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Examining Michigan's Jett Howard
Now that it’s about ⅓ through with the college season, we’re starting to get a good idea of how most prospects look. A lot can still change throughout the rest of the season, but it’s at a point where most freshmen are finally settled in and the returners have been able to show areas of growth in their games. Instead of going with a deep introduction, let’s get right into talking about one of the more impressive freshmen this season, and someone who still might be getting underrated by most, especially mainstream outlets. With a 9.5 C-RAM through 11 NCAA games, that freshman is…Jett Howard.
I was immediately impressed with Howard’s game, but wanted to wait for a larger sample size before giving any strong takes because I wanted to see how sustainable the level of play was. By being patient and waiting for a larger sample size, not only has the play looked sustainable but he’s actually shown more than I originally expected.
Howard is not some random, unknown prospect by any means. He’s the son of former NBA player and current Michigan coach, Juwan Howard. He played at IMG and was 34th in RSCI entering college. But he entered the season not on many, if any, top 100 preseason boards. As of now, Jett Howard is viewed by many as a First Round prospect, with some even thinking on the high side of it.
Speaking of being a freshman, since 2008, there have only been six freshmen 6’7” or taller, who have had a usage ≥ 20% while attempting at least 130 3s and making at least 40% of them: Lauri Markkanen, Cade Cunningham, Brandon Ingram, Jabari Smith, Paul George, and Morgan Sabia.
Right now, Jett Howard is on pace to join the list with a usage of 21.6% and is shooting 40.3% (29-72) through 11 games. Whether or not he stays on track remains to be seen, but it’s an impressive list to be on. Everyone on the list besides Morgan Sabia (who has a negative BPM) actually ended up being drafted top 10 in their respective drafts. Howard currently has a BPM of 7.3.
Diving into Howard’s shot, one of the main things that stands out when watching him is how he is rarely bothered by contests because of his high release point. His shot prep, quick release, and size all allow him to get shots up over contests, which he has in common with Cam Johnson, who did all of that extremely well. In the video below, you’ll see Howard’s shot versatility, and the ability to shoot over tight contests.
As you can see in the video, he’s very capable of making shots in a variety of ways, whether it’s spotting up, off-movement (off screens, DHOs, etc), off-the-dribble, etc.
Here is a chart I made from looking at the variety of Howard’s shots on Synergy:
Before diving into the other parts of Howard’s game, it’s worth noting that he shot 34.3% (60/175) from 3 in the 43 verified pre-college games in the Cerebro Sports Database, including when he was at IMG Academy, playing EYBL with Nightrydas, and more.
Howard hasn’t been this level of a shooter before, and we’re still only ⅓ through the college season, but it has seemed like this level can be sustainable. Overall, this is just something to note and keep an eye on as the season progresses.
As mentioned earlier, Jett Howard has the potential to be an early-to-mid first-round pick, and you need to show more than just being a great shooter to justify that pick.
Moving onto the other parts of Howard’s offense, he’s been used in a variety off-ball actions like seen in the shooting video but has also shown he can curl pindowns and make the right decision coming out of it, whether that be keeping it himself or giving it up to a teammate for a good look.
While Jett Howard has been able to show his ability to come off of pindowns and make the right play, one thing I’d like to see him show more often is attacking closeouts off of the catch when spotting up on the perimeter.
In regards to his off-ball movement (aside from schemed plays), he’s shown a couple of smart relocations on the perimeter but doesn’t look to cut very often. This isn’t something that is too worrisome at the moment considering his age, and it’s something that should hopefully come with more experience, but it is something that is quite important for off-ball wing shooters. When Corey Kispert was struggling to shoot early in his rookie year, his off-ball movement on offense was still always a plus, and he was able to bring value there.
Everything above is where I originally thought most of Howard’s value would come from, but as I said, while being patient and waiting to get a larger sample size, he started to show more. Over the last few weeks, Howard has been able to get more on-ball reps. Some of that is because of the Jaelin Llewellyn injury, but some of it has also been because of his success when given the opportunity to have the ball in his hands.
