Nuggets news: Gary Harris is the NBA’s most underrated young gun
Whether they were drafted in the lottery or raised up from the depths of the G-League, most rookies make less impact over the course of an entire season in comparison to their previous dominance in the collegiate ranks.
For Gary Harris, going from March Madness star at Michigan State under Tom Izzo to underperforming rookie on a bad Denver Nuggets team was not an easy transition, and his true potential had become an afterthought.
Those who doubted Harris’ ability to be a solid player in the NBA pointed to his size and average athleticism. Harris stands at just 6-foot-2 without shoes to go along with a short wingspan of 6-foot-6. Combined with a horrendous rookie year in which he shot 30 percent from the field, it didn’t seem premature to label Harris a bust. But there were other factors to consider.
For whatever reason, then-Nuggets coach Brian Shaw was unwilling to let Harris prove himself, only slotting him for 13 minutes per game. No matter how much he struggles, a mediocre team has no excuse in playing their lottery pick so few minutes.
When Gary Harris was a sophomore, he earned the Nuggets’ starting spot at shooting guard and didn’t look back. He went from averaging 3.4 points per game on 39.5 percent true shooting to averaging 12.3 points nightly with a 56.6 true shooting percentage. And with Shaw being replaced as head coach by Mike Malone, Harris’ rise became even more noticeable.
Last season, Harris’ third in the NBA, after missing a few weeks due to injury, he made the leap from being an increasingly promising young player to establishing himself as a solid two way player with elite offensive efficiency.
Harris averaged 14.9 points per game on 61.1 percent true shooting, the latter of which was good for 19th in the NBA and seventh among guards. He also shot 42 percent from three — eight in the NBA — on 4.5 attempts per game.
“Gary Harris had a phenomenal offseason. He was in our gym almost every day… He worked on his body. He worked on his shooting. He worked on his handles. I think that all of that hard work pays off and you see his confidence at a very high level right now.” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said in an interview with BSN Denver’s TJ McBride.
“I think with Gary, it’s like the old adage, he has put the work in. He has put the time in… Every shot he makes in the game he has had a thousand reps in practice. He’s committed to his craft, he loves it, and he is playing at a high level for us; most importantly on both ends of the floor.” Malone also said.
Now surrounded by Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic, and Jamal Murray, Harris and the Nuggets are ready to light up the box score. For the entirety of last season, Denver was ranked fifth in offensive efficiency, behind only the golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers, and L.A. Clippers. But after Malone inserted Jokic into the starting lineup in December, they were ranked first. The fact that things started to click for Denver around the same time that Harris came back from injury is no coincidence.
Conversely, Denver’s team defense was atrocious — they were ranked 29th in the NBA. As he was by far the best defensive player on the Nuggets last season, Harris was tasked with guarding the opposing team’s best offensive wings every night — and he was still somehow able to drop buckets with incredible consistency. With the addition of Paul Millsap and the ascension of Jamal Murray, look for Harris to maintain his offensive efficiency while improving even more on the defensive end.
Gary Harris may never be a top option on a playoff team, especially when he’s playing with the likes of Jokic, but he works hard and has a well-rounded, fundamentally-sound game that means he certainly has the potential to be an elite complementary player, similar to J.J. Redick, Klay Thompson, Bradley Beal, or Wesley Matthews. In the 2017-18 season, he could even make a run at Most Improved Player.