The upcoming NBA Draft will have almost certainly have the lottery portion dominated by freshman, but teams looking for a solid shooting guard who can do a little bit of everything might find Michigan State’s Gary Harris to be the answer. The 6’4″ sophomore announced he was entering this year’s draft last week. “I expect Gary to be a high pick in the draft, but more importantly, I know that he is well prepared for a long career,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said in a released statement.
During the announcement Harris said, “The last two years have been the best of my life, but it’s time to follow my dream and declare for the NBA Draft. My two seasons at Michigan State have been an amazing experience. I have a lifetime of memories, including some incredible games in some incredible places, NCAA tournaments, and cutting down the nets after a Big Ten Tournament Championship. But most important are the friendships I’ve developed with my teammates. These are bonds that will last forever, especially the guys in my class. I can’t imagine a better group of guys to be around.”
In 35 games this season, Harris averaged 16.7 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.7 APG, and 1.8 SPG in 32.3 minutes per night. His slash line was .429/.352/.810. In two seasons, Harris’ career numbers were 14.9 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.0 APG, and 1.6 SPG in 31.0 minutes per game. His career slash line was .440/.376/.788.
Harris is currently projected as a late lottery pick. NBA Draft.net projects him being taken eighth in their latest mock draft, CBSSports.com has him going 10th, Bleacher Report has him 11th, and Draft Express slots him 13th. Chad Ford of ESPN.com has Harris ranked as the 11th best prospect on his “Big Board.”
Harris is a well-rounded player who can do numerous things to help his team win on both ends of the court. He is one of the best offensive prospects in the draft, and a highly proficient scorer on the perimeter, despite the fact he didn’t shoot the ball nearly as well as he was a year ago. After shooting 43% from the three-point line as a freshman, his percentage dropped to 35% this year. Whether or not Harris can make the shots from deep more consistently in the NBA is a question that scouts are asking. One plus is that his high and quick release will not need much adjustment as he moves to playing against elite athletes in the NBA.
While most scouts thought of Harris as just a shooter after his freshman campaign, he worked hard in the weight room to develop his body and put on muscle. This bulk helps him to attack the rim and finish off the bounce and not be rattled by larger defenders in the paint. Harris is also able to create for himself with a quick two-dribble attack and is excellent at the catch-and-shoot game. He is also very solid coming off screens and is skilled at knowing the proper time to come off them for a jump shot, or drive to the rim.
Harris is a tenacious defensive player who has a good chance to translate his gifts to the professional level sooner than other 2014 first round prospects. His game is also more mature than his age as he will be only 19 on draft day. He ranked fourth in the Big Ten in steals, and eighth in defensive wins shares with 2.0. Harris is both disruptive and consistent enough on the defensive end that other teams have to account for him at all times.
One concern for Harris is his size. He is considered a small two guard at the next level, and could be taken advantage of by bigger, stronger, guards. He still has time to develop and fill out his frame, so he could increase his overall strength, but the height could be an issue if he’s a starter. Coming off the bench as a sixth man could offset his disadvantage and maximize his productivity.
Some scouts have opined that it’s “unrealistic” to think he’ll be a high-impact player right away, but he is a player without a glaring weakness. NBA executives like his size, strength, athleticism, scoring ability, defense and character. The biggest plus about Harris is that GMs already know what type of player he is, as well as what position he’ll play. He isn’t an elite athlete like a few of the top prospects in this year’s class, but he is a solid, steady player who will contribute in every facet of the game.
His upside and game have been compared to O.J. Mayo and J.R. Smith, but with a more solid character, and he’s regarded as much more coachable. Harris isn’t a player who will blow teams away during pre-draft workouts, but on film the nuances of his game will shine. He is almost certain to be taken in the lottery, and I believe he will become a solid pro, but not a No. 1 scoring option in the NBA. He’s a great value pick in the 10-15 range.