Frank Howard, when it comes to scoring the basketball, has been a pleasant surprise for Syracuse basketball this season. He never had a chance to spread his wings (and wing shooting) before the 2017-18 season, but in his junior year has developed into the No. 2 option as the Orange’s most experienced player. He is shooting a career-best 45 percent from the field, and has developed decent reliability from outside with his 37 percent clip behind the arc. He is undoubtedly Syracuse’s point guard for the season, a role he was in the process of losing at this point a year ago. Howard has made the most unexpected improvement of any returning Syracuse player, but he is also the player with the most improving still left to do if Syracuse wants to hold its own in the ACC.
When Howard lost his starting point guard spot to the combination of John Gillon and Andrew White last season, the reason was clear: turnovers. Howard just couldn’t find a way to keep the ball in his hands. He only played 16 minutes per game, and spent that time committing almost two turnovers per game while contributing only 3.6 assists in each contest. If he wasn’t going to distribute the ball, there was no reason for Jim Boeheim to keep him on the floor over a better scorer. Another year of experience hasn’t fixed those problems.
Now getting more than 37 minutes per contest, Howard’s turnover numbers have inflated accordingly. He does deal out almost six assists per game now, but it goes with 4.2 turnovers. You would think this would be enough for Coach Boeheim – who rewards turnovers with bench cushions – to find another solution at point guard. He hates a point guard who can’t hold onto the ball almost as much as one who can’t find his spot in the 2-3 zone (see: Kaleb Joseph). But this year, Boeheim doesn’t have another option. Howard Washington is deep in the Boeheim dog house, and even if a player such as Tyus Battle could take better care of the ball, his scoring is needed on the wing with a team as starved for shooting as the Orange. Howard is the only man for the job, and the job is only getting harder.
Howard has very limited ACC experience, but the limited numbers show that he tends to turn the ball over more against the tougher competition. He has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.3 in ACC play, and it’s only gotten worse in his starting role this season. Through the first three ACC games, Howard has turned the ball over 15 times. He only has 13 assists in that time. He has never had more assists than turnovers in an ACC game he started in his career. SU’s game against Notre Dame further emphasized that the Orange needs as many possessions on offense as it can get, and Howard hasn’t provided.
Point guard is the hardest position to play at Syracuse. Kaleb Joseph couldn’t do it, and the Orange has needed the NBA talents of Michael Carter-Williams and Tyler Ennis to thrive in recent years. Frank Howard signed up for this, though. The team’s offensive struggles will be put on him, and there’s a good chance he’ll never be rewarded with the chance to lead this team. It’s a responsibility Kaleb Joseph and Geno Thorpe couldn’t handle, and one Howard Washington is struggling. But after two years of struggle, Frank Howard didn’t run away from the challenge as others have. He took it head on. Now, with the strength of the ACC waiting, we’ll see if he can live up to the billing.
Posted: Nathan Dickinson