The greatest need for the Hawks in the upcoming summer is to improve their perimeter defense. When Demarre Carroll is not available, Atlanta is helpless to defend athletic players with a trace of an outside shot. With a thin free agent class at shooting guard (after Lance Stephenson, Avery Bradley may be best player available), the 2014 NBA Draft is the most likely place for the Hawks to upgrade at shooting guard barring a trade. Michigan State sophomore Gary Harris (currently projected to Atlanta by DraftExpress.com) could be the best option for Atlanta to improve their rotation while also adding a potential player for the future.
Harris (14th on the Peachtree Hoops Draft Board) is a skilled defensive player who has a good chance to translate his gifts to the professional level sooner than other 2014 first-round prospects. His game is more mature than his age as he will be only 19 on the day of the draft. His game compares favorably with Hall of Famer Joe Dumars who built his whole career on being a great defender who did unspectacular things well. It is way premature to order the plaque for Springfield or even assume he will be a regular starter, but Harris has very few weaknesses while possessing several strengths. He is the least flawed player projected in the lottery and has a clear position as a shooting guard. While improving his game this season, Harris has dropped some on some boards due to his ceiling being a little lower than other emerging prospects. However, his limitations as an athlete are overly exaggerated as can be seen from his highlights against Kentucky early in the season:
Gary Harris Full Highlights 2013.11.12 vs Kentucky - 20 Pts. (via Dawk Ins)
Athleticism is about more than dunking, but the dunk in the above clip from about 8-feet away from the basket shows a player that has more physical ability than what he regularly flashes in games. Harris is an undervalued athlete who does not depend on his athleticism to succeed. Some players get their steal numbers from poking balls away as a player blows by or playing off their man as a secondary defender, but Harris earns nearly every steal he makes (1.9 per game).
In his first game against Michigan this season, Nik Stauskas began the game on fire as Harris covered other Wolverine players. Michigan State Head Coach Tom Izzo transferred Harris to Stauskas and he completely took him out of the game. John Beilein countered that move in the second match-up by running Harris through an obstacle course of screens. Stauskas was able to find space in leading Michigan to victory, but that is an affirmation of how Harris affects other teams. He is both disruptive and consistent enough on the defensive end that other teams have to account for him at all times.
Offensively, Harris was not able to solidify his abilities as an outside shooter this season. After shooting 43% from the three-point line as a freshman, his percentage dropped to 35% this year. However, on a team which has not excelled shooting from the outside, he was called upon to shoot pressure threes late in the shot clock when the offense breaks down. The biggest question for scouts is determining if Harris can make more consistently in the NBA. His high and quick release will not need much adjustment as he moves to playing against elite athletes. Shooting 81% from the free-throw line and attempting more than 6 three pointers per game, Harris should be able to be at least an average three-point shooter for his position.
Harris is a willing passer and a good ballhandler. He is comfortable taking shots under pressure, yet does not demand the ball or overreach his abilities in order to be the hero. A solid finisher at the rim with a creative in-between game, Gary's development offensively is only limited by the expansion of his range. There is some critique that he is a little short for a shooting guard, yet he is listed at 6'5" and has been measured to have a 6'7" wingspan. There is no indication on film that Harris has deficient size to succeed as an NBA shooting guard.
Gary Harris rebounds his position, defends at an elite level, and shows flashes of being a solid offensive player with more ability than advertised. His mentality and toughness show a player comfortable playing a role for a team as a rookie and pushing to be a starter in his second season. The Hawks would be very fortunate to see him available when it comes time to make a first-round selection--even if the choice is as high as #10. Few players impact the NBA defensively as a rookie, but Gary has a better chance to do so than most. That alone should help him find a way to contribute as he transitions to playing against better athletes. It would be hard to find a better back-court mate for Dennis Schroeder going forward than Gary Harris. In fact, they possess the potential to develop into an elite tandem on the defensive end.
[We interrupt this Draft Profile for an update on the KJIT (formerly known as the National Invitational Tournament). K.J. McDaniels continues his rise averaging 19 points, 6 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 2 steals per game as Clemson prepares to play SMU in Madison Square Garden this coming Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN2. McDaniels has managed to score his points on a total of only 31 shot attempts while shooting 50% from the three-point line. He also treated an Atlanta college rudely:
Apologies to both fans of the Panthers. We now return to our normal programming.]
Tonight's NCAA games will feature several elite prospects that the Hawks will consider selecting: Kentucky guard James Young and center Willie Cauley-Stein, Louisville power forward Montrezl Harrell, fellow Michigan State forward Adreian Payne and Michigan guard Nik Stauskas. While there is much to like about all of these prospects, none of them should get Atlanta fans as excited as hearing Gary Harris' name called at the draft. With some luck and proper development, Harris should be a two-way starter in the league for many years.