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Gary Harris hasn’t been that bad for the Nuggets

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Atlanta Hawks v Denver Nuggets Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Gary Harris may be performing great on defense, but he’s been struggling mightily on offense. The team needs him to step his game up because it makes life easier on everyone else. If he’s able to get that done, this team’s ceiling goes way up.

The Denver Nuggets had one of the NBA’s best young two-way players just a few years ago when Gary Harris was a legitimate 3-and-D wing. Through 10 games, Harris is playing some of the worst basketball of his career along with being one of the worst players in the rotation so far for the 7-3 Nuggets. His defense continues to be there every night, but his offensive game has been hit or miss to say the least.

His FG%/3P%/FT% slash line reads as follows, .393/.341/.733. His offensive rating is just 97, which is the third-worst mark among rotation players above just Torrey Craig and Malik Beasley. His true-shooting percentage is the third-worst among rotation players above Craig and Monte Morris. For whatever reason, his offense just hasn’t been there this season, and the Nuggets need him to be better than he’s been.

Good Decisions

Unlike other players, Harris’ issues are largely isolated to shooting rather than decision making. He’s taking good shots, and they just simply aren’t falling. 17.8 percent of his 3-point attempts are classified as wide open (nearest defender being 6+ feet away). He’s shooting just 31.8 percent on those looks. Only Nikola Jokic and Jerami Grant are shooting worse on those looks.

He takes care of the ball with just 1.1 turnovers per game, and he’s actually been one of the team’s best players from a rating standpoint. When looking at the team’s best lineup combinations, Harris is in three of the top four two-man lineups for the team. Only a lineup with Jokic and Jamal Murray breaks into that group. Each of those lineups have an offensive rating of 109 or better, and their defensive ratings are all 101.4 or better.

He’s grading out in the 90th percentile or better in Points Over Expectation, Player Impact Plus/Minus and Offensive Real Plus/Minus. He’s playing well in terms of the ratings and the actual offense, but it’s not showing up in the scoring column or shooting accuracy. Denver needs his offense to improve because his offense makes life easier on everyone else because of the spacing it creates.

For Harris, his offensive game will get back to being successful by doing what works the best for him. He needs to get out in transition, where he can use his athleticism to get to the basket. He also needs to start cutting more. There’s been a number of possessions this season where the offense becomes stagnant with players standing around. Harris scores 1.42 points per possession as a cutter.

This Might Help

Denver has been the NBA’s slowest team through 10 games. Their pace is last in the NBA, and it’s last by a full possession. They’re 10 possessions below the league’s fastest team in the Milwaukee Bucks, and that’s hurting Harris and the team’s young wings that have the athleticism to get out and run. Playing Harris with the bench that runs more could give him more transition opportunities.

Harris needs to get to the basket more than settling for shots in the mid range. He’s shooting 64 percent from 0-3 feet, but he’s shooting just 27 percent from three feet out to the 3-point line, and that number is inflated by a small sample size from 16 feet to the 3-point line. Seeing a shot go down, especially in the game on a transition dunk can help get his confidence rolling early rather than forcing him to be a spot-up shooter for the entire game.

If neither of those work, the offense needs to go back to operating through Jokic, which allowed them to become one of the NBA’s best offenses a few years ago. Harris is a great cutter, and Jokic can find him on those cuts to the basket where other passers on the team can’t complete that pass.

Let’s Have Some Faith

It’s only 10 games into the season, and the Nuggets are one of top four teams in the Western Conference. Excluding his rookie season, Harris has shot better from the floor in every season of his career, and he’s shot better from 3-point range other than last season and that aforementioned rookie year. Harris has consistently given us reason to have faith in his ability on the offensive end of the floor.