It’s that time of year where ESPN put out their NBA top 100 players list, and one thing stood out to me in particular. Indiana native Gary Harris was ranked only 90th in the NBA and some of the players that are ranked ahead of him for the upcoming season is absurd. Before I get into my issues with the list, it’s important to understand how good of a player Harris is for the Denver Nuggets.
It is worth noting that Sports Illustrated ranked Gary Harris as the 57th best NBA player in their Top 100 NBA Players of 2018 and I find that ranking to be far more appropriate for him. Also, I do feel that you could even take it a step further and argue that he will be a top 50 NBA player next season because the volume of his offensive impact should only grow. It would also be hard for Harris to get worse on defense too and any growth only helps.
Last season, he averaged 14.9 points, 3.1 assists, 2.9 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.1 blocks, and 1.3 turnovers. Where his production gets truly impressive is when you take a look at his efficiency even at a basic level. He had a 50.2% field goal percentage, a 42% 3-point percentage, and a 77.6% free throw percentage, which translated to a 61.1% true shooting percentage.
For reference, Harris was the only player in the NBA to average at least 14 points per game while shooting at least 50% from the field and 40% on 3-pointers. He is already producing a solid volume of scoring with supreme efficiency, and it doesn’t take high-tech stats to figure it out. Also, I can’t help but include that he was only 23-years-old last season.
Now, when you take a look at his offensive data from Synergy Sports, it only amplifies how impressive Harris’s efficiency was last season. Regarding overall offense, he had excellent (1.103 PPP, 94th percentile) production. When you factor in his possessions plus assists, he still had excellent (1.344 PPP, 91st percentile) results.
His offensive skill-set has the makings of what you should want in a young scorer because he thrives in the most efficient forms of scoring and does them with great frequency. Harris is an excellent (1.209 PPP, 92nd percentile) spot up scorer and an excellent (1.375 PPP, 92nd percentile) transition threat, both of which were his two most frequent play types and they accounted for 43.5% of his offensive possessions.
It’s also worth noting; Harris had very good (1.394 PPP, 77th percentile) on cuts and good (0.951 PPP, 54th percentile) results on off screen plays too. Those two sequences accounted for 20.1% of his offensive possessions, and that is quite impressive for such a young guard when considering how potent of a spot up and transition threat he already is.
Harris will turn 24-years-old next season, and he is already a good (0.811 PPP, 54th percentile) pick-and-roll ball handler and average (0.773 PPP, 39th percentile) isolation scorer. While those numbers may not be overly impressive, they are sufficient foundations for him to put together a truly impressive overall offensive package one day as a focal point considering how he is already so useful as an off-ball threat.
It’s difficult to envision Harris not receiving a bump in his usage rate from the 18.4% that he had last season. While he hasn’t been a frequent dynamic playmaker so far in his career, it’s likely that he will see a decent increase in his role as a creator on offense and that should only help him score more points and dish out more assists, which should, in turn, help his ranking.
Another area that he should look to improve is on handoff plays. His production was below average (0.773 PPP, 30th percentile) last season and these sequences happened 14.3% of the time that he was on offense, which was his third most frequent play type. Of course, no player is perfect, and he still has a lot of time to grow this area of his game, but even with his weakness, he was still in the 93rd percentile in overall offensive efficiency.
While his direct playmaking skills are still developing, he is a truly proficient complementary offensive player, and his playmaking abilities are already at a good level. Also, he is in an offensive system that brings out the best of his abilities while also playing alongside a guy like Nikola Jokic who is a perfect fit for him. That isn’t an indictment on Harris at all, that is just more reason for analysts to be high on him as a player.
While I understand that his defensive data isn’t good, his overall offensive production should certainly give him somewhat of a pass. For reference, his overall defensive efficiency on his Synergy Sports profile was below average (0.995 PPP, 15th percentile), so it’s certainly an area that could use improvement. It doesn’t help that he played on a roster full of blatantly bad defenders last year either.
This isn’t the first time that ESPN has vastly underrated Gary Harris. Last year, they ranked him as the 177th best player in the league, which ultimately turned out to be incredibly wrong. While most players would probably be happy to move up by 87 in their placement, Harris shouldn’t be at all. He already has the makings of a highly impactful offensive player as a 23-year-old in a perfectly fitting high-octane system.