Before people go and ask me how I could be writing this article after the performance that Frank Howard put together against Duke on Saturday, I’d just like to point out a couple of things. Firstly, Howard was second on the team in scoring against the Blue Devils and dished out a team-high seven assists. For my money, that’s probably the best performance for any SU player against Duke. Secondly, Howard’s numbers were nearly identical to Tyus Battle’s. He only scored one less point and missed two more shots, not to mention he had five more assists than his backcourt counterpart.
I mention all this because nobody is questioning how good Tyus Battle is after a performance like that, but there always seems to be someone complaining about Frank Howard’s performances, no matter how well he plays. Howard scored 23 points in Wednesday night’s loss to North Carolina and people were still complaining that he wasn’t playing well enough and that he was the reason SU wasn’t getting over the hump.
It’s baffling to think that this could happen, especially considering the fact that games like that are nothing out of the ordinary for the junior. He’s second on the team in scoring at a tick over 15 points per game and he’s scored 18+ in 12 of SU’s 29 games this season. He is one of the most consistent scoring options on the team night in and night out and has stepped up on multiple occasions when Tyus Battle has had off nights, keeping Syracuse competitive in those games at the very least.
On top of that ability to score that so many people seem to forget, Howard is also Syracuse’s best three-point shooter. His 34.4% shooting ranks first on the team, just ahead of Oshae Brissett, but Brissett has shot nearly 40 times less than Howard. If you need a triple coming down the stretch, Howard is probably your best bet and it seems like a lot of people seem to forget how much he has improved and automatically think Tyus Battle should be taking the shot. One of the biggest knocks on Howard’s game coming into the season was that he couldn’t shoot the three-ball to save his life. That just simply isn’t true anymore and proves that Howard has the capacity and ability to work on and improve his game from year-to-year, something more fans should be appreciative of.
Another one of the perceived weaknesses in Howard’s game coming into the season was that he couldn’t stop turning the ball over. As a sophomore last year, that was definitely an issue and at times this season, it still has been. However, over the last ten games or so, that problem has gotten a lot better. Sure he had a four-turnover game against NC State (two offensive fouls) and a five-TO game versus Georgia Tech (both games in which everybody played poorly for SU), but Howard has still turned the ball over less than his season average of three giveaways in nine of SU’s last eleven games.
A couple of things to keep in mind when you read those stats as well: Howard is the point guard and has the ball in his hands more often than just about anyone else on the team so his turnover rate will automatically be higher. He also had games earlier this season with seven (Georgetown) and nine (UCONN) turnovers respectively so, again, he has shown progress throughout the year. Finally, he’s only averaging one more turnover per game than Tyus Battle and, again, no one is busting Tyus about it, so why should they bust Frank?
And with all this talk about Howard’s offensive skill set and contributions, we haven’t talked about what is probably the best part of Howard’s game: his defense. At 6-foot-5, Howard has great size and length to fill one of the guard spots at the top of the 2-3 zone. He gets his hands into passing lanes and is able to contest shots that most other guards can’t. His 1.9 steals per game rank first on the team, first in the ACC and top-50 in the country.
So many times, people focus so much on the offensive end of the game because that’s what appears most notably and prominently in the post-game box score. But in the case of Howard, it’s important to remember that he is probably SU’s best perimeter defender and that people should look there on the stat sheet as well.
SU fans have to start realizing that Frank Howard is one of the best players on this Syracuse team and stop chastising him for every mistake he makes. The things he does well tend to outweigh what he does poorly. It’s time for Orange fans to stop recognizing Howard as the young point guard that was always in Jim Boeheim’s doghouse as a freshman and sophomore and start seeing him as not only one of the team’s veteran leaders but also as one of its best players.