NBA Draft Profile: Michigan State's Gary Harris

NBA Draft Profile: Michigan State's Gary Harris
June 8, 2014, 10:45 am
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Gary Harris, 6-foot-3 shooting guard, Michigan State


2013-14 stats: 16.7 PPG, 2.7 ASP, 4.0 RPG, .810 FT%

Regarded as one of the best two-way players in the draft, Harris possesses both good scoring ability and defensive toughness, making him one of the more pro-ready prospects available. There are some concerns, however, about Harris’ injury history, lack of size for his position and disappointing shooting numbers as a sophomore year. Still, his mature game and perceived potential are too much to ignore and if the Indianapolis-area native continues to develop, it’s not hard to envision him being a solid contributor from the outset of his professional career.

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Career highlights: Also a standout prep wide receiver in football, Harris was a perfect fit for Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo’s physical brand of basketball and made an impact from the start of his freshman year, averaging 12.9 points and 1.3 steals per game, while shooting 45.6 percent from the field and 41.1 percent from three-point range, en route to being named the Big Ten’s freshman of the year and second team all-conference. Harris was projected to be a lottery pick, but opted to return to school, partially due to a shoulder injury he suffered during the season. As a sophomore, Harris became even more of an offensive focal point for the Spartans, averaging 16.7 points, four rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.8 steals per game, with performances like his 27-point effort against rival Michigan and 26 points to beat home state Indiana and 22 points against eventual national champion Connecticut in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament propelling him to first team all-Big Ten and league all-defensive team honors.

Strengths: Harris’ toughness, high activity level, versatility and understanding of the game are all qualities he demonstrates, as the guard doesn’t shy away from difficult defensive assignments, embraces contact as a fearless slasher, makes things happen without the ball in his hands, can defend either backcourt position and simply has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He has good speed, if not mind-blowing quickness or a flashy handle, and can get to the rim on straight-line drives or function as a secondary ballhandler, as well as being able to knock down jumpers coming screens, off the dribble or spotting up. An unselfish player, it’s possible he can make the transition to being a combo guard on the next level and despite his average size, his sturdy frame and solid athleticism should allow him to be effective at shooting guard.

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Weaknesses: His dip in shooting percentage as a sophomore is a bit worrisome, as it could mean that in a featured scoring role, Harris struggled with increased defensive attention and isn’t quite a knockdown shooter. If that’s the case, then there’s more pressure on him to be able to play at least some point guard and as more of a natural wing, he didn’t display that ability in college. While Harris is a good overall athlete, he won’t rank among the more explosive players at his position, which could result in issues on both ends of the floor, whether finishing at the rim or not being taken advantage of defensively by the bigger shooting guards in the league.

Draft projection: Depending on how he fares in the pre-draft workout process, Harris could be selected anywhere from the late lottery to the late teens, with the needs of the teams in that range also factoring into consideration. Shooting is such a major commodity in the NBA that if he shows that his sophomore struggles were just a blip on the radar, coupled with his defensive qualities, Harris could play major minutes as a rookie in the league and perhaps even be a starter. Paired with a big, athletic playmaker (think Washington’s backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal), Harris could be in a position to succeed for a long time and with an increasing number of teams using dual-point guard lineups — or perhaps even convincing the right team that he could function as a lower-usage point guard alongside a scoring wing — as long as he can stay healthy, there are a variety of options for him to make a long-term impact in the league.