In a Denver Nuggets season that has been full of more questions than answers, one of the more perplexing issues has been the brutal decline of Gary Harris’ offensive impact, but if Harris’ five games since the All-Star break are any indication, those problems may become a part of the past.
Prior to the All-Star break, Harris was one of the least efficient offensive starters in basketball after shooting 40% from the field and 29.9% from the three-point line in his first 46 games. Now, in Harris’ last five games since the All-Star break, he is shooting 46.2% from the field and 58.3% from three-point range in addition to his typically tremendous defense.
There is no better evidence of Harris’ improving offensive production than the performance he had when the Raptors entered the Pepsi Center in downtown Denver to take on the Nuggets. In that game, Harris put up 15 points on 6-7 shooting from the field and 3-3 from three-point range to go with four rebounds and three assists. The 15 points he had against Toronto were the most points he has scored in a game since the 15 points he had back on January 12th against the Los Angeles Clippers.
“Tonight, obviously he was terrific,” Malone explained when talking about Harris’ strong play against Toronto. “(He was) 6-7 (from the field) and 3-3 from three for 15 points and unbelievable defense. You can’t ask much more from your starting two-guard.”
In the battle with the Raptors, Harris looked the player he was two seasons ago. He managed to knock down all of his open three-point shots, was consistently aggressive going to the rim, reignited his telepathic connection with Jokic a few times for easy buckets, and even had a couple of his vintage reverse layups around the rim.
For one of the few times this season, Harris resembled the hyper-efficient shooting guard he was just two seasons ago.
“Just because he was struggling lately does not mean he is a bad player,” Nikola Jokic stated after the Nuggets beat the Toronto Raptors 133-118.
Despite Harris’ struggles this season, not a single individual in the Nuggets organization or on their roster lost their faith in him. His teammates constantly vocalize their trust in Harris and his ability to find his way back to form. Even when members of the Nuggets front office spoke to Mile High Sports about Harris’ struggles, their faith in his resurgence never faded.
That is why, when Nuggets head coach Michael Malone was asked about Harris after Denver’s win over Toronto, he made it clear that he never bought into the idea that Harris is the player who has been struggling for the first 50-or-so games.
“I know there was a lot of talk about Gary and this and the other things, but I do not listen to that noise,” Malone explained. “To me that is what it is — it is just noise.
Malone then vocalized his faith even further by making it crystal clear that he has no intention of moving away from Harris despite his less than ideal production earlier in the season.
“I know full well what Gary is capable of,” Malone explained. “I know full well that, in my five years here, how important he has been to the development and rise of our franchise and program and I am going to stay with him.”
Now, it seems the faith Denver has shown in Harris is beginning to pay dividends. With Harris’ three-point shot falling more regularly and his aggression to the rim spiking, he has become a much more potent offensive threat. If his improved play is here to stay while Jokic and Murray continue to thrive, opposing defense will eventually be stretched to their limits.
So what has allowed Harris to bounce back? When Mile High Sports spoke with Harris after Denver’s win over Toronto and asked him that exact question, he revealed his extremely simplistic plan.
“Just coming in and getting my shots up and trusting it.” Harris explained. “Shots are going to fall eventually.
“You can’t really think about it too much. If you have a bad shooting night, it is over. You can’t do anything about it. You just gotta keep going. The next game is coming.”
The plan of attack for Harris is simple, but it is now starting to look effective as well.
In Denver’s win over Toronto, Jokic had 23 points, 18 rebounds and 11 assists for his 40th triple-double of his career and the Nuggets beat the defending champion Raptors, but the most important development was Harris’ improved play on offense.
While Harris’ 15 points seem less consequential than other aspects of the Nuggets win, the simple truth is that Harris’ offensive production is incredibly important if Denver wants to thrive in the playoffs. If he is a non-factor on offense in the postseason — as he has been for most of the 2019-20 season — then the Nuggets offense becomes much easier to defend, but if Harris finds his way back to being Denver’s secret weapon on that end of the floor, they become a significantly more dangerous team.
“I know I got to play better for this team to go where we want to go,” Harris told Mile High Sports. “I know I have to be better. I don’t look at it any other way. I know I have to be better and I’ll keep working towards that.”