Why Gary Harris Will Join the 2014-15 NBA Rookie of the Year Race

Daniel O'Brien@@DanielO_BRFeatured ColumnistAugust 15, 2014

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While Denver Nuggets shooting guard Gary Harris is one of the most talented rookies entering the 2014-15 NBA season, he's not one of the favorites to contend for Rookie of the Year honors.

Most pundits and media don't have the No. 19 pick on the short or long list of potential candidates. B/R's Stephen Babb doesn't list him as a contender, ESPN's ROY forecast doesn't project him in the top seven and he didn't get any votes from his peers during the NBA's rookie survey.

We can't totally blame them for excluding Harris. After all, he'll be fighting for minutes with the likes of Arron Afflalo and Randy Foye, and he's a 19-year-old youngster who's a bit undersized (6'4" with shoes on) at the 2 spot.

It's not going to be easy for Harris to make his mark on a team fighting to make the Western Conference playoffs, and he's a long shot to actually take home the ROY hardware.

But he's got a chance to join the group of contenders, especially if he makes some mid-to-late-season noise.

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Nice Mix of Offensive Skills and Instincts

Harris might be a youngster, but let's remember that he was one of the best guards in all of college basketball last season. He starred at Michigan State for two years and shined on both ends of the floor.

Offensively, he's ready to contribute for the Nuggets in several areas. He already looks well-acclimated to the NBA three-point arc, as he notched three multi-triple outings during his six summer league games. He only shot 32 percent from distance, but when he runs with a better-oiled machine in the big leagues, he'll take and make more efficient threes.

He moved really well without the ball in college, and in Las Vegas, he quickly showed that he works fluidly to find copious scoring chances. And once he catches the rock, he can make a variety of plays with it. In addition to launching from deep, he can create in the mid-range, hit floaters and drive all the way to the rim.

Kalen Deremo of ESPN Truehoop's Roundball Mining Company loved Harris' versatility during summer league:

Harris is just one of those guys who’s got it, the "It Factor," as some say. He’s good at everything. His shooting stroke is as smooth...His handle is sticky. His vision is altruistic. He knows when to attack, when to pass and when to move off the ball. He’s intelligent. He’s way more athletic than people realize. And something I noticed which I think is a harbinger for success in the NBA: confidence...Meanwhile, Reggie Miller seemed to swoon over Harris’ off-the-ball movement...

Harris' offense won't immediately beg for minutes over Afflalo and Foye, because they are both solid wing scorers. But Harris' skill set and ability to collaborate with teammates points to a bright future, so Brian Shaw will want to get a healthy dose of him. The rookie can accomplish most of the same tasks Denver expects from its veterans, so Shaw won't be uneasy about using his bench.

Superb Defensive Value

While Harris' offense will be rock-solid, his defense might even be better.

He was an outstanding perimeter defender at MSU, and it looks like he'll be able to effectively check off-guards and point guards in the NBA.

Not only does he have a willingness to defend and a strong work ethic on that end, he also has a talent and fluidity seldom found in young players. Harris can challenge ball-handlers and put pressure on them, and he can also slide to stay in front and steer them away from playmaking opportunities. When he's defending away from the ball, he keeps his head on a swivel and remains in perfect position.

In Las Vegas, that combination of footwork and awareness put him in position to use his quick hands, and the result was 2.6 steals per game.

He already stands out among his fellow rookies, and they voted him the third-best defender in the entire 2014-15 class.

Afflalo and Foye have exhibited solid defense for stretches during their careers, but their overall success leaves something to be desired. Orlando surrendered 5.8 more points per 100 possessions when Afflalo was on the floor in 2013-14, and Denver surrendered 4.8 more with Foye, per 82games.com. Harris' two-way exploits might not be sparkling enough to steal minutes from Afflalo, but he could definitely compete with Foye.

The Nuggets need a defensive boost across the board after an injury-filled 2013-14 campaign, so Harris' contributions on that end won't go unnoticed, and they will be well-received.

The Nuggets Want to Play Him

Denver's backcourt is crowded, but the club's brass and coaching staff will get Harris minutes one way or another.

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 12: Gary Harris #14 of the Denver Nuggets goes up for a shot against the Toronto Raptors on July 12, 2014 at the Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using
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They know that Harris will do more than hold down the fort to give the key players a breather. General manager Tim Connelly was impressed with Harris' summer league stints, and he trusts his newfound asset to be an integral part of a high-octane rotation.

"There won't be much drop-off (in production) when we go to our bench," Connelly told B/R Senior Writer Jared Zwerling.

Connelly also broke down his impressions of Gary on both ends of the floor. He particularly admired the newbie's NBA-ready stoppage: "I like what we've seen out of Gary, especially on the defensive end of the ball...quick hands, he takes a challenge, I think he has instincts that are hard to teach."

The GM also noted Harris' ability to swiftly adjust to the speed of the NBA offensively: "We were a bit surprised how quickly he got (his shot) off...I think he's done a good job since the college season concluded of speeding things up, getting more used to NBA sets and getting more accustomed to taking those quick shots."

TARRYTOWN, NY - AUGUST 3:  Gary Harris #14 of the Denver Nuggets poses for a portrait during the 2014 NBA rookie photo shoot on August 3, 2014 at the Madison Square Garden Training Facility in Tarrytown, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges
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As previously mentioned, Harris' talents probably won't affect the role of Afflalo, but the rookie could seriously barge in on Foye's place in the rotation. The veteran has experience and plenty of juice left, but Harris is 11 years younger and is ultimately the more valuable long-term commodity. Shaw and Co. will want to give him meaningful minutes to develop him as quickly as possible.

"Harris is good enough to earn playing time right away," said Nate Timmons of DenverStiffs.com. "He will likely push Foye for minutes and could make Foye expendable this season."

Another thing to keep in mind is Shaw's ability to play Afflalo at the 3 spot periodically. When he does, more opportunities will open up for Harris.

Rookie Season Outlook

We're not predicting Harris to shine above Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins, but he's going to get enough playing time and production to make noise, especially as the Nuggets grow more comfortable with him.

It's not far-fetched to think he could be averaging 20-25 minutes per game as the season progresses, whether Denver is in the playoff picture or not. He would score double figures, dish a couple of assists per contest and supply some of the best defense among all rookies.

Many analysts and forecasters are burying him in Denver's depth chart and completely counting him out of the Rookie of the Year picture. Harris will have something to say about that before the season is over, and his play will do all the talking for him.

Dan O'Brien covers the NBA and NBA draft for Bleacher Report.



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