Over the next few weeks, the Denver Stiffs staff will be previewing the 2016-17 Denver Nuggets. The team enters Michael Malone's second season with the Nuggets with a mix of new and familiar faces. With a roster mixed with young talent like Jamal Murray and more experienced veterans like Wilson Chandler, the Nuggets are looking to improve on their 33-49 record from last season.
Following a disappointing rookie year, largely due the coaching inadequacies of Brian Shaw and the subsequent lack of playing time, Gary Harris came out in his sophomore season with a chip on his shoulder. He did not disappoint in the slightest. To put things into perspective: as a rookie, Harris only started six games of the 55 games he played in and shot 30.4% from the field, including 20.4% from three. Last season he started all 76 games and improved to 46.9% from the field and a respectable 35.4% from three.
At just a hair over 22 years old and entering his third season, Harris is still young enough to have room for improvement and there's no doubt he will get better. He's always working on his game and has been a gym rat all summer, both on the court and in the weight room where clearly he has been Hessified. Harris won't have as big of a jump this year as he did last season, but he also doesn't need to show groundbreaking growth again. He's already an above-average defender and as long as he improves his consistency on the offensive end while showing more confidence in his shot, he will be able to make even more of a positive impact during the games.
Despite the Nuggets drafting two shooting guards in Jamal Murray and Malik Beasley, it's safe to say Harris has the starting position on lock as the competition for minutes will fall to the backups. He's the best defender on the team and a very underrated offensive player as well. Harris has flown entirely under the radar compared to other shooting guards in the league thus far in his career, but expect that to change this season as he leads the Nuggets in a coming out party.
Harris' strengths lie in his versatility as a two-way player. On defense he is pesky and does a fantastic job at disrupting the opposing offense, often by getting his ridiculously quick hands on the ball or being able to anticipate the pass. His defensive intelligence is an asset - he knows when to go for the steal and when to play it safe, and more often than not he's right.
Harris had a sound year last season offensively, and is on the cusp of developing into a more well-rounded scorer than many perceive him to be. His strengths on offense mostly lie off the ball - he's sneakily good at making backdoor cuts and losing his man to find open spots along the perimeter.
What's really impressive about his offensive game is how efficient he is at scoring. Last season, Harris had an effective field goal percentage of 53.8, including a sizzling 54.3 two-point shooting percentage and 46.3 percent from the field overall. The crux of his efficiency was his effectiveness in the transition game where Harris thrived thanks to his knack for stealing the ball and his athleticism up and down the court. In 2015-16, Harris shot at 62.1% in transition opportunities. For a team like the Nuggets that's notorious for its shooting woes, Harris was one of the lone deviations from the mean.
The cop-out answer here is his three-point shooting, though it really isn't a weakness as much as it's something he can still improve on. 35.4% shooting is enough to solidify him as a deep threat, but obviously the more he can improve his three-point shot the better off the Nuggets offense will be as a whole. As it is, this number should improve on its own as he gets older and fine tunes the mechanics of his shot.
The one weakness in his game would be his inconsistency as a reliable option on offense, which pretty much boils down to him not creating his own plays offensively. As is, he doesn't really have a pick and roll game or attack much off the dribble, both of which could really add a new element to his game. He has the athleticism to take defenders one-on-one and has already proven his ability to score effectively at the rim so having more confidence in his dribbling would do wonders for him. Plus, can you imagine a pick and roll game with him and Nikola Jokic?
Projected 2016-17 Statistics
Courtesy of www.hashtagbasketball.com:
Harris remains on his rookie contract after the Nuggets picked up a team option last fall. Denver also has the option to pick up his contract for next year, with a deadline at the end of the month to do so. That would make Harris a restricted free agent the following year in 2018-19, meaning the Nuggets could extend a qualifying offer to him at that time.