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Hornets Draft Duels – Pick #9: Gary Harris vs. Nik Stauskas

Brian Spurlock - USA Today Sports

Brian Spurlock – USA Today Sports

Over the next few weeks leading up to the NBA Draft on June 26th, Queen City Hoops contributors will be facing off with each other (and sometimes themselves) to argue the case for the Hornets to select one player over another. Make sure to have your voice heard by commenting below and by tweeting our live podcast @HiveTalkLive. 

Two coveted prospects. Scorers, true competitors in any description of the word, and natural rivals. Both Gary Harris and Nik Stauskas stayed for their sophomore seasons at Michigan State and Michigan, respectively. Stauskas is 11 months older than Harris. Both of these players are likely going to add a positive flare to whatever teams they end up being drafted by, and the Hornets are very likely going to have both of these names starring them in the face when the ninth pick rolls around.

Let’s go ahead and point out the obvious: Charlotte needs floor spacing and scoring in general. We all learned just how scoring starved this roster is when Al Jefferson was injured in the playoffs. Oh, and the two seasons before that. Floor spacing isn’t extremely hard to come by in this league – there are shooters everywhere. Guys that can beat you with the shot, but also put the ball on the deck and expose a scrambling defense is when you can really start getting excited. Both Harris and Stauskas have this ability.

I know, I know. Cho is a very clever man with his assets and is likely already burning up the phones to see how he can get a veteran scorer by shipping out these two first-round picks. We’re going to shelve that thought for the remainder of this piece – don’t forget that although trades are very fun to talk about, rarely do they happen as much as we would like to believe.

Time to dig in.

Pat Lovell / USA Today Sports

Pat Lovell / USA Today Sports

Gary Harris: I’m not going to lie, I’ve had cold feet on this guy since the draft combine. When all of the players measured without shoes and Harris came in at 6’2, yes 6’2, I had to rewind my DVR and be sure that I heard/read correctly.

Harris on the measurement: “Yeah, it was funny. It was funny. My agent was talking about it a little bit. I mean, I don’t think it’s funny.”

Okay, which one is it?

Harris continued: “I was measured at 6’4.5 with shoes on and I don’t think that I had 2.5 inch souls in my shoes.”

Well for his sake, lets hope not. There’s no getting around the fact that this is very alarming for a guy who plans to come into the league as a SG. Make no mistake, it will scare teams away from Harris. That team may not be the Hornets, but it doesn’t bode well, regardless of how you slice it up.

Okay, now that I’ve made it very clear what bothers me the most about this prospect I’m going to tell you what I like. And there’s a lot to like.

Harris is versatile offensively. He can shoot opponents out of the gym, but also attack you with his dribble. Last season, he shot 41% when his feet were set (catch & shoot) and 40% off-the-dribble — certainly a sign of a well-rounded offensive guard, and also a guy who’s probably a workout freak — crisp one and two-dribble pull-ups that rip the net consistently can make scouts drool. His shot isn’t the model stroke that you see in your dreams, but it’s effective. Harris has a bit of a wind-up with his shot that finishes with a high release point. In his freshman season, he lit up the Big Ten from behind-the-arc at a rate of 42.5%. Harris’ sophomore campaign didn’t carry the same success as his 3-point numbers plummeted to 35.2%. A bulk of this regression has to do with the fact that teams scouted to chase Harris off of the 3-point line, which resulted in poor shot selection, and made him a driver – an area he didn’t excel in. Although Harris appears to be a decent ball-handler, he hasn’t quite learned how to finish at the rim. In half-court situations this season, Harris only finished 45.5% of his attempts at the rim. Not good.

Ball-handling is going to be very important for Gary Harris’ draft stock. The underwhelming measurement at the combine will force the issue with teams to desire Harris as a PG/SG combo on this level. When I watch Harris on film I do not see a great ball-handler. I see a guy who has a high dribble for someone measuring out in the 6’4 range. He stands up, and doesn’t get a low center-of-gravity when putting the ball on the floor. I’m not as worried if we’re talking about a player that’s coming in at 6’6-6’7, but by all accounts, we’re not.


Chad Ford on Gary Harris’ workout in Los Angeles last week:


In the drills I saw, Harris shot the ball extremely well, nailing 3 after 3 from well beyond the NBA 3-point line. He has great form on his jumper, and his strength allows him to get his shot off with no problem from deep. I expect that he’s going to show very well against the Nik Stauskases of the world in workouts.

A number of teams are also looking at Harris as a potential combo guard or point guard at the next level. To that end, trainer Joe Abunassar of Impact Basketball put him through a series of ballhandling drills to show what you can already see in game film — Harris has a very tight handle and is very, very quick with the ball. While he may not be a pure point guard, in today’s NBA, he could easily play the position in most offenses.

