The Cleveland Cavaliers will likely have the ninth pick in this upcoming draft. In the next few weeks here at Right Down Euclid, we will be profiling players the Cavaliers might draft in the first round on June 26th. Today, we profile Michigan State shooting guard Gary Harris. Click here for more draft profiles.
Tale of the Tape
Name: Gary Harris
Position: Shooting Guard
College: Michigan State
Wingspan: 6′ 6.75″
Honors: First team All-Big Ten (2014), Big Ten Freshman of the Year (2013) , All-Big Ten Freshman team (2013), Second team All-Big Ten (2013)
2013-2014 Per Game Stats: 16.7 PPG, 4 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.4 BPG, 43 FG%, 35 3PT%, 81 FT%
Gary Harris is one of the premier shooting guard prospects in the draft thanks to a dangerous three-point shot, tenacious defense and basketball smarts. He led Michigan State to the Elite Eight last season, becoming the Spartans best all-around player by improving his work inside the arc and increasing his free throw rate. Harris’ lack of elite size, explosive athleticism and creativity with the basketball may hinder him at the next level, though he is projected to be selected in the latter half of the lottery or middle of the first round.
Harris doesn’t possess ideal height for a two-guard after measuring 6′ 2.5″ without shoes at the NBA Combine, smaller than scouts had hoped. Harris’ relatively short wingspan of 6′ 6.75″ is also a concern because it will hamper his ability to finish over elite athletes in the paint. It hurts him on the other end too, where bigger guards will have the ability to shoot over him no matter how stifling his defense may be. Yet he possesses quick feet and a strong core to keep opposing guards in front of him. Harris is a fine athlete who can get above the rim, but he’s not supremely explosive. Harris struggled to finish at the rim in college so it’s hard to see him dramatically improving against bigger, stronger, more athletic players in the NBA.
After shooting 42 percent from three-point range as a freshman, Harris carried a reputation for being a lethal shooter into his sophomore season. But because of his limited ball-handling skills, he settled for far too many contested jumpers and with an increased role garnering greater defensive attention, his three-point percentage dropped to an average 35 percent. Some have questioned which shooter Harris really is, but I think labeling his shot as ‘inconsistent’ is harsh. He’s still a very good shooter, which he showcased in his final college performance, a 22-point night, including 4-9 from three, against eventual champion Connecticut. He’s lethal in spot-ups and coming off screens. Per Draft Express, Harris scored 1.136 points per possession (PPP) in catch-and-shoot situations and 1.08 PPP off screens. He can shoot off the dribble with a hand in his face (1.1 PPP), with his feet set or on the move. In the screen game, he’s excellent at reading his defender, moving accordingly to create as much separation as possible. His shooting and movement will be valuable to the spacing of any NBA offense.
Though he lacks ‘shake,’ he can create open jump shots for himself by using a perfected step-back. Harris opted for long mid-range pull-ups over driving all the way to the rim, which is why he only scored .77 ppp in isolation. He’s mostly a straight-line driver with little wiggle, but when Harris did make it all the way to the rim last season, he shot a measly 45.5 percent. This will be difficult to improve on because of the freak athletes who linger at the rim in the NBA. He did attempt 4.1 free throws in 32 minutes per game last season a decent number, but it’s doubtful that he’ll be a guy who marches to the line on a nightly basis at the next level. He isn’t strictly a shooter; he can handle the ball fine and showcased quick crossovers but it usually set up his jump shot.
Harris is a smart player who rarely forces plays, which helped to explain his low turnover percentage. He often makes the right pass but isn’t going to hurt you with his passing skills. He did improve as a playmaker, doubling his assist total from year one to year two, and improving his assist-to-turnover ratio from .90 assists per turnover as a freshman, to 1.57 last season. He proved he could find his big man in the pick-and-roll if the defense crashed to him and of course can be deadly from long range if the defense gives him space. But he isn’t going to turn the corner and explode by the defense, so teams will likely prevent him from getting open behind the screen and instead force him to beat them going towards the basket.
Harris won’t turn 20 until September so he’s still very young with room to grow. However, due to average ball skills and physical limitations, I see Harris as a complementary piece that can space the floor, make the right play, run in transition and provide hard-nosed defense. His inability to consistently beat his defender and finish inside will likely prevent him from becoming a top scoring option in the league. If he can improve his shot selection Harris has a chance to be an efficient, productive two-way player.
Harris can guard both backcourt positions though he will be at a physical disadvantage against long, athletic two-guards. Ideally a team would pair him with a bigger point guard to provide a versatile backcourt defensively. At Michigan State, Harris hounded his offensive counterpart with physical on ball defense, using his quick hands, anticipation skills and instincts to procure 1.8 steals per game last season, including 12 games where he produced three thefts or more. He is an aggressive, heady, disciplined team defender, learning under Tom Izzo who preaches team defense in East Lansing. Harris likely isn’t going to become an otherworldly NBA defender because of his size and average tools but he can be a very solid defensive guy who will stick with some of the league’s best guards. Harris may struggle against bigger athletic wing players who will elevate over him and bully him into the paint. He won’t corral a ton of rebounds but isn’t a liability on the glass either.
His basketball IQ is high, which allows him to anticipate on defense and usually make the right play on offense (except when he decides to chuck a contested shot with 25+ seconds left on the shot clock). He hasn’t had any problems off the court and seems like a well-liked, respected individual by all accounts. He isn’t a loud, vocal guy but rather is a team player who plays the game the right way, works hard and does his job.
ESPN’s Kevin Pelton compared him to Bradley Beal and NBADraft.net listed O.J. Mayo last August. Both of those guys were better shot creators than Harris is at this stage in his career, so I’ll throw Courtney Lee out there. The 22nd pick in the 2008 draft, Lee is a quality defender who sports a 38.2 percent career shooting stroke from long range and knows his role as a complementary guy who can start or come off the bench. This year, he was traded midseason from Boston to Memphis, his fifth team in six seasons, earning the starting two-guard position for the Grizzlies. Harris may be more of a volume three-point shooter than Lee, who was a more versatile scorer in college at Western Kentucky. Lee has morphed into a “3-and-D” player and unless Harris can rapidly improve his average ball-handling and poor finishing skills, I see him as having a similar role in the league. Again, Harris is still very young and developing, but it’s hard to envision him becoming a dependable high-volume scorer in the NBA.
How Does He Fit on the Cavaliers?
Dion Waiters is entrenched as the Cavaliers shooting guard and though his future is unclear, adding Harris would be a luxury. Harris would provide the team with spacing and could complement Kyrie Irving well with his shooting, smarts, unselfishness and tough defense, but the Cavs likely do not have him at the top of their draft board at number nine. If the Cavs trade Waiters, Harris would be a worthy target to replace him and a better long-term fit next to Irving.