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2021-22 Denver Nuggets Media Day Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

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Is Markus Howard just a gunner at the NBA level?

Continuing our Player Preview series with Markus Howard, who is hoping to capitalize on a second two-way contract in Denver.

Markus Howard 2020-21 per game statistics

2020-21/ Games Minutes Points Rebounds Assists Field Goal % Three-Point % Box Plus-Minus
Regular Season 37 5.5 2.8 0.6 0.5 37.7 27.7 -9.0
Playoffs 9 12.4 4.7 0.8 0.4 40.5 42.3 -2.9

Overview

After the 2020 NBA Draft, the Denver Nuggets were still searching for scoring guard depth. They had selected R.J. Hampton as a possible addition to the core, along with Zeke Nnaji as a role playing big man. Still, they sought out another microwave scorer in the draft. Rather than spending another draft pick (that they didn’t have), they waited until the end of the draft to add Markus Howard as a college free agent. The four-year Marquette product scored a ton of points in college and was one of the best scores in NCAA history. It was a good flyer to take at the time.

The Nuggets gave Howard a two-way contract during the 2020-21 season, and the vast majority of the time Howard saw was in garbage time. He struggled to develop any sort of shooting rhythm during that stretch, and his efficiency numbers were poor as a result. In addition, Howard doesn’t add much more than shooting. So, when a shooter doesn’t shoot efficiently, it’s difficult to find value.

At the end of the season though, Howard received an opportunity to play due to all of Denver’s backcourt injuries. With Jamal Murray, Will Barton, and P.J. Dozier out (and with Monte Morris just returning) Howard received an opportunity in the Nuggets playoff rotation. He wasn’t perfect, and his weaknesses (defense, playmaking for others) outweighed his strengths (scoring, shooting), but he proved that he has a place in the NBA in the right situation.

After he missed Summer League due to health and safety protocols, Howard returned to Denver for the 2021-22 season on the same two-way contract. Will he receive similar opportunities at the NBA level? That remains to be seen.

Best Case

The fact is, the Nuggets brought back Will Barton and Austin Rivers as well as a new and exciting rookie in Bones Hyland that will most likely eat into any and all opportunities Howard will receive. It’s difficult to foresee extended Markus Howard minutes this year, especially with the return of Jamal Murray somewhere on the horizon.

So, the best case scenario for Markus Howard is probably to win G League MVP this season for the Grand Rapids Gold.

The G League is not a glamorous opportunity or something that will lead to a starting role at the NBA level. Still, it’s a possible way for Howard to excel in front of as many eyes as possible, including those of the Nuggets. Being buried behind a rotation of guards hoping for playing time isn’t going to prepare Howard for the NBA. Working closely with Denver’s G League team that will run sets for him and allow him copious opportunities to get up shots and improve his overall game? That seems like a more tenable solution.

If Howard excels in his opportunity, then the Nuggets may be able to free up some minutes for him down the line, knowing that he has put in the work to get better and work on everything the Nuggets ask him to do. Even if that doesn’t happen, Howard will be putting on a show for 29 other teams while he’s down there, hoping to catch the eye of the right person or team to give him a more substantial run at the NBA level. This is what the G League is made for, and Howard could absolutely tear it up and earn a contract in the process.

Worst Case

If Howard doesn’t commit to the G League and instead stays buried on Denver’s depth chart, then it could be rather easy to fall out of the league entirely. Two years on two-way contracts is generally not a great sign for a player’s development or a team’s commitment to the development of that player. The Nuggets surely want the best of Howard, but they also want the best for their team. They may decide to go a different direction without showcasing Howard to any teams this year.

Hopefully, that doesn’t happen. Howard has a penchant for scoring but needs to show other aspects of his game to get on the floor consistently. If he doesn’t commit to improving those aspects, then he may not be long for the highest level.

Bold Prediction

Howard goes down to the G League and scores 50 points in a game multiple times. He wins G League All-Star game MVP and goes on to sign a full-time contract with an NBA team in the 2022 offseason.

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