As Pe’Shon Howard evolves as a point guard, morphing into the pass-first floor general who currently tops the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio and ranks second in assists per game, the junior recently earned an early-season nod, tabbed as one of 66 nominees for the Bob Cousy Award, which honors the nation’s top college point guard.
Howard’s metrics have created an enigmatic mix this season. Though he tops the conference with a 3.2 assist-to-turnover ratio (67 assists against just 21 turnovers) and leads the Maryland basketball team with a 36.9 assist percentage — meaning Howard assists on over one third of field goals made whenever he’s on the floor – Howard still has a team-worst 35 percent turnover percentage, an estimate of turnovers per 100 plays, and has the lowest player efficiency rating among Coach Mark Turgeon’s 10-man rotation except Jake Layman.
But Howard has been undeniably efficient in his current role despite criticism and calls for Seth Allen to take his starting spot. With Alex Len, Dez Wells and Nick Faust working as Maryland’s clearest scoring options, Howard mainly serves as the organizer. He sets up the motion offense, occasionally works the pick-and-roll up high, distributes to the playmakers and spots up on the wing if dribble-penetration is met with a defensive collapse.
The Bob Cousy nod, however, is a small testament to Howard’s improvements since his injury-plagued sophomore season. The nominees will be whittled down to finalist lists of 20, 10 and five before the selection committee decides the winner prior to the Final Four. Howard joins Lorenzo Brown (North Carolina State), Quinn Cook (Duke), Erick Green (Virginia Tech), Shane Larkin (Miami), Dexter Strickland (North Carolina) as the ACC’s nominees.
Still, as Howard continues throwing no-look alley-oops to Len in traffic and displaying the Aaron Rodgers championship belt in celebration, he’s shooting just 33.3 percent from three-point range and has a team-low effective field goal percentage of .355.
To earn respect from opposing defenses on the perimeter, Howard will need to shoot like he did versus South Carolina State and Stony Brook (4 for 7 from three-point) than he’s done in Maryland’s remaining nine games (4 for 24).
Turgeon was happy with Howard’s shot selection, but acknowledged that his offensive production must remain consistent moving into ACC play.
“He had good looks,” Turgeon said after Maryland’s 76-69 win over Stony Brook, its 10th straight. “We’ve really been on Pe’Shon shooting the ball. We need him to make open shots. In the first half, up until the three-minute mark, we looked like a well-oiled machine, which is good to see. He was just trying to get us into our stuff more.”
Sitting on the bench during the Stony Brook game, Charles Mitchell began joking with Howard. Mash Howard and Allen together, Mitchell said, and you’d get one person, combining Allen’s aggressiveness with Howard’s cerebral nature. Howard has another phrase to describe the tandem with Allen, who’s averaging 6.4 points and 3.5 assists per game this season.
“I like to say we’re a two-headed monster,” Howard said. “It’s a different balance we have. If I start the game off, I can get a lot of people involved and I can start to make shots. When he comes in, he can push the tempo, but he’s also really good at finding people. It’s just good to have the variety. I think every position on our team. Nick and Dez on the wing, Jake and Logan [Aronhalt]. We’re so deep that it adds a lot of variations to our team.”