In the seven November games, Howard had a 19.5% usage.
In the four December games, Howard has had a 25.2% usage.
Howard has already attempted more shots off the dribble in the last four games than he did in the first seven games.
November: 6-13 on off-the-dribble shots
December: 7-17 on off-the-dribble shots
On the season, Howard is shooting 60% (6-10) on off-the-dribble midrange jumpers,
Here’s a video showing some of Howard’s ballhandling reps throughout the season so far.
As you can see in the video, he’s shown the ability to hit shots off the dribble, make smart passes, and even flash his handle a bit. Most of his best moves with his handle come from him using a behind-the-back, and I’d like to see more of a variety there, but it’s still nice to see nonetheless.
To be a bit critical with his on-ball reps, the one thing that he doesn’t do very often is get to the rim by himself. According to Synergy, 17.6% of his shots come at the rim, which is not outlier low, but it is on the lower end, especially for someone his size. A lot of his creation currently results in tough shots in the midrange, which he’s been able to knock down at an efficient enough rate so far, but it’s not something you necessarily feel good about relying on from a prospect. It doesn’t mean he can’t become a good shot-creator though, but being able to create easy buckets is something everyone should be looking for, and hopefully, he improves.
Something to add is whether it’s self-created or not, Howard has been quite efficient on runners/floaters this season. Ultimately, you’d like to see someone get all the way to the rim more often, but according to Synergy, he’s shooting 66.7% (10-15) on such attempts so far.
Before moving to his defense, let’s take a look at how he compares to others in the Cerebro Sports Database. Since the 2002-2003 season, here is a list of players that meet the following filters:
Power 6 (Big Ten, SEC, Big East, Big 12, ACC, Pac-12)
6’7” and Taller
85 3PE (3-Point Efficiency)
75 PSP (Pure Scoring Prowess)
10 Games Played
For those who are not familiar with our terms, please click here for our glossary with definitions.
When looking at this list, a bunch of names stand out, including Cam Johnson, Doug McDermott, Kevin Huerter, Mikal Bridges, etc. All of these players have different skill sets, but there are a lot of successful players who have this kind of shooting at this size. An interesting fact is that while this has only happened 25 times through the last 20 seasons, 3 of the players on the list are doing so this year (Jett Howard, Gradey Dick, and Brandon Miller). And taking it a step even further, these are the only 3 that have met the thresholds during their freshman season. Obviously, the season isn’t over, so they might fall off this list come the end of the season, but still interesting nonetheless.
Moving onto the defense… this is where more questions come in, and will ultimately decide how high one should feel comfortable taking him. As long as you don’t think he’s always going to be a full liability on the defensive end, he could still warrant a high pick because the offense will most likely outweigh the defense, which is something I’ve gone deep into in my previous pieces. But, if you feel optimistic about his defensive ability, there might not be a ceiling on how high he should be picked. As a baseline, his DSI this season is currently 73, roughly the median of his PSA data within the database. (More about DSI and other metrics here).
One thing I will say before diving into the film is that I was more on the pessimistic side early in the season compared to where I am now, but the defense has started to look relatively better. Overall, there is still a decent amount that needs to be cleaned, and questions that he will hopefully answer throughout the rest of the season, but let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of his defense so far.
First, the intrigue that comes with Howard’s defense obviously comes from his size. Having the size to defend wings is something that is very clearly valued at the NBA level, and for good reason. Even without being a great defender, just having the size to match up with wings and contest shots is something that several teams can use. Now, while that statement is true, it’s a pretty low bar, especially when thinking about it from a team’s perspective that is trying to build a championship-level team. From that perspective, you need a lot more than ‘just having the size to defend wings’.
With the defensive clips, I decided to just split them into two videos (off-ball and on-ball). Each video will have both good and bad clips, and some clips will have both good and bad. Let’s start with the on-ball video.
