"He's not afraid," said Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw. "He comes into the game and he's in attack mode. There's still some areas where he has to refine his skills. I've put him out there against Westbrook, and different guys that I've wanted to see how he'd defend and fair against them. There's no backdown in him, that's encouraging."
Shaw is talking about rookie Gary Harris. The 6'4" shooting guard out of Michigan State has been a pit bull on the defensive end for the Nuggets, both during games and in practices. Check out how he defends the aforementioned Russell Westbrook in the post here:
What do you do against Westbrook in the post? Or against Westbrook at all?
"Just being in the right spot and giving the effort that's needed [on defense]," Harris said. "Guys are going to score, it's about the effort you give, and just try to make shots difficult. At this level, guys are going to make tough shots."
Harris' physicality in the post on one of the game's best scorers is noticeable. Harris gets Westbrook to have to fade a bit to the baseline, where Harris knows he has Jusuf Nurkic's rim protection. But Harris is still trying to get a feel for the NBA game.
"I'm becoming more comfortable," said Harris. "I'm learning a lot from the other guys, the speed is starting to slow down a little bit."
One guy who has been available to help the 20 year-old guard?
"I hear Arron saying all the time, he calls him his 'protégé', he's always like, 'Hey protégé, come on over here with me.' So, he doesn't even have to seek Arron out," said Shaw. "Arron is actually seeking him out, which is good."
"Arron has been great," said Harris. "He helps me out a lot and tells me where to be and when to be there and just being somebody I can go to when I have questions. Everybody is pretty laid back, nobody feels like they're better than anybody, and everybody is willing to help each other out, help the team out."
The guidance of Afflalo will definitely help steer Harris as a professional, but as Afflalo has said, it'll be up to the player to determine how far he'll go. Shaw says Harris has a quiet personality so far, but he loves how coachable the rookie is. Adjusting to the NBA game is a challenge, so how is Harris progressing?
"I would say it's typical, typical of a rookie coming in trying to learn the system, get used to the speed of the game, and the strength of the players that he's playing against," said Shaw. "He's had good moments, and he's had moments where he knows he needs to improve in certain areas, as well. He has poise, so I'm impressed with that."
Harris is shooting just 13-38 (34.2%) from the field and 5-17 from three-point range (29.4%). We should expect those numbers to drastically improve as Harris becomes more comfortable with the offense and the new longer range from deep. He has an impressive shooting stroke and a tireless work effort. Harris puts in a lot of extra work on his jumper after practice, well after practice.
"Coach has done a great job, the assistants have done a great job, lots of film, showing me where I need to be and when I need to be there," said Harris. "I'm still messing up a little bit, but it's also starting to click for me a little bit."
One key aspect of the offense that Shaw wants from his wings? He wants them to run to the corners to get open looks that stretch the defense. Watch how Harris runs ahead of the pack here, watches for the ball from Quincy Miller, and buries the open three. Harris was so open it looks like the refs blew the whistle or something, but it's just good positioning from the rookie (and how about that shooting form? Picture perfect.).
"I'm getting good looks, I just got to knock them down," said Harris. "It's about reps and repetitions, getting up extra shots, and when the time comes and the ball swings to me, I gotta knock it down."
The reason Harris gets good looks? He moves very well without the ball, but also moves with purpose. He's ready for the ball before it gets to him, as evidenced above, and his quickness should allow for plays like these, when he's on the floor.
Harris is a very athletic player, too. He can play above the rim on offense, and you better watch out if you try to shoot over him, Isaiah Thomas found out the hard way.
Watch that block on Thomas again. Harris fights over the action at the top of the key, stays in front of Thomas, doesn't allow him to get into the lane, and bottles him up as Thomas knows there is big help coming at the rim. Good play from the rookie on another experienced NBA scorer.
Harris seems to be fitting in just fine, but the little nuances of the game are still being learned.
"The room for error is a lot smaller, the speed is a lot faster compared to the college level," said Harris. "It takes time, but I feel like I'm getting adjusted."
Harris averaged 1.3 steals his freshman season and 1.8 steals his sophomore year. If those numbers can translate to the NBA level, Harris is going to create a lot of fastbreaks when he comes onto the floor. Watch as he strips the ball from Archie Goodwin of the Suns here.
Harris gets screened, but fights over the top of it, allows Timofey Mozgov to get back to his man as Harris recovers quickly, cuts off the driving lane, forces Goodwin to cut across the lane, and strips the ball as Archie goes up for the runner.
Speaking of runners, Harris has that in his game, too. Against the Thunder here, Harris waits for the defense to clear out, drives the ball towards the hoop, and pulls up for the baseline runner before the help defender can get to him.
Harris' preseason game high came against the Lakers in Denver's first preseason game, he had 11 points on 3-5 shooting. He has been shutout twice, going a combined 0-6 against the Bulls and Clippers. And Harris has scored 8 points, 8, and 10 in Denver's three other preseason games (he missed the Blazers game due to a weird pinching he was feeling in his ankle, according to Shaw). But Harris is going to be much more than a scorer for the Nuggets.
It's his all around game that should be noticed by Nuggets fans. Harris can stretch the floor, get to the rim, take on tough defensive assignments, and he'll fill up the stat sheets with steals, assists, and rebounds. Harris has a bright future with the Nuggets, and there's no telling how far he'll go.
"You really just have to let the game come to you, not being nervous about messing up or just trying to go too fast," said Harris. "Sometimes you have to slow it up and play with pace."