As the Denver Nuggets return to training camp, it’s important for fans to become reacquainted with their favorite team. During a shortened offseason, the Nuggets made several player transactions, more than usual, and the resulting roster looks very different than it did before. 10 players on the 2019-20 roster have returned for the 2020-21 season, and they are:
- Jamal Murray - point guard
- Monte Morris - point guard
- PJ Dozier - combo guard
- Gary Harris - shooting guard
- Will Barton - wing/forward
- Michael Porter Jr. - forward
- Bol Bol - forward
- Paul Millsap - power forward
- Vlatko Čančar - power forward
- Nikola Jokić - center
That leaves seven roster spots, each of which the Nuggets have filled with a player hoping to move the Nuggets closer to winning their first championship in franchise history.
Today, it’s time to introduce Nuggets fans to Markus Howard.
Marcus Howard Player Profile
Position: Shooting Guard
Previous Team: Marquette Golden Eagles (college)
Height, Weight, Wingspan: 5’11”, 180 lbs, 6’0” wingspan
How did Howard get to the Nuggets?
Markus Howard spent four years at Marquette throwing the record books in the fireplace. He is the career points leader in Big East league games, he led the nation in scoring in 2019-20 at 27.8 points per game, and the two-time All American is the leading scorer in Marquette history. He averaged 8 threes a game for his college career and made them at a 42.7% clip, while shooting 88.2% from the line. The man can shoot.
He can also get to the line, because while he’s not the most athletic player he forces defenders to close hard on him to challenge threes, and can drive the paint to get to the foul line. Howard spend his time at Marquette showing he’s happiest when he’s competing, whether that’s as a scorer or even on-ball defense. The reason he fell out of the draft was not his motor or his shooting, but rather concerns about his size limitations and ultimate position. Can a 5’11 shooting guard thrive in today’s NBA? He can’t really clog up passing lanes off ball or stop larger men from backing him down. In a Tall Ball lineup it’s possible that Michael Porter Jr. could get minutes at the 2 (shooting guard) and the person tasked with defending that in practice would be Howard, who is a foot shorter. Is it workable?
Still, passing on Howard might be a mistake. There has to be a place in the league who are just a walking bucket waiting to happen, and Howard is that from the rim out to 40 feet. He got to Denver because no one wanted to spend a draft pick to find out if they could make it work with a player like him, and the Nuggets gave him a 2-way deal to see what he would look like in a Denver uniform.
What to expect from Howard
Markus Howard’s fit on the roster is suspect. With the news that the G League may include a bubble with fewer teams and a $500,000 buy-in as one of the proposals for running it at all, it’s hard to see how he gets minutes down at that level, or enough to make an impact for the Nuggets either barring COVID-related lineup absences from other players. He lacks both height and wingspan, and unlike other small guards in Denver’s past like Michael Adams, Ty Lawson and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Howard is not a point guard. His assist-to-turnover ratio at Marquette was essentially 1:1 with no significant growth in that ratio, and averaging 3 assists in 30+ minutes a game in college is not promising.
That said, Jamal Murray averaged 2.2 assists and 2.3 TOs a game in 30+ minutes a game as a college freshman - but he’s had growth since then. The best Nuggets comp for Howard is probably Abdul-Rauf, who was also a small guard who could go nuclear from anywhere on the court and carved out a role for himself. He learned to take care of the ball and be a better passer in the NBA. Can Howard do that now? Missing out on the workouts with other players this offseaon undoubtedly hurt him since teams couldn’t see him in that role with other draftees.
Denver is lucky in that they have a ton of combo guards who can play the two so that even if Howard is not the point guard on the floor he can defend and be defended by point guards. But make no mistake: Howard is not out there to pass, but to shoot. If he had Murray’s height he would have been a top-10 pick. If he had Monte Morris’s ability to distribute the rock it might have been much the same, because Markus can absolutely shoot anyone out of the gym. His mix of skills and height had him overlooked, and that might pay off for Denver.
Howard is a calculated decision to take a longer look at a player who may go to Europe and have a nice long career bombing shots in from every place on the court. What Denver doesn’t know - what nobody knows - is whether he can have that long career here in the NBA. Howard has two absolute NBA level skills: shot-making and determination. If that’s enough to carve out an NBA role then it will probably come as a dagger-thrower off the bench like Seth Curry, but it took Curry a few years (and several teams) to figure out that role as well.
If Howard is a faster study, then Denver may have a bench microwave the likes of which they haven’t seen since J.R. Smith. And that’s what Denver gave Howard a two-way contract to find out.