Five years ago, the Denver Nuggets were seemingly without direction and stuck in a perpetual state of disarray. They were attempting to rebuild their franchise from the ground up, but in order to do that, they needed to find some sense of continuity — a word that has become synonymous with Nuggets basketball over the last half-decade.
Now, after five years of rebuilding and ascending to the upper echelons of the Western Conference, the player who represents the Nuggets continuity better than anyone is Gary Harris, who has been the longest-tenured player on the roster for over a year.
Yes, Harris is only 25 years old and has only been in the league for five years, but his consistency has been a staple of Denver Nuggets basketball for nearly his entire career — at least until his struggles began to set in last season and became much worse this year.
There are some hard truths to face when discussing Harris’ productivity in the role that he plays. There are only three players in the entirety of the National Basketball Association who are shooting under 40% from the field and under 31% from beyond the three-point arc while playing over 30 minutes per game: R.J. Barrett (who is a rookie playing for the dreadful New York Knicks), Justice Winslow (who has only played 11 games this season for the Miami Heat) and Harris.
Simply stated, Harris has been one of the least-productive starters in all of basketball on the offensive side of the floor and that fact is simply unable to be avoided at this point.
Of course, to say that Harris is a bad player is factually incorrect. Harris is one of the better guard defenders in the league and is an integral piece to the Nuggets defensive scheme, but the reality of his offensive production needs to be understood and accepted for what it has been. Harris has consistently been a negative this season on that end of the floor and until he finds a way back to his efficient ways, the Nuggets will never be the best version of themselves.
Still, despite how bad everything seems, Harris can absolutely bounce back and return to the player he was just two seasons ago when he shot 48.5% from the field and 39.6% from three-point range on nearly six attempts per game.
If you ask Will Barton III — who has a better understanding of Harris’ situation than anyone else — he will tell you what the rest of the Nuggets roster and organization would tell you: Harris will find his way back to form sooner rather than later.
“I feel like every game he is going to bounce back to his normal self and I think he showed little flashes of that (against Minnesota) and he is going to be fine,” Barton told Mile High Sports after Denver beat the Timberwolves. “I know a lot of people are worrying about him, but ‘G’ is a dog. He is going to be good.”
There are more than a couple reasons why Barton’s input on Harris’ struggles is meaningful.
First, Barton knows better than anyone on Denver’s roster what it is like to thrive and then struggle mightily the following season due to injuries. After Barton emerged as one of the Nuggets’ most dynamic players during the 2017-18 season, he was expected to take on even more responsibilities in 2018-19, but after surgery took three months from him, Barton was unable to bounce back in the way he had hoped which led to a drastic fall in productivity. This season, Harris has missed 10 of Denver’s 47 games after sitting out 25 games due to injury last year. Because of all of the injuries he has dealt with — the majority of which have been lower body — Harris’ shooting percentages have fallen off a cliff and he is now having his worst statistical season since his rookie year. The parallels between them are unmistakable from that perspective.
“I tell you all the time that in basketball and in life, you are just going to go through shit,” Barton explained to Mile High Sports. “I feel like when you have been in the league for a long time, you are going to have a season where everything isn’t going the way you want it to. This shit happened to me last year. The real ones and the good ones know how to stay with it and bounce back.”
More importantly than the on-court similarities is the fact that Barton is the second-longest tenured player on the roster just behind Harris which helped build the basis for the close friendship they share off the court. No two players have been in Denver longer and grown together like Harris and Barton have. Their lockers have been side-by-side for the entirety of their time together in Denver, they sit together on the team plane and are constantly texting. Their relationship goes far beyond basketball.
“Me and him talk period though, you know what I mean?” Barton asked rhetorically when talking about his relationship with Harris with Mile High Sports. “That is my locker mate, we sit next to each other on the plane, we text a lot so we just talk — period. It doesn’t even have nothing to do with (basketball).”
The other aspect that has not been discussed as often is the fact that Harris became a father for the first time recently which is something that Barton also understands. Last year, Barton had two children during the season which meant he had to learn how to juggle fatherhood and being a professional basketball player which is obviously no easy task. Now Harris is trying to learn the same type of balance which Barton says is extremely difficult for everyone, but especially a new father.
“Especially for him because he is a new father,” Barton explained to Mile High Sports. “It is another phase of your life so you need to figure those things out too.”
That is why, as Harris’ struggles have continued, Barton has been there for his close friend not only as someone who cares off the court, but as someone who has dealt with the same type of difficulties in the very recent past.
“If I do see him and I feel like he is a little little down, I tell him to keep shooting and it is going to fall,” Barton told Mile High Sports. “He is working hard and I know how good he really is. ‘G’ — he was always there for me. Not even for a bad season or a bad game; not even a bad career year. I had a bad game tonight and he was talking to me like, ‘Thrill, you good baby’. You feel what I am saying? We just do that for each other. That is just our bond.”
Harris’ struggles will continue being an incredibly polarizing topic until his shot starts to fall, but the fact remains true that the Nuggets roster and organization believe that Harris will find his way back to the player he was just 18 months ago.