Gary Harris exploded offensively this past season, left no doubt that he is one of the best up-and-coming guards in all of basketball, and that he could possess legitimate All-Star potential in a few years. Not only is Harris a bulldog on defense, but after his most recent developmental leap, he is also one of the most productive and efficient scorers in the entire league and that has led to him arguably becoming the second-most important player on the Nuggets’ roster.
Harris saw his numbers improve across the board as he finished the season averaging 14.9 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.9 assists in 31.3 minutes per game.
He also posted scalding shooting percentages of 50.2 percent from the field and 42 percent from three to go along with 77.6 percent from the free-throw line.
What grade would you give Harris’s season?
Harrison Wind (@NBAWind): A
Joel Rush (@NuggetsDenJoel): A+
Kalen Deremo (@PrincePickaxe): A
T.J. McBride (@BSN_McBride): A+
Harrison: Harris’ breakout season is hard to fathom, especially with the amount of games the 22-year-old missed with a variety of injuries. Harris only logged 57 games (56 starts) but showed off a developing offensive game, a premier three-point shot and a developing game off the bounce. Couple those traits with an innate chemistry with Nikola Jokic, and Harris has all the makings of the Nuggets’ two-guard for the foreseeable future once Denver hopefully inks him to an extension this summer. Defensively he took a step back, as did everyone on the Nuggets’ roster, but I won’t fault Harris for playing in a broken defensive scheme with minus defenders around him.
Joel: Harris does not get the highest grade for having a perfect season – like pretty much all his teammates, his defense left a few things to be desired. But the growth he made both as a basketball player, and genuinely as an on-court team leader, so far exceeded expectations that he deserves top honors. Additionally, as one of the biggest enablers of Jokic’s success, he also gets a large share of credit for Denver’s offensive overhaul.
Kalen: Given the leap Jokic took in his sophomore campaign as well as the rookies’ impressive play, Harris’ own improvement sorta got overshadowed — and yet he was without question the Nuggets’ best defender and outside shooter all year long. Being any team’s best respective defender or outside shooter is enough to warrant high praise, but to be both is quite the rarity.
T.J.: Harris’s offensive explosion. Harris led all guards, with a minimum of 20 minutes per game, by shooting 50.2 percent from the field and was seventh among guards, with the same criteria, by shooting 42 percent from three. His 14.9 points per game are a career-high as was his 2.9 assists per contest. Harris became the off-ball assassin to perfectly complement Jokic and for that, he gets a perfect score.
What aspect of Harris’s game did he improve on most this season?
Harrison: Offense. Harris shot 42.0 percent from three this season on a healthy 4.5 attempts per game and also showed signs of developing as more of a threat off-the-dribble. Most of all Harris realized this year that the easiest way to score is by using Jokic — that should help going forward.
Joel: All-around offensive efficiency. From cutting to hitting open 3-pointers and jumpers to passing, driving, and moving without the ball, Harris improved both his own scoring efficiency and the overall effectiveness of the Nuggets offense pretty much across the board, including a .611 true shooting percentage that was eighth-best in the league among all qualified guards.
Kalen: His shooting, without question. Harris was always a good outside shooter and has been an impressive defender since he entered the league three years ago, but he went from being an average long-distance shooter to being top-10 in the entire league as well as having the best field-goal percentage amongst shooting guards — all at the tender age of 22.
T.J.: His ability to play with the ball in his hands. Having career-highs in total assists (164), and assists per game, (2.9), is nice but it is the advanced stats that really stand out. Harris’ assist percentage jumped up from 9.5 percent all the way to 13.6 percent this past season, which is a career-high and better than Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, while his turnover percentage fell to a career-low 9.8 percent, which was second-best on the team behind Gallinari. What is even more impressive is that he did all of this with his usage percentage jumping up to a career-high 18.4 percent. Harris took a monumental leap in his ability to play with the ball in his hands.
What does Harris need to work on this upcoming offseason?
Harrison: Defense. I’m confident Harris will get back to his roots defensively next season. Denver figures to have better defenders around him, which will help, and he’ll hopefully be playing in a more aggressive and modern scheme. Both should help Harris be the perimeter defender Denver needs to matchup with the opposition’s best backcourt player next season.
Joel: Defense. If a rising tide raises all ships, the opposite was true for the Nuggets’ team defense. And if there was any disappointing aspect to Harris’ season, it was that he also fell short on the defensive end. Improving the denial of ball penetration at the perimeter has got to be one of Denver’s top priorities this offseason, and Harris needs to step up as a leader in this capacity, especially assuming the less-experienced Murray will be starting alongside him.
Kalen: His handle. Harris has already proven to be one of the most accurate shooting guards in the NBA on offense and one of the most tenacious on defense, but he has a ways to go before he can utilize both of those skills to truly take over in crunch time. If he perfects his handle to better score off the dribble the Nuggets might have another star to pair alongside Nikola Jokic for years to come.
T.J.: Getting back to being a tenacious defender. There was largely no life on the defensive end of the ball for anyone on the Nuggets roster this past season and that includes Harris. If he can come back rededicated to defense and keep his offensive production where it is at, it would go a long ways towards defining Harris as a franchise cornerstone and making the Nuggets a contender once again.