One of the disappointments of the 2016-2017 season for the Syracuse basketball team was the point guard position. After his insertion into the starting lineup, John Gillon gave Orange fans exhilarating highs by piling up nine threes and 43 points in an overtime win at N.C. State and a banked buzzer-beating triple to knock off Duke at the Carrier Dome.
The other side of Gillon’s heroics was that they were made possible when Frank Howard lost the starting point guard spot after the ACC opener, ceding the overwhelming majority of minutes in the change. Howard showed confidence issues as he spun through the revolving door of Jim Boeheim’s approval, bottoming out as he was entrusted with barely a minute before halftime against Miami after a Gillon turnover and less than that before getting benched after his own turnover against North Carolina.
It was not a completely lost season for Howard, as he showed signs when given extra leeway after the lowest of his lows. He played pretty well against Pitt and Louisville when Tyus Battle was limited by the flu. While Boeheim was almost forced to play him, Howard shot almost 50 percent from the field and made all six foul shots over the two games.
Howard also played fairly well when Gillon struggled in NIT, underlining that Howard could still provide good play when not paranoid about being yanked by Boeheim.
With Howard being the only experienced point guard on next season’s roster and Boeheim making a lot of positive comments about him following the NIT games and in the days after, it is apparent that Howard still figures into future plans at SU.
There is no denying that Howard played better when he was not worried about getting removed from the game. He showed it while piling up assists in early season action against lesser teams, as well as when Boeheim gave him freedom to play in the aforementioned games.
While still struggling overall, Howard also took steps forward in his shooting. While 35.3 percent from the floor, 31.6 percent on threes, and 62.3 percent from the line are all substandard figures for a guard, all three figures were improvements on his freshman season. (And for comparison’s sake, Trevor Cooney shot 35.9 percent from the field and 30.9 percent from three as a junior.)
And Howard is far from the only player in Syracuse history to have a choppy start and be buried up his neck on the bench. Heck, there are even some point guards who suited up for Boeheim and lived in his doghouse for years before showing what they could do.
Lazarus Sims played under 400 minutes his first two seasons at Syracuse, backing up Adrian Autry. Boeheim was so enamored with what he had seen from Sims in that time, he brought in Michael Lloyd as a junior college transfer to keep Sims off the floor.
When Lloyd was ruled academically ineligible for his senior season, Sims entered the lineup and played over 35 minutes a game, posting both the fifth-highest single-season assist total and assist average as he helped the Orange to the 1996 NCAA title game.
If Howard struggles, he can always ask new assistant coach Allen Griffin for advice. After all, Griffin started every game as a sophomore at shooting guard at SU after scarce opportunities as a freshman at the point. After barely getting ten minutes a game off the bench as a junior, Griffin took over the reins as a senior and posted almost 11 points and 6.5 assists per game, including logging a triple-double and setting school records in free throws made and attempted in a game.
It’s not just guards, either. Rakeem Christmas. Kueth Duany. Mike Hopkins. Luke Jackson. Demetris Nichols. James Southerland. And many more players took a season or two to become valuable contributors in Orange.
Not everyone is Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Coleman, or Billy Owens.
Let’s see what Frank Howard is. We may be surprised.
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