Prospect Watch: Harris trying to shoot way up boards
Beyond that, the off guard position is one of the thinnest it has been in quite some time. To wit, after James Harden checks in at No. 11 on the SI.com's Top 100 players of 2014 list, another shooting guard doesn't show up until No. 56, where Manu Ginobili resides -- depending on how you want to characterize Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala.
Although it sometimes may seem scoring wing players grow on trees, two-guards who can fill it up and play defense have become exceedingly rare. Most NBA teams have to settle for one or the other, and some settle for neither. But Michigan State's Gary Harris presents the kind of unique dual-threat ability NBA teams covet.
Harris, a 6-foot-4 sophomore from Fishers, Ind. excels for Michigan State because he can score from every part of the floor. You can run him off a screen and have him play catch-and-shoot offense, or you can have him run pick-and-roll, letting him get into the paint to create. He also defends like you'd expect from a Tom Izzo-coached player. In short, he has the tools to be a legitimate NBA shooting guard -- even a potential All-Star.
Critics point to Harris' height, but Harris has the athletic ability and length to guard taller wing players, not to mention the disposition to compete. He's also solidly built, which will prevent him from being outmuscled on the block. He's actually built similarly to the aforementioned Wade, with Harris checking in a 6-4, 210 pounds and Wade toeing 6-4, 220.
The other question about Harris is whether or not he can shoot efficiently as a team's primary threat. As Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Harris was a lights-out shooter, shooting almost 45.6 percent from the floor overall and 41.1 percent on threes.
This year, with the Spartans leaning heavier on shooting guard (17.8 points per game compared to 12.9 last season), Harris is shooting just 40.4 percent from the field and his three-point percentage has dropped to 32.7 percent. Lost in shooting numbers though, is the impact Harris makes for Sparty outside of his scoring.
His rebounding percentage on the offensive and defensive glass is up drastically and his assist percentage has nearly doubled.
After Harris' freshman season, SB Nation's Michigan State blog The Only Colors compared Harris to players with similar skill sets in the NBA and concluded Harris ought to stay in school for another year:
"At best? Gary Harris could become maybe the second-best player on a championship team that could hit the big shots and be a huge asset to any team's backcourt for a long time in the NBA.
At worst? Harris could end up like [Javaris] Crittenton, or worse. He could become plagued with injuries and never adjust to three-point shooting in the pros."
But that was a year ago, and Harris did return to school. The question becomes what has changed? Has he evolved?
An ankle injury derailed a promising start for Harris who scored 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting against Kentucky early in the season opener and dropped 21 on Oklahoma at the end of November in what looks like a much better performance in retrospect.
But lately, Harris' shot has escaped him. Since Christmas, Harris has shot 29-of-73 overall (39.7 percent). Now completely healthy, Harris has to pick it up from an efficiency standpoint if he has his hopes set on the 2014 lottery.
With such a dearth of quality NBA shooting guards, Harris is likely to remain in the lottery discussion as he tries to prove to future employers that he can be the next great shooting guard.
Best of the rest: Updates on other NBA prospects
Andrew Wiggins, F, Kansas -- It was a Jekyll and Hyde week for a Jekyll and Hyde prospect. Andrew Wiggins went 2-of-9 and struggled with foul trouble against Oklahoma, then followed up with a superb 22-point outing in a thrashing of rival Kansas State without running mate -- and future lottery pick -- Joel Embiid, who was ejected.
Such inconsistencies have become par for the course for Wiggins this season as the superlative freshman hasn't been able to string together three or four really high-quality games. But then he does things like throw down nasty dunks as part of dominating performances and scouts are left wondering if they should be worried, heartened, or both.
Jabari Parker, F, Duke -- Parker's arc mirrors his team's as tumbles down the polls. After getting benched against Notre Dame, Parker followed that up with two more stinkers, a 4-of-12 showing against Georgia Tech and a 5-of-13 effort in a loss to Clemson. Every player is going to struggle, but Parker was already in the middle of a skid when he ended up riding the bench against Notre Dame.
What NBA teams want to see is him find other ways to help his team, or find more effective places on the floor to find his points. Parker hasn't been able to do that, and although he's still a lock for the top five, the shine of his early-season dominance has surely worn off.
Julius Randle, F, Kentucky -- Rebounding, at least from major conference players, tends to be a translatable NBA skill and Randle cleans the glass as well as any player in the country. Like Parker, Randle has struggled to find his offense lately, going 6 of 17 in two games combined over the last week, but also went for 14 and 11 rebounds in two games despite playing 21 and 25 minutes, respectively, in those games. When his shot isn't falling, he's still finding ways to help his team win.
Randle was playing better earlier in the year when the rest of his young teammates were deferring to him, but as they find their rhythm, it may mean fewer touches for the bullish Wildcat forward. NBA teams would love to see Randle show some dexterity with his handle and jumper to boost his stock, in case he's struggling to get it going on the block.
Marcus Smart, G, Oklahoma State -- If you want the best big-game player in the draft, it's hard to overlook Marcus Smart. In the last two games, Smart has ripped off 20 and 10 games in back-to-back Big 12 wins. His 24, 11 rebounds, six steals, and five assists against Texas were aided by 20 attempts from the charity stripe. The attacking guard is going to get to the line in the NBA and with his frame, can finish with contact. But he was even better against West Virginia with 22 pounds, 13 rebounds, and five assists on 8-of-15 shooting and 3-of-5 from deep.
Even more impressive for Smart, he had just three total turnovers despite his high usage rate. Smart brings a unique skill set for an NBA point guard, and has the body, not to mention the scoring talent, to play the off guard in the NBA as well. Smart would be perfect for a lottery team like Milwaukee that desperately needs a lead guard.