Factor in that Harris is the youngest sophomore in the draft, coming off a terrific season in the Big Ten for Michigan State, has the reputation of a high-character, hard-working kid, and is one of the few two-way players in the draft, and I think he remains a lock for the lottery and a likely top-10 pick. He’ll work out just about everywhere from Boston at No. 6 to the Bulls at No. 16. The Charlotte Hornets could be an interesting destination for him at No. 9. They need shooting from the wing and Harris’ ability to play some point could alleviate Kemba Walker in stretches.

So, there’s that on Harris’ ball-handling capability. Keep in mind, this was very likely a 1-on-0 drill that mimics what any NFL pro-day does – showcasing the players strengths. Ones that do the best job of shading identified weaknesses.

What I find most interesting about Ford’s notes is that he believes Harris is “likely a top-10 pick”. I would bet my left arm that he doesn’t go top-7, and Sacramento would be a head-scratcher at eight with the Ben McLemore project to cater to, so there’s Charlotte at nine. Yikes. I like the kid’s game overall and definitely believe he’s going to at least carve out a rotation niche in the league, but I’m not in favor of this selection at nine. Too bad the team doesn’t ask me my opinion.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Nik Stauskas: Flare. This kid has it on-and-off the court. It’s probably going to be difficult to find a prospect that’s as likeable, with a very hard work-ethic, as Stauskas. He strikes me as a happy-go-lucky kind of guy who isn’t very conscious of his weaknesses, and that in itself is a strength. It’s fair to believe that Nik’s personality is going to make some front offices fall in love with him. The more  you read, and listen to interviews, the more you get this feeling that he’s truly a kid chasing his lifelong dream and doesn’t see a roadblock ahead. You can’t say this about every, even most, prospects.

I had my reservations early-on about Stauskas, and still do to an extent. Who in the world is this kid going to guard? Does his lack of lateral quickness affect his ceiling on the defensive end as much as it appears it should? Is he simply not athletic enough to be consistently productive on the next level?

They’re all legit questions about Stauskas. The greatest being the ones surrounding his limitations defensively. When watching the film the lack of athleticism is most transparent on defense. He stands up a lot, rarely guards with active hands (especially when closing out), gets blown up on ball-screens, and to smother icing on the cake, he’s not a good team defender to this point. His drive and work ethic suggest that Stauskas can become, at the very least, a good team defender. And that’s fine, because he then becomes much easier to hide on that end of the floor.

Stauskas has drawn some Manu Ginobli comparisons, which aren’t extremely hard to get on-board with. That being said, it’s difficult to imagine Nik ever becoming the kind of defender that Manu is. Of the 15 SG’s at the draft combine, he was the second tallest behind James Young. That’s cool. But the fact that his wingspan, at 6’7.75″, and his hand width, at 8.5, are both in the bottom-five of the SG’s is troublesome. I try not to read a ton into measurements, but when you’re talking about a guy who’s already a poor defender, these numbers make it difficult to justify him getting deflections + steals on the next level. Becoming a solid positional team defender in the NBA could be the extent of what anyone can hope for from Stauskas.

The strengths with Nik Stauskas abound in a variety of ways and create a ceiling that I personally cannot see. Stauskas is a dead-eye shooter with a hairline trigger. He’s effective with his shot when his feet are set or off-the-bounce, and if you close your eyes and use your imagination, you may see some Steph Curry. If there was a way to generate power from made three-pointers, then just lock this kid in a gym and he’d very likely keep the lights on for most major metropolitan areas. He drops the ball down to his waist before he gets into his shot, but Stauskas has a way of sizing up his defender on the move (similar to Curry) and pulling the trigger before the defender has a chance to contest high with his hands.

The most intriguing aspect of Nik’s game lies in his ability to handle the basketball. It gets him to many spots on the floor + he uses his length to gain trips to the foul line when getting to the rim — he attempted 5.7 FTA/game last season. Stauskas doesn’t have some ridiculous crossover dribble or shake that’s going to have guys falling all over themselves, but defenders have to take away his airspace due to his ability to shoot. He not only showed that he has a good first step to flash past a closing out defender, but he’s also a very willing passer when realizing that he’s drawn the extra defender – 2.6 AST/TO ratio in his sophomore season – Very efficient, and a skill that could certainly develop rapidly in a league that depends heavily on ISO situations. The versatility with the basketball, combined with his ability to shoot, suggest that Stauskas could be a player at the next level that carries a high usage-rate. Are these not the kind of players that not only have a very high ceiling, but also ones you want on your team? Someone who can kill the opponent with the outside shot, and create for himself + teammates off-the-bounce, with a keen understanding of the game. Sign me up.

If I’m the front office and Nik Stauskas is available with the ninth pick, which he should be, this is my pick.