When Anthony Cowan Jr. declared for the 2019 NBA Draft back in April, he made it clear that there was a strong possibility he would return.
“As I enter my final year of eligibility, I feel it’s important to receive an evaluation of my game from professional teams to best prepare myself for life after college,” Cowan wrote in an Instagram post April 15.
Though he waited until the last day possible to do so, the point guard will indeed return to College Park for his senior season, meaning Maryland returns seven of its eight leading scorers from last year’s team.
Cowan’s return should further solidify early preseason rankings with the Terps in the top 10, and his senior leadership will be key in coach Mark Turgeon’s system, which is known for heavily relying on the point guard position. Maryland’s starting point guard has taken more shots than anyone else on the team in every season since 2014, regardless of other NBA talent on the roster.
As a junior, Cowan led the team with 15.6 points and 4.4 assists per game, and it’s likely that he'll continue to be Maryland’s most important player. But he’ll also need to involve more parts of the offense and often take fewer shots for himself if the Terps are to live up to their preseason hype. Last season, Cowan took 133 more field-goal attempts than anyone on the team, but had the worst field-goal percentage (.393) of the usual starting five. He also took 78 more three-pointers than anyone, while shooting at a lower percentage (.337) than both Aaron Wiggins (.413) and Eric Ayala (.406).
The offense can also run a lot more efficiently if Cowan can improve upon his ball handling as well. Last season, he averaged 2.76 turnovers per game, leading to a 1.6 assist-to-turnover ratio, which will need to be higher in 2019-20. The conference’s best teams — Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue — all had a starting guard with a ratio of at least 2.6 last season.
The 2019-20 Terps have a lot more depth than in recent years, so there won’t be as much pressure on Cowan to play such a large role in the offense. If he can be an effective facilitator, there will be plenty of weapons to take advantage. Wiggins and Ayala emerged as impressive three-point shooters last season, while Darryl Morsell and Serrel Smith Jr. brought scoring versatility to the backcourt.
The Terps also have a lot of upside in the frontcourt, returning power forward Jalen Smith and bringing in potential starters at the center position in Chol Marial (if healthy) and Makhi Mitchell. Smith had an up-and-down freshman season but showed his star prowess as he got more comfortable in the postseason, averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds in the NCAA Tournament. He’ll draw as much attention as anyone on Maryland’s roster next season, but the offense will still start in Cowan’s hands.
If Cowan can use the NBA feedback as fuel and become more of a facilitator on the offensive end to all the talent at his disposal, the 2019-20 Terps could be dangerous. And if the team does make it further in the postseason with the depth it now has, it will certainly help Cowan’s stock for a professional career.