Denver Nuggets' Markus Howard focused on taking another step in Year 2

The Nuggets are hosting their third predraft workout and Markus Howard is on the other end of the Ball Arena practice court taking on coaches at the rim.

On one drill, it's a single man between him and the rim. Then the Nuggets will add two defenders to contain Howard. Finally, the team posts one big at the rim along with two perimeter defenders. On all three possessions, Howard scores with ease. Finishing and dribbling have been the areas of focus for the 22-year-old and he has added some muscle since last season. Howard knows he'll need to keep adding new aspects to his game if he wants to build on a promising rookie campaign.

"Going into my second year, I want to feel even more comfortable [heading] into training camp," Howard explained to Nuggets.com. "I'm just continuing to adjust to the way the NBA is played...There are different nuances that I pick up from different coaches every day."

Howard joined the Nuggets ahead of the 2020-21 season as a undrafted rookie out of Marquette. He gradually became a pleasant surprise for Michael Malone's team, helping fill in for the loss of Jamal Murray due to an ACL injury. Howard averaged 14.2 points per game, shooting an impressive 44.4 percent from downtown, in the final five games of the season. He then followed it up shooting 42.3 percent from three in 13.8 minutes per game in the postseason. Howard knew how critical it was to prove himself when he got a chance at consistent minutes.

"It was a crazy year, personally, and also for us as a team. We had a lot of injuries and a lot of guys had to step up," Howard said "I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity late in the season. I think my preparation up to that point helped me become prepared so when the time came, I was ready to go."

"There were a lot of highs and lows, but I was happy with how it ended, in terms of just personally, but I know this is just the beginning for me as well as our team."

It was a challenging year for most rookies in the NBA last season. Draft workouts were dramatically shortened due to COVID-19, with prospects often sending cell phone videos and doing predraft interviews via Zoom. Summer League, a vital opportunity for first and second-year players to get acclimated to the NBA, was canceled.

Nuggets assistant coach Charles Klask believes Howard and 2020 first-round selection Zeke Nnaji were impacted by those factors.

"I think for both of them if they were able to get into a lot of [NBA] gyms and [NBA] GMs could see those guys, they would've gone a lot higher in the draft," Klask said. "Markus would've been a late first round pick, at least."

Klask has been working pretty extensively with Howard in the offseason. The coach explained during the regular season, 75 percent of Howard's preparation was aimed towards shooting, with 25 percent being focused on finishing. In the offseason, that flipped and Klask has been helping the guard work on ways to attack the rim and also find ways to help channel his speed more effectively.

"Markus, in college, he was so fast, that was like his go-to," Klask explained. "He did everything at 100 miles an hour and it worked. At this level, there are some really good athletes where you've got to be more deceptive and change pace. He's been good with it [in the offseason]."

Howard believes those changes will help elevate his game.

"Change of speed is very important, so that's been a big emphasis for me," Howard said.

Off the court, there have also been a few big developments for Howard as well. Once the season wrapped up, the former Golden Eagles star proposed to his longtime girlfriend.

"Definitely a blessing. I'm fortunate to have a lot of great people in my corner. She's definitely one of, if not the best person in my corner," Howard said. "For me to able to take a step back from basketball and focus on real-life things was awesome."

With Howard expected to be a part of the Nuggets' Summer League roster, he will be back in action in just under two weeks. He can't wait to show the strides he's made.

"I'm fortunate and grateful to be here, but I know I belong," Howard said. "For me, the next workout, next practice, next game, whatever it might be, I'm going to approach it with a full head of steam and give the best I got."