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The Mystery of Gary Harris

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The shooting guard from Michigan State is playing well in his second year in the league, gradually learning how to succeed under the tutelage of Michael Malone and his coaching staff. Can he keep up his recent level of play?

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Gary Harris' first career dunk was a doozy.

On November 13, Brian Shaw gave Harris some run the rookie's mother in the stands to watch her son play as a professional. Harris got his shoulders past his man, took off to the rim, jumped from outside the paint, and threw down a one-handed dunk over three Pacers.

Only problem? Mom wasn't watching.

It's a theme that has stuck with Harris ever since he came in the league - he's been doing great things, but no one is watching.

If he keeps playing the way he has lately though, fans aren't going to be able to take their eyes off him.

"Gary Harris continues to play at a very high level on both ends of the floor," Nuggets Coach Michael Malone said to Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post. "Very proud of all of our young guys. They are maturing and growing up right in front of our eyes."

Since January 8, Harris has been averaging 13 points a game while shooting about 37 percent on 3-point attempts. Against the Detroit Pistons, Harris had a great game, playing excellent defense and being confident on offense. One possession in the second quarter was an example of his play of late, with video courtesy of An Nguyen.

Harris strips the ball from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, takes the ball down the court, acts like he's going to lay the ball in, then powers up for a dunk. He's been able to get steals - five against Detroit - without moving out of position on defense. If his man leaves the ball down for too long, Harris lightning jabs at the ball, trying to poke it away for easy transition opportunities.

One of the most important things for Harris to learn how to do this season is to take 3-pointers when his teammates swing him the ball on the perimeter. Even if he doesn't make the shot, Harris can pull defenders out of the paint and help stretch the floor.

Harris is on a nice streak, and if he keeps it up, he could become a solid contributor and a valuable part of the Nuggets future. It's hard to predict what his future is, because he hasn't played that many minutes. Is he a bench guard that can knock down an occasional trey? Is he a starter on a contender? Is he a defensive specialist? Is he the next Avery Bradley? Arron Afflalo? Randy Foye?

I'll admit, I'm a Gary Harris fan. I liked watching him play at Michigan State, and I was excited when the Nuggets drafted him. When I watch Harris play, I want him to pattern his game after a guard that plays for the team that drafted him - Jimmy Butler.

Strong, smooth, tough defender, plays hard, needs to improve outside shot - these were the tags Harris and Butler came into the league with. Neither player was expected to be a star, and was tabbed as a complementary role player.

Butler is bigger than Harris, with the Bulls guard measuring at 6'-8", 222 pounds with the Nuggets guard measuring at 6'5", 205 pounds, according to DraftExpress. But Harris is blessed with a long wingspan, with a difference of one inch between the two, who measure at 6'-8" and 6'-7" respectively. Harris may not ever be as bulky as Butler, but he can use his length to bother ballhandlers, contest shots, and rebound in a manner similar to Butler.

Butler is elite at his ability to control his pace when he drives to the rim. Harris already knows how to get his shoulders past his defender, and when he goes confidently to the hoop, he can elevate and finish above the rim. If he learns how to alter his pace to keep defenders off-balance, that'd be a good step.

The Bulls love to run a play through Pau Gasol setting up Butler for an alley-oop - with the passing ability of Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic, that's a play the Nuggets could run for Harris. Butler also has a stepback he uses to get off mid-range shots, and he's enough of a threat from distance that defenses have to honor the threat of a shot attempt. Harris is becoming more comfortable pulling up off the dribble, and he's shooting 36.8 percent this season.

If Harris starts playing more games with his jersey untucked and lets his hair grow, you'll know he's been watching game film of the 26-year-old guard from Texas.

One thing for certain - Nuggets fans won't want to miss what Harris is capable of doing in the future.

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REMINDER: STIFFS NIGHT OUT WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 3RD


Join us at Jake's Sports & Spirits (3800 Walnut Street, Denver, CO 80205) as our Nuggets take on the Jazz in Utah at 7pm.

Attendees can win Denver Stiffs T-shirts and Nuggets tickets and Jake's will be serving 50-cent wings for us all night long.

We hope to see you there!

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