Welcome to our offseason series “Immediate Impacts.” Most rookies don’t provide positive value to their teams right out of the gate. But as we saw last season with guys like Jalen Williams, Walker Kessler and Keegan Murray, some rookies can help their teams from Day 1. We’re breaking down ways that members of this incoming class can have that very impact.
After finishing 29-28 over their last 57 games and returning most of the same young core, many believe the Orlando Magic are primed for a breakout campaign.
That excitement only further increased after their two cornerstones, Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner, impressed during the FIBA Basketball World Cup.
But even with the in-house improvement that is sure to come from their returning cast, last year’s Magic team had some flaws they will need to address if they are going to return to the playoffs for the first time since The Bubble in 2020. And lucky for them, rookie Jett Howard might be able to provide the immediate impact they need to do it.
Before this series, I seldom scouted college basketball. That is, until one day when I had a conversation that made me realize just how important that added context is to understanding NBA players.
This epiphany occurred to me while I was having a conversation with a scout at the 2023 NBA Draft Combine. I asked him who he thought the best passer of the previous class was. After having scouted most of the 2022 rookies, I figured his answer would be Andrew Nembhard, Dyson Daniels, or maybe Jaden Ivey.
My jaw almost dropped when he said it was actually Banchero. So how is it that, despite breaking down Banchero’s game, I missed that detail? One word: spacing.
Last season’s Magic often fielded a bevy of subpar shooters (Banchero being one of them). They ranked 25th in makes (10.8), 27th in attempts (31.1), and 24th in 3-point percentage (34.6%). As a result, they lacked the requisite spacing necessary for Banchero to showcase his marvelous passing powers.
That is where Howard comes into play. In his lone season at Michigan, Howard shot 36.8% on 7.3 3-point attempts and 80.0% from the free-throw line (remember, free-throw shooting is a good context-independent measure of a player’s shooting proficiency). On paper, Howard appears to be someone who can help remedy the Magic’s spacing woes.
But merely citing percentages understates his pedigree as a marksman. Like fellow Immediate Impact-ee Jordan Hawkins, Howard is very versatile in the types of 3s he can take. He’s obviously got the catch-and-shoot triple down to a science. But he can also hit 3s while coming off of screens, in transition, or off-the-dribble.
Please be sure to examine the montage of shooting clips above thoroughly. Is there something that jumps out at you? Since we can’t really engage in a collaborative manner in an article forum, I’ll just share the intended takeaway. All of those shots were pretty heavily contested.
And those hits aren’t just a case of dumb luck. Watch almost any Michigan game from last season that included Howard, and you’ll likely see him bury a contested jumper or two. The reason is that, unlike Hawkins (who is listed at 6-foot-5), Howard’s heightened vantage point (6-8) gives him access to a higher release angle – thereby making it more difficult to adequately bother his shot.
His ability to create separation vertically means that he doesn’t need as much horizontal space to get up a shot, which means he should (theoretically) be able to handle an even higher 3-point volume than Hawkins.
Another thing you may have noticed from those clips is that one of those shots he hit (the pull-up) wasn’t assisted. It was self-generated. It’s still a work in progress, but more than the other players in his archetype we’ve analyzed (Hawkins and Gradey Dick), Howard can do some damage off the dribble.
A prime glimpse of his potential upside in this area can be found in the Iowa game we’ve already included clips from. In the play below, he receives a ball screen in the middle of the floor, snakes the dribble to get by the defense (a Chris Paul special), orchestrates a well-timed pickup when he sees help, and finishes smoothly with his right hand.
The area where Howard’s on-ball offense will be most useful to Banchero is his passing. Because of his merit as a shooter, Howard had a great deal of gravity on the ball. This led college teams to regularly send two defenders in his direction any time he’d be involved in some sort of screening action.
He’s still got a ways to go as a passer (for instance, his vision is skewed heavily to his right side), but thanks to his on-ball gravity, he was able to create many great looks for his teammates like the one above. According to AutoStats tracking data, 21.3% of his passes resulted in assist opportunities (89th percentile), and 7.8% resulted in assists (87th percentile).
Now, just imagine that same play but with an unstoppable locomotive like Banchero catching that pass and finishing.
This is also another way that Howard can help Banchero unlock his passing. If Howard’s shooting translates to the point where teams are sending two defenders at him in pick-and-roll, he can flip the ball to Banchero (who would be the screener in this hypothetical) and let him pick a part of the defense in the short roll.
This is akin to the dynamic that persists between Stephen Curry and Draymond Green (albeit far less prolific).
On defense, Howard will fit right into the Magic’s tall ball movement. He didn’t participate in the combine, so we don’t have an official measurement of his wingspan. But judging from the fact that I’ve watched him block opponent’s jumpers on multiple occasions, I reckon he’s a pretty long dude.
(Sidebar: Howard was fourth in the Big Ten among guards with 0.66 blocks per game.)
At least early on, his length and effort should allow him to blend in with all of his elongated Magic teammates on defense. That may read like an insult, but blending in is all Howard needs to do on that end if his shooting (and, by extension, his shooting gravity) is able to unlock passing and scoring opportunities for Banchero (and others).
If that’s the case, then Howard will have no problem making his presence felt immediately.
If you enjoyed this, be sure to check out the other installments of “Immediate Impacts” on Jordan Hawkins, Brandin Podziemski, Dereck Lively II, Brandon Miller, Jaime Jaquez Jr., Gradey Dick, Jarace Walker, and Cason Wallace.