Jerami Grant, F, Syracuse -- Grant has solidified his place in the first round should he choose to come out with his strong play of late. While his shot leaves much to be desired, Grant's leaping ability and rebounding make him a dynamic player in transition and valuable as a defender. He had highlight blocks against North Carolina and finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds against the Tar Heels.
Grant's offensive game remains limited, but he's improved so much from his freshman to sophomore year, that NBA teams could believe the sky is the limit for the Hyattsville, Maryland prospect. If he can develop a corner three-point shot with some consistency and a reliable 15-18 foot spot-up jumper, he's a lottery pick without question. On an up-tempo team with a good point guard, Grant could be a terror, and he has NBA defensive potential from Day 1.
Wayne Selden ,G, Kansas -- Selden's lottery buzz fizzled a long time ago, but the 6-foot-6 guard is still a legitimate first-round pick and reminded why this week. He followed up a dominant 24-point game against Oklahoma with 20 in a rout of Kansas State. It was a big test for Selden who, for all his talent, has a tendency to take some bad shots and force the ball.
But after he had an outstanding outing against Oklahoma, shooting 9-of-17 and 50 percent from deep, he could have come out against K-State gunning. Instead, he took what the offense gave him and he shot 7-of-10 overall and 3-of-5 from deep to go along with four boards and three assists, making it one of his best games of the year. This stretch also comes on the heels of perhaps his worst game of the year against San Diego State. Selden can work his way back up boards if he continues this kind of efficiency.
Kyle Anderson, G/F, UCLA -- Anderson isn't of the ilk of some of the players above, but his play of late deserves to be highlighted. He's a 6-foot-9 point guard who isn't quite quick enough to play guard, but has point guard-quality passing skills. Anderson averages 15.2 points, 9.1 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game. He can do it all for UCLA on a team loaded with talent. Anderson nearly willed the Bruins to a win over No. 1 Arizona, scoring 16 points, grabbing 11 boards and dishing six assists.
As an encore, he scored 17 points, pulled in 13 rebounds, and had seven helpers against Arizona State Sunday night. Anderson is a point forward in the mold of a young Boris Diaw (when he was in Phoenix), only has a scoring game somewhat reminiscent of Josh Childress. If he were quicker and more athletic, he would be an easy first-round pick. As it is, Anderson is a draftable commodity and could play himself into the first-round conversation.
Doug McDermott, F, Creighton -- McDermott isn't likely to see the top 10 on the NBA draft, but his scoring talent can't be understated. McDermott's shooting is a rare commodity, as he's shot over 40 percent from deep in every season at Creighton and is now shooting 90 percent from the free throw line. His rebound percentage is on par with his career averages and his passing has steadily improved over his career.
McDermott is not a go-to NBA scorer, but as a complimentary piece, he absolutely can contribute to an NBA team as a pick-and-pop player and streak scorer. His liabilities on the defensive end and as an athlete will be a bigger problem for teams who like to get up and down the court, but on a team like the Spurs, he could be the perfect player to come off the bench and score 15 points a game and occasionally play crunch time minutes for offense.
Games to Watch
Monday, Jan. 13: No. 18 Kansas vs. No. 9 Iowa State
If Wiggins and Joel Embiid are elite defensive players, let's see them slow down the fourth-best scoring offense in college basketball. Melvin Ejim's scoring and rebounding could be a problem for the Jayhawks. This also should be a game for Embiid to dominate, as the Cyclones' leading rebounder is 6-foot-6 forward Dustin Hogue. Embiid ought to have a double-double and will have to find his teammates as Iowa State is certain to bring doubles with regularity. Embiid's passing out of double teams will be a key for him moving forward as most teams will struggling to guard him one-on-one on the block. Iowa State, coming off its first loss, will be plenty hungry, so look for whether or not the Jayhawks' ultra-talented roster can match that intensity from the jump.
Tuesday, Jan. 14: No. 4 Wisconsin vs. Indiana
As usual, the Badgers lack top NBA-level talent, but Sam Dekker has first-round potential and will go against possible lottery pick Noah Vonleh. Vonleh has had an up-and-down season, struggling to find his niche in Tom Crean's offense. Wisconsin runs a ton of motion, making you guard for the whole shot clock, and likes to pull its bigs out to the perimeter. Seeing Vonleh defend guys his size on the outside will be key for NBA evaluators who want to see if he can guard stretch fours at the next level. Wisconsin also lacks an athlete to match Vonleh's size and skill. If he's worthy of a lottery pick, he has to lead his team in this game, whether they win or not. For Dekker, he has a penchant for wanting the ball in big situations and this is a game where he can prove he deserves it.
Saturday, Jan. 18: No. 5 Michigan State vs. No. 23 Illinois
Gary Harris vs. Rayvonte Rice has the potential for fireworks as two of the Big Ten's best scorers face off. Rice is a big, physical guard who can finish in the lane with serious strength. Harris has the quickness advantage and should be able to take Rice off the dribble to get to the rim. Look for Harris to attack Rice and vice versa. What Michigan State -- and by extension, NBA teams -- don't want is for Harris to break the flow of the game just to outscore the man across from him.
Saturday, Jan. 18: No. 11 Oklahoma State vs. No. 18 Kansas
Oklahoma State is more than just Marcus Smart and Kansas may find that out the hard way. Markel Brown has first-round ability and LeBryan Nash has a shot to be an NBA player, which means Kansas will have to match at every spot on the floor. With Smart going for the Cowboys, expect Wiggins to take some time guarding him, with Selden getting the task as well. Smart's ability to get in the lane and finish will certainly be tested with Embiid patrolling the paint. This is as close as Smart will get to playing in an NBA game with NBA talent before he gets into the league. If he comes with another one of his big-game performances like he's been having lately, he's firmly back in the top-five mix.