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Examining Jett Howard's Hot Start
A glimpse into the 6'8 freshman's game.
In an offensive ecosystem increasingly defined by ball-screen continuity, multiple ball-handlers, and relatively egalitarian decision-making, it’s that much harder to stick in the NBA.
I often think of the scene in Moneyball when Billy Beane has a flashback to pre-draft and he’s sitting with his parents and scouts at his kitchen table. The scouts run through the five tools Beane has as a prospect, “Most of the youngsters we believe we have an interest in, have one or two tools, and we’re hoping to develop an extra one. Your son has all five.”
First off, great movie, and even though it’s baseball, the same philosophy of scouting and development tracks. You can’t just mold someone into something they’re not. Again, that’s what makes the draft all the more interesting and intriguing. Stars are vital, the engine upon which a team churns.
Complimentary players and secondary stars have arguably risen in importance as the offense has proliferated. You can’t just be good at one thing. If you’re a shooter, well, shoot off movement. Come off of screens. Flash some self-created shot-making. Be able to attack closeouts. Oh, and make intelligent plays off the dribble too when you do attack closeouts. The offense needs to keep moving!
Even on defense, it’s extremely difficult to just be one thing. Coverage versatility has expanded in the pros. Teams and personnel vary greatly from night to night and to win at the highest levels, there needs to be the ability to counter.
Wings and forwards who fit the mold of dribble/pass/shoot while being able to hang on defense are a must in the league. Rostering as many as possible is a staple in lineup versatility. Finding and scouting the players who can carve out this niche while potentially bringing secondary creation in time is only heightening in importance.
Two games into his collegiate career with the University of Michigan, playing under his father Juwan, Jett Howard is popping.
While Michigan has played a fairly light schedule thus far (a solid Purdue Fort Wayne and interesting Eastern Michigan squad) Howard is tied for 7th in points per game (15.5) amongst the 2022-23 rookie class, and 4th in assists per game (4.5). Even if you’ve never watched Howard before, noting that he’s listed at 6’7 and putting forth raw production like that while shooting 41% from deep on high volume is extremely eye-catching.
Every proverbial signal should be flashing!
By pulling up and perusing Howard’s history on the Cerebro database, the growth in productivity over the back end stands out, bumping up in all five metrics during 2021 and 2022. Taking a rough average of his last 20-game sample within Cerebro-verified events, and plugging it into our global search query, is a way to backtrack and also project forward in a way that can glean some interesting results.
Filtering for usage to solely focus on secondary players, and also adding the filter strictly for guards and forwards that are 6’6 to 6’8 hones in on a group of off-ball players with handles, some passing flashes, shooting touch, and varying scoring ability.
This is a fun and funky group!!!
Bridging together the ideology and thinking here is a blast. Caleb Houstan, now with the Magic, was a projected lottery pick prior to his Freshman year at Michigan in 2021-22. Patrick Williams impressed during his one-and-done year in 2020 but was largely off of pre-season 2020 mocks. Jalen Bridges has flirted with draft potential and is currently shining at Baylor after a transfer. Devan Cambridge started in the SEC at Auburn, now at Arizona State, and while his shot has never fallen with consistency, he’s been a productive college player.
Kanon Catchings, a Purdue commit of pro lineage (mother Tauja played in the WNBA, and aunt Tamika was an all-time great in the same league), is the same idea of an off-ball scoring wing with an encouraging shot, ancillary playmaking skills, and defensive upside.
Without even having watched the tape yet, you can point out, recognize, and establish a baseline of what Howard is bringing to the table. Diving into the film, pixelation increases, and the focus is clearer.
How good has the shooting been?
Michigan’s offense employs a great deal of NBA actions getting players moving off of screens. Howard has been incredibly effective as both a shooter off of screens and a screener who can decoy and shoot in turn. His comfort level in the offense and flowing off-motion has been awesome to watch.
He’s shooting when given unders on ball screens and pulling up. He’s capable of hitting off a variety of actions. He’s relocating and moving without the ball to give ball-handlers outlets. Even if his shooting numbers dip, based on priors and current effectiveness, the shooting is high grade, in variety, and very real from Howard.
The gravity his shooting demands, his decisiveness, and his court vision has enabled him to blossom as a playmaker in a way that’s extremely encouraging.
He’s not just making connective passes and some quality passes off the dribble. There’s already a baseline of making good reads after paint touches derived from secondary pick-and-rolls. The touch on lobs and post-entries has been really positive. He has advanced guile and pacing as a ball-handler that makes him seem more like a four-year vet than a player not even in the league yet.
Not only is Howard continuing offense at a high level, but he’s already showing the ability to create it as a secondary scorer. That’s significant stuff!
Howard’s an interesting athlete. There’s a tendency to call players like Howard an underwhelming or subpar athlete; he’s relatively below the rim at his size, something he shares with most of the players who came up in the database query. But, he’s very strong functionally. He has stiff hips, but that comes along with ++ flexibility in his lower body and torso, part of what makes him so interesting and effective as a ball-handler.
I’m really interested to see what he could look like with coordinated training to loosen up his hips in a professional program.
Seeing how Howard continues to develop as an interior scorer will be highly worth tracking during the season. He’s been a mixed bag defensively, much better in the second game, and has shown quality defensive instincts, particularly as a backline helper. Against more pro-level players and athletes as the non-conference schedule plays out, I’m excited to see what he shows on that end.
Jett Howard has started the year off mostly outside looking in on pre-season mock drafts and draft boards. Based on his current trajectory, early production, and his flashes and upside in his archetype, it’s easy to envision him as a 2023 draft selection come June.
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