Jake Rauchbach coached at the collegiate level, founded The MindRight Pro Program and trained numerous professional and Olympic athletes. Now, Rauchbach provides high performance analysis on the NBA and college basketball and serves as the Player Performance Specialist for Temple University's men's basketball team.
Denver added back court mates Malik Beasley and Jamaal Murray in this past summer’s draft. In the season prior, Emmanuel Mudiay was added to the Nuggets roster. Despite the influx of backcourt players in Denver over the past couple of seasons, Gary Harris so far has staked his claim as the Nugget’s starting shooting guard. His off season improvement has been a big reason why he has been able to, not only maintain his starting role, but also raise his level of play this season. The third year man out of Michigan State put in a tremendous amount of work to correct the weaknesses and improve strengths in his game.
Recently, Nuggets Head Coach, Michael Malone told T.J. McBride of BSN Denver,
“Gary Harris, if you had to give grades for the offseason, Gary Harris had a phenomenal offseason. He was in our gym almost every day,” coach Michael Malone said. “He worked on his body. He worked on his shooting. He worked on his handles. I think that all of that hard work pays off and you see his confidence at a very high level right now.”
His steady progression could indicate that Harris may have the chance to develop into one of the better two guards in the league by the time it is all said and done, if he can continue to shore up some of the weaknesses in his game. This season, Harris’ offensive efficiency numbers are comparable to that of some of the elite level wings in the league.
In 2015-2016, Harris was solid but not great for the Nuggets, averaging 12.3 points per game, while shooting 47% from the field and 35% from the three-point line and posting a 1.46 assist to turnover ratio. This season, Harris is shooting 50% from the field and 43% from the behind the arch, while posting a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio. Since the All-Star break, Harris’ field goal and three-point percentage, along with his assist to turnover ratio, has continued to rise when compared to the first half of the season.
One of Harris’ strengths that has stood out the most this season is his shooting efficiency, especially during late shot clock situations. Harris has provided the Nuggets a stellar shooting percentage with the clock winding down, shooting 54% from the field in these situations. This ranks him as the number one player in the league in these situations with players having at least 25 possessions, just ahead of Otto Porter Jr. and Dion Waiters.
Watch how Harris nails a deep three against the Rockets to close out the third quarter.
Another part of this game that has seen improvement from last season is his transition scoring. Harris ranks as the 10th deadliest scorer in these situation for players with at least 35 possessions this season, ranking him ahead of Kevin Durant 18th, and Bradley Beal 21st. In transition, Harris does a great job using his athleticism and strength to finish through the body of defenders as he does here against the Blazers’ Damian Lillard.
Harris also ranks at the top of the league with his ability to score off of cuts within the Nuggets offense. This part of his game is much improved, as Harris ranks in the 80th percentile in these situations, up from his 61st percentile ranking from a season ago. A big reason for this improvement has been Harris’ offensive synchronicity with big man Nikola Jokic. Harris has learned how to leverage Jokic’s passing ability to free himself up for scores. Harris usually likes to cut back door where Jokic finds him from the high post, as seen below. Harris’ development in this department shows that his decision-making and feel for the game is also improving.
Amidst Harris’ improvement and strong offensive efficiency numbers, there are areas of his game that are still holding him back. His defensive ratings are near the bottom of the league, while his pick and roll scoring is only average when compared to other guards around the league.
On the defensive end, Harris has yet to fully embrace what it takes to consistently perform at a high level. The defensive areas in which he particularly struggles are containing dribble penetration, covering spot up shooters, and guarding players coming off of screens. In isolation coverage, Harris is allowing a generous 50% from the field shooting, ranking him in the bottom 6% of the league in this category. It almost seems at times as if Harris loses focus, and/or does not trust his ability to guard opposing ball handlers. In the clip below, Harris allows Lakers’ Jordan Clarkson to drive right around him for a buzzer beating layup. When defending spot up shooters, Harris ranks in the bottom 8% in the league, while players he defends coming off of screens are shooting a scorching 64% from the field. James Harden slips a screen below, causing Harris to be late on the three-point contest and allowing the Rockets All-star to knock it in.
Harris is in 30th percentile in the league in pick and roll scoring efficiency. He especially struggles finishing around the rim when turning the corner off ball screen action. He ranks in the bottom 16% of the league in this category. He also struggles when refusing ball screens and driving it to the rim, ranking in the 5th percentile in the league. Watch Harris’ less than desirable finish around the rim against the Los Angeles Lakers after rejecting Jokic’s ball screen.
For all of his considerable athleticism and acumen on the offensive end, the biggest obstacle that Harris seems to face which is keeping him from becoming a top tier NBA shooting guard, exists on the defensive end. This being said, if he can continue his marked improvement, focusing his attention on the defensive end while also maintain his offensive efficiency, Harris may have the chance to propel himself forward as one of the better wings in the league. Considering the strides he has already made, it would not be surprising to see Harris bring consistency to all parts of his game by this time next year.
* All statistics are courtesy of Synergy and Basketball-Reference.com and are current as of March 31, 2017.