From the moment he stepped on campus in East Lansing, everyone knew Gary Harris was something special. Now in his fourth yer in the NBA, the entire world is learning just how good Harris really is.
Harris didn’t look like a superstar right away when he was a Michigan State freshman. He didn’t have the freakish frame of a Jaren Jackson Jr. Even when he left after only his sophomore year, he didn’t seem to draw the attention of other young stars. He wasn’t a lottery pick. The Chicago Bulls drafted him 19th overall, their second pick in the first round. Then traded Harris and their first pick, Jusuf Nurkic, to Denver for the rights to Doug McDermott. A trade that may go down as one of the dumbest in recent NBA history.
Things started slow in Denver, his rookie year Harris only averaged 3.4 points-per-game. But that changed quickly and now the shooting guard is putting up nearly 18-points a game, and that only begins to show his worth. Never has that been more apparent than over the last month of basketball.
The NBA world took full notice of Harris after he put on a show last week against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. He put up 32 points, going 6-for-10 from deep, leading Denver to a road-win for all to see.
In addition to his pure scoring ability, Harris has taken one of Izzo’s calling cards with him to the NBA. He has become one of the best two-way players in the game, able to guard everyone from James to Chris Paul.
Look how good Gary Harris' defense was on this possession. He gave Chris Paul no space.— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) February 26, 2018
Smothers CP to force him to pass the first time, then he shifts back and makes a great shot contest to force an air ball on CP's second attack pic.twitter.com/t8q5eYOomF
That skill on both ends of the court has brought on a comparison to one of the most dominant players in the game. FiveThirtyEight went into detail, comparing Harris to San Antonio star Kawhi Leonard.
In Harris’s case, one could argue that his consistency on both ends has him on the cusp of joining the elite. Using effective field-goal percentage, a stat that accounts for 3-pointers by looking at the number of points generated per field-goal attempt rather than just shots made per attempt, the chart below illustrates how often the league’s starting shooting guards and small forwards have good shooting nights compared to bad ones. Unsurprisingly, Kevin Durant and LeBron James are at the very top of that list. Leonard rates fifth. And right behind him is Harris at No. 6.
The most outstanding stat brought up in the article shows just how efficient Harris is on defense. So far this year, Harris has more steals than he does personal fouls. A stat made even more ridiculous when it’s noted how few NBA players have accomplished that in a year. That short list includes players like Leonard, Allen Iverson and Jason Kidd.
Even if Garry doesn’t keep ascending offensively the way Leonard did, FiveThirtyEight still said he would compare favorably to Golden State’s Klay Thompson.
But it’s not just consistency that is making Harris a special player. He’s becoming a star for Denver in some of the biggest moments. The Nuggets have consistently gone to their shooting guard in close games. He leads the team in three-pointers made in clutch situations, defined as five minutes or under in the game with the score within five points.
Harris’ confidence to take the big shot is evident to his head coach Michael Malone. On a young team looking for someone to lean on both late in the game and late in the playoff push, Denver has found Garry Harris.
“The one guy that stands out to me that I’ve noticed a noticeable difference in his confidence, is Gary Harris,” Malone said, via the Nuggets website. “Gary Harris, OKC. Gary Harris, step back on (LaMarcus) Aldridge. Gary Harris at Memphis the other night. Gary Harris, big three to go from four points to seven points. Gary is starting to say ‘Okay, I kind of like this.’ And that confidence is powerful. And you get that by doing it, by winning, by seeing it go through the net. It’s great to see because I think Gary becomes kind of a closer for us.”
Harris is playing some of his best basketball down the stretch. While that may be a shock to many NBA fans across the country, no one who saw him play in green and white is surprised in the least.
The NBA playoffs are going to be fun, especially for Michigan State fans, who will need to turn their attention to the west. We can only hope to see a Draymond Green vs. Gary Harris playoff series.