Kevin C. Cox
Gary Harris' Spartan career is off to a blazing start
The dial on the MSU Basketball Nonconference Freakout-O-Meter is currently set to "Uneasy Overanalysis." While the start to the season hasn't been a complete disaster, there are enough lingering concerns--mainly a lack of offensive identity and questions about depth--that we're not all that sure what it is we have here.
But let's set all the aside for a moment and focus on a player whose performance to date has been an almost unqualified success: Mr. Gary Harris. If you ignore the game he only played one minute in before injuring his shoulder, Harris actually leads MSU in scoring at 14.9 points/game, just edging out Keith Appling's 14.6 points/game. He's been the model of consistency, scoring at least 11 points--with at least one made 3-pointer and three made 2-pointers--in each game.
Harris' early success doesn't come as a complete surprise. He was a consensus 5-star recruit coming out of high school, ranked #16 among all incoming freshmen this year. Still, Tom Izzo has had a lot of talented wing players come through the program during his tenure, and none of them have gotten off to a start like Harris'. Data (click to go big):
Among Spartans who have played primarily at one of the wing spots as a true freshman over the last decade, Harris has been trusted with the most minutes per game and been more actively involved in the offense than any other player (taking 29% of available shots when he's on the floor). Most new MSU wings have struggled to find efficient ways to score inside the three-point arc, but Harris is converting nearly two-thirds of his two-point attempts. He can finish on the break and hit the mid-range floater in the halfcourt offense. And, following Saturday's barrage from thee-point range, his shooting from beyond the arc compares favorably to players that were recruited specifically for their long range shooting accuracy (Chris Hill/Chris Allen).
Harris' one offensive weakness has been at the free throw line, but it's hard to believe that will be a long-term issue given his otherwise straight-from-the-textbook shooting release. Despite his high level of involvement in the offense, he's limited turnovers, posting the lowest turnover rate among all major MSU contributors this season. While he certainly doesn't have a point guard's mentality, he's got a very smooth handle against defensive pressure.
Harris' rebounding numbers are so-so for an Izzo wing, but his defense has been both active in terms of creating steals and, by all eyeball-based accounts, pretty mistake-free in terms of adapting to Izzo's rotating scheme on the perimeter.
The team is still struggling to replace Draymond Green's offensive playmaking, but the struggle would be quite a bit more severe if Harris hadn't emerged so quickly as a go-to option beside Appling. Hopefully, as he continues to recover from the shoulder injury, his overall productivity will be that much higher.
The outlook for the 2012-2013 MSU basketball campaign remains somewhat foggy, but the early returns on Gary Harris' Spartan career indicate that, for however long it lasts, it's going to be a very good one.