Markus Howard developed a cult-like following after he shot 55 percent from 3-point range as a freshman at Marquette. He wasn't a mainstream name then. He was the type of name the smart college basketball fan would casually drop in conversation to let you know they were watching closely.
Howard was good, but not great, as a sophomore. The hype cooled a bit. But fast-forward to his junior year, and he's straight up nuclear. Howard is averaging 25.8 points and making more than four 3s per game. He's scored at least 45 points twice in the last month. Howard is like a Steph Curry/Damian Lillard hybrid, but at the college level.
Let's take an in-depth look at what makes him so special.
Lightning-quick transfer from dribble to shooting pocket
Howard isn't a superb athlete, which makes his dominance all the more impressive. But beating a defender is all about relative speed. Howard has a keen ability to lull his defender to sleep and rise for a jumper at any moment. He's not necessarily fast, but he's quick.
Check out this clip in the first half against Creighton. Howard rejects a ball screen, and most guys do that to penetrate in the opposite direction. But Howard uses that thinking against the defender, going back to the direction of the screen and popping a 3.
The crossover itself isn't executed at hyper speed, but he's able to transfer the ball to his shooting position very quickly. It's why he doesn't need that much separation to get his shot off.
Another example. This is really good defense! But Howard is so dangerous from the triple-threat position, and he only needs a sliver of daylight to fire.
He's enough of a driving and passing threat to make a defender honor those moves. And when they do, Howard gets what he really wants: a clean 3-point look. He's an expert at manipulating the defender with subtle eye and body movements, causing them to lose balance for a split second.
And that's all he needs.
Defenders have to account for every inch of the court against him
Howard was an elite shooter the moment he stepped onto Marquette's campus, but his attacking game needed some work. That's where he's improved the most as his college career has progressed.
Howard is shooting 44 percent from 3 on high volume, and more importantly, a high degree of difficulty. He's no spot-up shooter. Howard's looks are usually well-contested and off-balance, and he still connects at an absurd rate. So naturally, defenders are most worried about his 3-point shot.
Only now, Howard is toasting guys off the dribble. Again, he's not fast enough to do that without the threat of his jump shot. We're not talking about De'Aaron Fox here. But when defenders are scared to give you an inch of breathing room, beating them to the paint gets much easier. And Howard can do that now.
Kansas State is one of the best defensive teams in the country, but he lived in the lane against them earlier this year, getting to the free-throw line 21 times. Howard could reasonably criss-cross his way into a stepback 3 here, but he doesn't, instead blowing by his defender for the floater:
Howard's crossover dribble is like a play-action fake in football. He's usually looking to shoot a 3, which is the "run." But when he darts to the rim, the defense is out of position, like a free safety who's half a second behind because he bit on the fake. That gives Howard an advantage when he wants to go the the basket.
Howard is immensely skilled, and he knows it. There's power in that, because he understands what defenses are trying to do against him. That allows Howard to leverage those principles against them.
He's mastered the hardest shot to guard in basketball
Howard is the best pull-up 3-point shooter in the game. For reasons we've outlined above, that's such a difficult shot to handle for a defender. You're on an island. Get too aggressive in trying to stop the pull-up 3, and you might get cooked off the dribble. Sag off an inch, and Howard has a clean look at a trey.
What are you supposed to do with this?
Not all shooting percentages are created equal. A 44 percent spot-up shooter is super valuable, of course. But a spot-up shooter is only as valuable as the guy who creates the shot for him.
Howard creates his own 3s with these pull-ups, and any Howard 3-point attempt is a profitable shot when you look at the math. It's why Curry's greatness extends beyond the numbers. The threat of a pull-up 3 makes the game easier for everyone else involved. Howard isn't Curry, but Marquette feels the similar positive effects when he's in the game.
Stuff like this is just unfair:
This messes with defenses. Players are taught to let an opponent have that shot. It's a bad one for most guards.
But not Howard, and he makes defenses abandon their principles when he has the ball. That springs a domino effect that makes the Golden Eagles tough to stop. The pull-up 3 is the key that unlocks all of it.
Oh yeah, he's a ridiculous shooter
You probably know this by now, but everything above is just noise unless you're incredibly accurate. Here are Howard's shooting numbers from the past three seasons, both traditional and advanced.
And again, given the degree of difficulty of his attempts, the numbers don't do his shooting justice. His volume has increased every year, so it's reasonable to expect his efficiency to dip slightly. But Howard is still far more efficient than most.
If Marquette is able to end Villanova's impressive Big East streak in 2019, Howard will be the main reason why. Make it a point to watch him if you haven't already.