Meet the Orlando Magic Rookie: Jett Howard is a big upside play

Jan 19, 2023; College Park, Maryland, USA; Michigan Wolverines guard Jett Howard (13) looks to pass during the first half against the Maryland Terrapins at Xfinity Center. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 19, 2023; College Park, Maryland, USA; Michigan Wolverines guard Jett Howard (13) looks to pass during the first half against the Maryland Terrapins at Xfinity Center. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /

Everyone seemed to have the Orlando Magic’s second pick in the 2023 NBA Draft pegged.

The Magic’s biggest need was obvious — they needed a shooter. And after taking the big swing on a potential star or starter with their first pick to add to the growing young core, they seemed destined to target this most obvious need for their second pick.

It was the biggest need the Magic had on their list if they wanted to be a bit more serious about competing.

Most fans targeted Kansas forward Gradey Dick, tabbing him as the best shooter in the draft. Others looked at UConn guard Jordan Hawkins for his championship experience. Few were thinking about the other shooter in this draft. The one many Magic fans were at least thinking about in December and January before the college season really got going.

It was then a complete shock when the Magic selected Michigan guard Jett Howard with the 11th overall pick. The draft reporters were dumbstruck with the selection, saying they had Howard rated much lower.

The Orlando Magic shocked everyone around the league with their selection of Jett Howard. Howard gives them a shooter. But what else can he provide as the Magic add him to the fold?

Still, everyone understood why the Magic were attracted to Howard. At 6-foot-8 he had the size the team typically likes from its players and he showed more on-ball offensive ability in addition to his shooting.

The questions still remain about his playmaking and his defense, both questions the Magic seemed confident on draft night that Howard would answer.

His first Summer League game showed some of this potential even though he struggled with efficiency in scoring eight points on 3-for-13 shooting. He had four assists and played energetic and engaged defense.

Some of those concerns were put at least partially to rest.

The Howard pick was indeed surprising for everyone after an up-and-down season at Michigan — he averaged 14.2 points per game and shot 36.8 percent on 7.3 3-point attempts per game.

So what should the Magic expect from Howard? They are already getting to know him.

But we wanted to reach out to someone who covered him throughout his lone season in Ann Arbor. We chatted with Maize N Brew’s Kellen Voss about Howard and how he climbed to No. 11 and what to expect from Howard as he starts his career.

Philip Rossman-Reich, Orlando Magic Daily (@philiprr_omd): Were you surprised Jett Howard went as high as he did in the Draft and is his shooting good enough to warrant that pick? What do we not see that might also make him worthy of the 11th pick?

Kellen Voss, Maize N Brew (@Kellen__Voss):  Myself and the rest of the crew at Maize N Brew were pretty surprised he went that high, and that he went before [Kobe] Bufkin.

Ultimately, I view lottery picks outside the top 5 as upside plays. And given [Jett] Howard’s offensive repertoire, picking him that high makes sense. He heats up in a hurry, and his playmaking ability got a lot better as the year went along.

Everyone knows he can shoot, but he really got better as a facilitator off of drives when the shot was not there for him. If he can continue to improve as a playmaker and grow into a top-three or -four shot-creator on the team, that makes him worthy of the high pick.

Philip: Both Jeff Weltman and Jett Howard have talked about how much injuries slowed him down last year. How much did injuries affect his play?

Kellen: He missed a few games in February after rolling his ankle. He missed two big wins against Rutgers and Wisconsin that at the time kept Michigan’s NCAA Tournament hopes alive. He appeared to re-aggravate it late in the season and did not play in Michigan’s two NIT games because of it.

At that point in the year, with Michigan not making the NCAA Tournament, it was unclear whether or not Michigan held him out because of the severity of his injury, fear of ruining his draft stock, or a mixture of both.

I would not call him injury-prone, but Michigan was extra cautious about his ankle injury, despite needing to win games to stay on the NCAA tournament bubble at that point.

Philip: What is the biggest area where Jett Howard needs to improve entering next year?

Kellen: Jett Howard flat-out stunk as a rebounder and as a defender.

Even though he is listed at 6-foot-8, he never grabbed more than seven rebounds in a game and typically did not exert a lot of energy when shots went up. He did not box out a whole lot, and gave up some offensive boards because of it, including a key one in the Big Ten Tournament loss against Rutgers that helped spark a run for the Scarlet Knights that ultimately won them the game.

He was a decent team defender and was in the right spots on help side, but quicker guys blew past him and he had trouble staying in front of anyone. That lack of foot speed did not help him on offense. He never blew past guys on drives, utilizing his pump fake or a jab to get into a lane.

He has the tools to be a good rebounder and defender, but Michigan fans grew frustrated with him because he did not contribute much in those areas. When you combine that lack of effort with inconsistent shooting at times, Michigan fans got pretty aggravated with him as the year went along.

Philip: What is the biggest misperception about Howard’s game? Is he someone who could fit better in the NBA game rather than college?

Kellen: The biggest misconception about Jett Howard is that he is just a three-point shooter. He was definitely Michigan’s best shooter from deep last season. But, as I said above, that is far from the only part of his offensive game.

He did well in transition, his basketball I.Q. is sky-high and he got a lot better at finding the open man as the team went into conference play.

I think he will be better in the NBA due to better spacing, and playing with guys like Paolo Banchero and fellow Wolverine Franz Wagner, defenses will never be focused on him. With more space in the pros and some time to be a primary shot creator in Orlando’s second unit, I would not be surprised if he turns into a taller version of Norman Powell — a guy who can kickstart a struggling offense off the bench, be a primary scorer in second units and stay on the floor late in games if he’s shooting well.

Philip: What is the key to success in the NBA for Jett Howard?

Kellen: The key to success for Howard in the pros is continuing to develop as a shot-creator and as a defender.

He is going to be able to knock down threes, that feels like a given. He will stick around in the league if he can learn to make plays going downhill, finish at the rim and slow down larger forwards.

If he does all those things, his floor is a veteran 3-and-D guy who bounces around contending teams, and his ceiling is the 3rd or 4th leading scorer on a really efficient team.

dark. Next. Anthony Black gets comfortable in Orlando Magic debut

My thanks to Kellen for filling us in on Jett Howard and his time with Michigan. The Orlando Magic’s Summer League team is back in action Monday against the Indiana Pacers.