-15 (against Chicago State, his best shooting percentage of the season, minimum 3 attempts).
Of course, you’re going to want to see the two graphs smooshed together. It’s a real if you give a mouse a cookie kind of enterprise we have here.
With Freshman Year having a lot of “six and under” attempt games and Sophomore Year having a lot of “six and over” attempt games, the two graphs kind of fit together like puzzle pieces. You can see that rise up to six attempts a little bit stronger, and then a decrease in accuracy from there, with a few outliers. So it seems that yes, across a 62 game sample (there are three career games with zero attempts that aren’t represented here), Markus Howard does get less accurate as he takes more and more attempts.
There’s a catch, though. “Less accurate” is relative.
Would you rather he go 5-of-6 or 6-of-11? The second one is less accurate of course, but it also results in three more points on the board. What about 5-of-13? That’s still 38.5%, and a very good performance relative to what the rest of the country does on average. If Marquette can get Howard open 13 times in a game, shouldn’t he let it fly? Isn’t that the best possible outcome for the Golden Eagles?
I’m nothing close to a statistical analysis expert, so I want to hear from you. What do you see in these charts? What stands out to you? Speak up in the comments section, or hit me up on Twitter: @AnonymousEagle.