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Player Grades: Markus Howard showed potential and made the most of his opportunity

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Evaluating the season by one of the Nuggets biggest surprise contributors toward the end of the season, Markus Howard.

2021 NBA Playoffs - Portland Trail Blazers v Denver Nuggets Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

The term “finishing strong” is a perfect way to describe the season of Denver Nuggets rookie Markus Howard. After going undrafted, Howard signed a two-way contract with the Nuggets with hopes of cracking the rotation at some point in Denver’s season.

That opportunity just so happened to come during the last couple weeks of the regular season and continued on into the postseason. Howard played in six of the Nuggets last seven games in the regular season then played nine of Denver’s 10 playoff games.

After inconsistent minutes all season long, Howard finally got his chance to shine and played with a confidence that he put on full display throughout his collegiate career. After playing just 5.5 minutes per game in 37 regular season games, Howard averaged 12.4 minutes per game in the playoffs shooting a scorching 42 percent from three.

His greatest moment came in the Nuggets Game 5 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in which Howard scored nine points on 3-of-6 shooting from the field with all three of his made field goals being three-pointers. In his 15 minutes played in Game 5 Howard made the most of them helping the Nuggets secure a big time playoff win.

Markus Howard 2020-21 per game stats

Howard averaged 2.8 points, 0.6 rebounds, and 0.5 assists per game in 37 games during the regular season. Postseason is really when Howard began to thrive as he averaged 4.7 points, 0.8 rebounds, and 0.4 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from the field and 42 percent from beyond thee three-point line.

What Happened

In the end, Howard was able to have a pretty substantial impact for the Nuggets late in the season. Because of the injuries to Jamal Murray, Monte Morris, PJ Dozier, and Will Barton it opened the door for Howard to get consistent minutes for the Nuggets to finish the season and play in the postseason. Howard proved that he can play in the NBA and has provided himself with an opportunity to continue his professional career next year and beyond.

Best Moment — Career high 23 points against Portland

We already mentioned his solid playoff game against the Trail Blazers above, so why not choose the game where Howard scored a career-high 23 points as his best moment? It came in the Nuggets regular season finale which is a game that ended up being completely pointless to them, but still meant a great deal to Portland.

Howard played 32 minutes off the bench pouring in a team high 23 points on 8-of-17 shooting from the field, 4-of-8 from beyond the three-point line. Howard also hauled in four rebounds and dished out three assists as he truly played a phenomenal game in the Nuggets regular season finale. This was also the performance that solidified Howard’s spot in the Nuggets rotation, which he kept throughout most of the postseason.

Player Grade — B+

It was hard to not give Howard at least an A- because he did everything the Nuggets asked of him all season, but his defense in the only thing that made it a little lower. The way Howard handled his role after not playing all season long was nothing short of spectacular and the only spot he really fell short of was just being picked on from time to time throughout the postseason on the defensive end of the floor.

The Nuggets desperately needed Howard’s scoring in the Portland series and he provided that while doing his best to slow down their sharpshooters, once of which being Damian Lillard. That is virtually impossible to do and Howard certainly held his own while getting some great experience to grow as a defender going into next season and beyond.

Offseason Outlook

Howard was on a two-way deal this past season so there is no guarantee he is back next year with the Nuggets. With the potential he showed towards the end of the season I would say it’s wise for Denver to at least look at how they can keep Howard moving forward. Especially with the Nuggets now having a G-League team it could allow Howard to play in a league I honestly think he could be the MVP of.

There is no doubt about his play and confidence on the offensive end of the floor, but continuing to grow as a defender will be key for Howard this offseason. If he is able to do that he is definitely going to stick in the NBA, whether or not that is with the Nuggets though remains to be seen.