Underrated & Underused: Gary Harris
When you think of the top shooting guards in today's NBA, I'm sure you think of guys like Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, CJ McCollum, Demar DeRozan, Bradley Beal, and maybe Devin Booker, Avery Bradley, and Rodney Hood but I am here to tell you about a guy who is crashing that party, Gary Harris of the Denver Nuggets. Not only is he a top 6 shooting guard in the league but I will also argue that he is a top 50 player in the NBA.
Harris came out of Michigan State as a sophomore with the urging of his coach Tom Izzo, who has only lost a handful of players leaving early for the NBA (Shannon Brown, Zach Randolph, Jason Richardson, Marcus Taylor, and Harris). After MSU was eliminated from the 2014 NCAA tournament Izzo was asked about Harris and his future, Izzo responded, "I'd be leaning to advising him to make the jump." Izzo is one of the greatest NCAA coaches ever and he has seen a number of talented players come through his system, Draymond Green, Maurice Ager, Mateen Cleaves just to name a few and Harris was one of the best. As a Spartan, Harris averaged 14.9 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2 assists, and shot 44% from the floor in two seasons. During his freshman season he was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, second team All-Big Ten; as a sophomore he earned first team All-Big Ten, All-Big Ten Defensive team, and was an honorable mention for the Associated Press All-American Honors. He helped the Spartans to a 27-9 record in his first year along with a Sweet Sixteen berth in the NCAA tournament, in his second year Harris and the Spartans were 29-9 won the Big Ten Championship losing in the Elite Eight to eventual champion UCONN. He entered the NBA draft after his sophomore season.
He was drafted in the 2014 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls and traded to the Denver Nuggets. (Looking back at that draft you could argue Harris should have at least been a top 10 pick if not higher) He is an extremely underrated player who I would love to have on my team if I were starting one. He is a player who can do everything for you, score, rebound, assist, and will defend the other teams best player. Harris doesn't put up huge numbers but it's not because he can't, on the Nuggets he doesn't necessarily have to with some of the players around him. That is the one knock I have on him as a player, at times he can seem to passive and doesn't look to score himself. Most players in the NBA are one sided they are really good offensive players but don't contribute on the defensive end (I'm looking at you James Harden) but this is where Harris stands out in my opinion. This could be another reason he doesn't put up huge offensive numbers, he is busy chasing around the other team's best player on defense.
In 57 games last season he put up some really good numbers that people don't know. He was 15th in the NBA in 2 point field goal percentage, 8th in 3 point field goal %, 9th in effective field goal %, 14th in offensive rating but only had an 18.6 usage rate on the Nuggets. His numbers are very similar this year and the one thing it proves to me is the Nuggets are not using Harris enough or in the right ways. He is a really good efficient shooter that is proven by his numbers but his usage rate is extremely low for someone with his shooting numbers. With Paul Millsap missing up to 3 months it will be interesting to see if the Nuggets run more of their offense through Harris but his previous years say they will not. His defense is only getting better as well, he is 10th in the league in steals, 4th in steals per game, and has a 108.2 defensive rating this year. He is usually guarding the other team's best offensive player as well so these stats should be even more impressive.
I have Gary Harris ranked as the 6th best shooting guard in the NBA behind Klay, Butler, Beal, CJ, and DeRozan right now but ahead of Bradley, Booker, and Hood. He also has the opportunity to jump over some of those other guys if he gets the chances with the Nuggets. He is only 23 with his best chances ahead of him, look at a guy like Tobias Harris a lot of people wrote him off but he is having his best season in his 7th NBA season and being 25 years old so Harris has a lot of room to grow. Right now he is not putting up huge stats that everyone talks about (points, rebounds, assists, etc.) but like I said before he has never been the first option on the Nuggets and he probably hasn't even been the third or fourth option. Obviously the Nuggets see something in him though, they locked him up with a huge 4-year $84 million extension this offseason. The Nuggets had a big offseason extending Harris and signing Paul Millsap with both guys expected to be the corner stones to this season and the seasons ahead. With Millsap set to miss a chunk of the season the Nuggets need someone to step up and lucky for them they already have the man to do it in Gary Harris.