Comparing a Young Richard Howell to Lennard Freeman

Liz Condo-USA TODAY Sports

The future looks bright for the Nard Dog.

N.C. State freshman Lennard Freeman, who will celebrate his 18th birthday tomorrow, has drawn early comparisons to the recently departed Richard Howell, which is high praise indeed for Freeman, the least acclaimed out of high school among the Pack's four-man freshman class. It would probably be unfair to place the burden of being the next Howell on Freeman's broad shoulders (he's 6-foot-8 and a chiseled 245 pounds), as Howell finished his Pack career having amassed over 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. He's just the fifth player in program history to do so, and the first since Tom Burleson in the mid-1970s. However, comparing Freeman to the freshman version of the bearded big Rich shows that "Nard Dog" is arguably better right now than one of N.C. State's all-time greats was at the same point in his career. The future looks very bright for the freshman that pundits considered to be a long-term project but just logged a team-high 37 minutes (and snared 13 rebounds) in the Pack's win over The Beach.

Check out the chart comparing Nard so far with CDB's freshman campaign.*

Ppg

Rpg

FG%

FT%

TS%

eFG%

Mpg

WS/40

Ortg

CDB

4.9

4.6

46.0

57.4

49.1

46.8

13.6

.116

95.8

Nard

4.9

6.0

68.2

22.2

55.6

68.2

25.1

.133

116.3

ORB%

DRB%

TRB%

Ast%

Stl%

Blk%

Tov%

Usa%

Drtg

CDB

11.9

26.1

19.1

10.3

1.9

1.4

18.5

23.3

92.3

Nard

10.0

17.8

13.9

7.0

1.7

3.3

14.1

10.3

97.3

The two major differences are Howell's off the charts defensive rebounding and his Adam Harrington-like usage. Dude came off the bench firing as a freshman, including jacking 11 threes, of which he made only two. Howell would continue to rebound like a beast, posting a career 19.5 TRB%, and he eventually became a very efficient offensive player as he understood (or accepted, due to the threat of being forced to shave or something) what a good shot was. Freeman already "gets it" in terms of what, for him, is a good shot; he has taken one wide open 15 footer and shot nothing else from outside of the low blocks, thus his high field-goal percentage, efficiency, but low usage. Because Freeman understands his role and values the ball, he is not only more efficient than the Howell of freshman vintage, he is also a bit more valuable. Freshman Freeman would be worth about .6 more win shares per 40 minutes over a 35-game season.

Largely due to getting a lot more minutes, Freeman is on pace for about three win shares as a freshman, which is more than double Howell's total (1.2) from his first campaign. By his senior season, Howell posted a team-high 5.4 win shares. (Side note: C.J. Leslie only had 3.5 WS last year. There really is something to be said for not turning the ball over and saying no to forcing bad shots.) Can Freeman develop enough offensive game to be a five-win player as a senior (or sooner), and can he maintain his efficiency if and when his offensive workload increases? He will certainly have to improve on his woeful free throw shooting and develop some post moves to go with his opportunistic scoring on putbacks and layups set up by teammates' penetration, but as a kid who isn't quite old enough to vote yet, it seems like a safe bet that he has not yet fully tapped into his potential.

As is, Freeman has already developed into the proverbial "glue guy," a role player who does the dirty work of defending, rebounding, and setting screens without demanding the ball. If that's all he ever is, Mark Gottfried found a valuable diamond in the rough. But if he keeps improving--keep in mind that Howell went from .116 WS/40 as a freshman to .176 WS/40 as a sophomore, and players typically show the most improvement from their freshman to sophomore seasons--the Pack may have more than a lunch pail guy in Freeman, they may have a future all-conference selection (as Howell was a year ago).

One advantage Freeman has in terms of his development is his ability to stay on the floor. Over his first three seasons, Howell averaged about five fouls per 40 minutes. Freeman, despite the tighter whistles mandated by the NCAA (drink), is only averaging 3.2 fouls per 40 minutes. He is much quicker on the perimeter than Howell, who struggled early in his career with weight problems, which allows Nard to help on ball screens without fouling and to get a hand in the face of "stretch fours" at the three-point line without having to worry about getting beat off the dribble. Freeman shouldn't waste developmental time saddled by foul trouble.

Nard Dog is both a pleasant surprise and an instant fan favorite already in his young career. I'm looking forward to seeing what he becomes.

*glossary

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