Taking a look at past college guards and how they're faring as NBA shooting guards, and seeing whether Gary Harris will follow in their footsteps.
I'm Jameson Draper, and I usually do link roundups here, but since I follow the NBA a lot- I write for SB Nation's Rufus on Fire and ESPN TrueHoop's PistonPowered (shameless plug!)- I thought this was a perfect idea. Here's a post mixing my two favorite things: MSU and the NBA.
After an impressive season in which true freshman Gary Harris was one of the best players on one of the best teams in the country, the yearly question comes up: will this freshman become a one and done and leave for the draft?
Izzo seems to sometimes have ways with players. A lot of his recent stars have stayed all four years, which a lot of coaches can't seem to do. Really, the only other player Izzo lost early was Zach Randolph, after his freshman year in 2000-2001.
Let's look at the five players drafted with similar skill sets to Gary Harris in the past ten years in the first ten picks, and see how they have fared in the NBA.
Eric Gordon played the one and the two guard position at Indiana for the 2007-2008 season before entering the draft. He averaged 20.9 points on 43.3% shooting. Gary Harris this season is averaging 12.9 points on 46% shooting. The only thing different with Gordon is that the offense on Indiana was much more focused on him than the Michigan State offense is around Gary Harris. Indiana made a lot of plays for him, the Spartans don't do that with Harris. The thing that is similar between the two is that they both can play shooting guard or point guard. Harris is getting criticized for his height (he's smaller than the average shooting guard), but even though Gordon is even shorter, he never received the criticism because he played point guard all throughout college. He was converted to a shooting guard in the NBA and it's worked out. Gordon was taken 8th overall by the LA Clippers in the 2008 NBA Draft, and has averaged at least 16 points per game every season. He's now found himself as one of the top-10 shooting guards in the league in New Orleans, as opposed to being a point guard for the Clippers. He has potential to be the best shooting guard in the league, and is well on his way.
Javaris Crittenton was picked 19th overall by the Los Angeles Lakers in 2007 after one year at Georgia Tech, a season in which he averaged 14.4 points per game on 45% shooting. He was drafted into the league as a good-sized point guard (6'4", just like Harris) but was converted into a shooting guard once in the league. After being drafted and bouncing around the NBA, Crittenton was released from the Wizards after the Gilbert Arenas gun debacle. He hasn't been in the NBA since. Career stats: 5.3 points per game on 44.2% shooting.
Bradley Beal is currently an NBA rookie, so we haven't seen his full development yet. However, we already have a much better gage of his success. In his only season at Florida last year, Beal averaged 14.8 points per game on 44% shooting. Harris and Beal are very similar players, it's just that Beal shot more in college than Harris has. They both have similar skill sets and have the ability to make an impact on the glass. Like Harris, Beal had to jump over the barrier of height problems. In almost all of the mock draft sites from last year's draft, writers said something about Beal's height. In his first season, after being taken 3rd overall by the Wizards, Beal has had a lot of adjustments to make (he shot under 35% in the first month of the season), but has overcome them to become one of the best rookies in the league (shooting 49.1% post-all star break). He has the potential to be one of the better shooting guards in the league.
Gerald Henderson played for Duke from 2006-2009, and in that time averaged 12.3 points per game on 45.8% shooting. In college Henderson was more of a guard/forward who couldn't shoot threes, but over his career in the NBA with the Bobcats he's developed into a very good three-point shooter. That's the thing about Henderson. He was 6'5", but played some small forward. He probably wouldn't have fared well in the league if he didn't develop a shot. Gary Harris is only one inch shorter, and he already has a shot. There are questions for Harris coming into this draft about Harris' height, but Henderson is living proof of the possibility to overcome that. So far this season, Henderson's fourth, he's averaging 14.0 points per game, while shooting 43.7% from the field and 36.1% from beyond the arc. It took Henderson awhile to develop, but he's finally there now. This may be Henderson's ceiling, but this isn't a bad ceiling to have.
Marcus Thornton played as a shooting guard for four years at LSU before being drafted in 2009, 13th overall by the Heat, but becoming a member of the Hornets and currently the Sacramento Kings. He's the same size as Harris and also took a lot of heat for his height, but like Harris (and also Beal) he is good at driving the bucket and not just shooting, which helped his draft stock. Thornton's career numbers thus far: 14.5 points per game 43.9% shooting from the field.
So, should Gary Harris enter the draft? I don't think there's a good yes or no answer. We saw here that a lot of similar players in college turned out different in the NBA. Gary Harris has the strength, great shooting ability and the good mentality to be successful in the pros. He also hasn't had any disciplinary issues, which is good (see: Javaris Crittenton). On the other side, he's injury prone, not the strongest guy on the court and still has a lot to prove at MSU. He could prove his worth as a better rebounder, passer and could also make himself known as a possible option at point guard.
If I were Harris, I wouldn't leave after this season. There's a good chance he'd be successful, but in staying another year, he'd find himself in a much better role for whatever team he'll be chosen by.
If he chooses to go, however, you can't really blame him, for multiple reasons. One being the fact that he can't improve his draft stock much more than already (he's projected to be a lottery pick), one being that the 2013 Draft is much weaker competition, giving him a better chance to get drafted higher and the third reason is that leaving prevents any career-slowing/career-ending injuries. If Gary Harris wants to now, he can jump ship and get good money.
At best? Gary Harris could become maybe the second-best player on a championship team that could hit the big shots and be a huge asset to any team's backcourt for a long time in the NBA.
At worst? Harris could end up like Crittenton, or worse. He could become plagued with injuries and never adjust to three-point shooting in the pros. Also, he could end up like North Texas' Tony Mitchell, who didn't enter the draft last year as a potential lottery pick and now is probably going to not get drafted and sign with a D-League team.
Whatever decision he makes, it'll be a risky one. Depending on how much he enjoys the MSU program and how much he cares about his success in the NBA will depend on whether we see him in green and white for another year or not.
Among SB Nation's top 10 NBA prospects in the Midwest Region, Adreian Payne is No. 2, while Harris is not listed.