Even though Valentine’s Day was last week, I need to profess my feelings for a certain someone. There’s usually someone on the Syracuse roster filling the “Orange of my eye” role. You can even go through this site’s archives to figure out whom the last one was (Michael Gbinije, for whom I campaigned for third-team All-ACC honors as a junior and first-team honors as a senior).
Many Syracuse fans do not feel the same way (I assure you, the internet exists, so the receipts are there), but I am a Frank Howard fan.
I will always own it and I will also freely admit his shortcomings. His ballhandling is far from airtight. He is prone to emotional outbursts. Sometimes, he gets duped into bad shots from the field that come with predictably terrible results. He turns the ball over far too frequently and picked a horribly inopportune time to miss a pair of free throws.
But, he is a vital part of this Orange team scrapping to get into the NCAA Tournament.
Tyus Battle rightfully gets the headlines because he scores just under 20 points per game on the season and Oshae Brissett rightfully gets love for posting ten double-doubles as a freshman. I do not want to take away from other players; I just want you to understand why I feel the way I do about Howard.
For a guy whose shot looked pretty broken his first two years on campus (he improved to 35.3 percent from the field, 31.6 percent from three, and 62.3 percent at the line as a sophomore), Howard has remained on an upward trajectory. His marks of 38.7 percent overall, 34.5 percent from long range, and 69.2 percent on free throws are still not ideal, but for fun, here’s a stat line for a previous junior starting point guard at Syracuse:
37.0 percent on field goals, 34.0 percent on three-pointers, 87.4 percent on free throws.
That last number may have given it away that the first two numbers suggest Gerry McNamara may not be quite as great a shooter as we remember. You can say the substantial difference in height makes it easier for Howard to get his shot off, but I’ll ask you which of Howard’s teammates creates open looks like consensus All-American Hakim Warrick did.
And, if you think I have an axe to grind against McNamara somewhere, he is probably my favorite Syracuse player in over 25 years of fandom. But, back to Frank Howard.
Howard stands 14th in the ACC in scoring on the season at 15.2 points per game. In case you think his scoring average got fat in non-conference play, he stands 16th in scoring in ACC games… at 15.2 points per game.
Howard ranks 24th in the conference in threes per game at 1.8 treys per contest on the season. In ACC games only, Howard has improved his standing, as he ranks 12th in threes per game with 2.1 per game. Howard is also shooting 36.6 percent from deep in ACC games after just 31.1 percent on non-conference action.
While his assists have slid in conference play from 6.2 per game to 4.2 per contest, his turnovers have also been reduced from 4.1 per contest to 3.1. Howard has actually protected the ball best recently, as evidenced by breaking down his assists and turnovers:
13 non-conference games – 80 assists, 53 turnovers (1.51-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio)
first five ACC games – 19 assists, 26 turnovers (0.73-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio)
next nine games – 40 assists, 18 turnovers (2.22-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio)
There is probably no coincidence that the Orange have rallied from a 1-4 start in conference play to get back to .500 in those last nine games, even with Bourama Sidibe and Matthew Moyer missing three games each and Howard Washington suffering a season-ending injury six games ago.
Howard still leads the conference in steals on the season and is sixth during conference play. His minutes have increased from 36.8 per game in non-conference to 39.4 in ACC action.
Regarding those minutes, with no scholarship guards on the bench behind him following Washington’s injury, Howard has not sat at all for six games, and you may have noticed the wrap around his left wrist and thumb in the most recent five.
While there has never been an official announcement, the safe bet is Howard sprained his left thumb in the Georgia Tech game or in practice before the home game against Virginia, as the wrap made its first public appearance that day against the Cavaliers.
That minor injury seems to have had an unexpected side effect on Howard’s game. In the last five outings, Howard’s free throw shooting has regressed. Since the wrap showed up, the junior guard has only made 15-of-27 free throws (55.6 percent). Howard had been 22-of-26 (84.6 percent) in ACC play prior to that.
While I doubt he would admit being injured or any adverse effects (Howard’s core surgery took place on May 11, became public in late June, and in the Syracuse.com article mentioning the procedure, Howard said he felt the injury in early January), having that wrap on his guide hand may have affected Howard’s stroke at the line.
I’ll admit it, though. Howard is still improving as a player, but he is already a pretty good one.