There are quite a few things to touch on from the video. Howard’s best defensive plays and most consistent defensive attribute is his recovery, which is a good skill to have, but not ideal to have as your ‘best’ skill. It’s not the case all of the time, but sometimes he’s the reason he has to be put in recovery situations in the first place. That being said, his size and length have been able to be a factor on the defensive end at times. On the other hand, he sometimes gets bullied through drives, and improving his strength is something that would help.
There are flashes of his ability to flip his hips to change direction and move his feet decently well, but he can get beat because of bad discipline while biting on pump fakes, or taking bad angles sliding his feet. Occasionally, he’ll get beat because of his anticipation of a screen coming, and then the defender just rejects it to get into the paint.
In regards to his screen navigation, it’s been one of the more inconsistent parts of his defense, and something that is worth keeping an eye on throughout the rest of the season. On the plus side, this is where he’s also able to use his recovery mentioned above, and even if he isn’t able to fully avoid the screen by getting over it, he’s occasionally been able to stay attached enough to get back in front of his man.
As we move to his off-ball defense, something to mention that is a problem both on and off-ball have been his fouling. He’s gotten in foul trouble in several games this year, and it’s something that will need to be cleaned up. The bad discipline mentioned above and the occasional slow reactions that will be mentioned below are two causes for some of his foul trouble.
Now, let’s head into the off-ball defense video. In the last clip of the video with Howard defending on-ball, please focus on Kobe Bufkin, and look at how Bufkin defends that situation compared to how Howard defended that in the previous clip.
Overall, there’s a lot to work on with Howard’s off-ball defense. On the positive side, he has had several nice rotations to force kick outs or had a couple of blocks, but many show that he’s slow to react to what’s happening, can get backdoored too easily, and more. He is only 11 games through his freshman season and has shown slight improvement already, so this isn’t the end of the world, but it has been a worrisome start. One thing he does well is communicating on the defensive end.
For the most part, Howard doesn’t make too many plays happen on defense. He has a low steal rate of 1%, and that matches the eye test. As seen in the 2nd to last clip in the video above, Howard tends to focus on his man off the ball rather than help dig on drives and force the offense to pick up their dribble. Initially, I considered that whenever Howard wasn’t digging on drives or tagging the roll man, it was because he was defending a shooter, but then you see him do it other times in the same game, and teammates do it as well. This is why I included the Bufkin clip where Jett Howard doesn’t even think about helping off of Armaan Franklin on a Reece Beekman drive, but Bufkin does on a Beekman drive and forces a pass.
This off-ball defensive section might seem a little bit on the harsher side, and I actually might be a little lower on the early start to the season than I initially was, but I do want to re-emphasize that there have been slight improvements, and the recent UNC game had some promising flashes with fewer breakdowns. Just something to keep a close eye on as the season progresses.
Looking at team fit, Howard’s skillset on offense makes it pretty easy to plug him into lineups. From a developmental perspective, there are a number of ways a team could go about using him. While it is more likely than not that Howard will find success in an off-ball wing role rather than an on-ball role, the flashes he has shown cannot be ignored. That being said, that is something that will most likely have to come with time, if it does end up happening. Howard is currently more polished as an off-ball wing, and it’s probably best to use him that way as a rookie. Run him off pindowns and other types of screens, and let him spot up on the perimeter as well. As he gets more comfortable and gains confidence, you can slowly start to give him some DHOs, and from there, he can work his way to getting pick-and-roll reps.
Because Howard’s shot is currently not at the same level that Cam Johnson or Corey Kispert was at as prospects, it might seem like he has less room for error on the defensive end. Howard might not have the same floor because of the difference in shooting ability, but the upside with his on-ball flashes might be even more intriguing. That’s why even with the defensive questions, there is a lot to like with his combination of size, shot versatility, and on-ball potential.
Like I said early in the introduction, we’re ⅓ through the season. While that has given us a good amount of film to go off of, things can still change. The defense remains something to monitor, but if the shot continues to be close to this level, he has a real chance to be a First Round pick in June.