Can an Injury-Free Gary Harris Become the Big Ten POY?Posted by Jonathan Batuello (@jcbatuello) on October 30th, 2013
Michigan State has a lot of talent coming back this season, but on a loaded roster, sophomore Gary Harris is likely the best of them all. Harris has already been picked by CBSSports.com as the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year, and it certainly won’t be the last preseason accolade he receives. Last season he averaged 12.9 points per game while shooting a robust 41 percent from 3-point range. His play had many speculating he would head to the NBA Draft last spring, but he returned to the Spartans to play alongside Keith Appling, Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson to push toward a B1G and national title. His return is a major reason Michigan State is No. 2 in the country to open the season.
The biggest thing to remember about Harris last year, though, is that he was never really fully healthy with a right shoulder injury. This year, he has already been battling an ankle injury that put him at an estimated 75 percent effectiveness in early October, according to ESPN. This caused him to be held out of full contact practice when it started last month, but it appears he is finally back to his former self and ready to show what he is capable of without those nagging injuries.
Another microsite colleague hit on the importance of Appling to the Spartans, and in reality, how Harris and Appling complement each other this season could play an important role in his potential for postseason accolades and Michigan State’s national title hopes. Harris has shown he can hit the jumper with a quick release, and when he’s hot from long range he can take over a game (ask Purdue about when Harris made six 3-pointers at the Breslin Center last January). Defensively he also has quick hands and feet and finds himself using those to create turnovers, although the new rules on hand-checking could limit that this season. Just check out this highlight reel to see his elite shooting capabilities where he can release the ball before a defender can even get to him.
The big question for Harris will be if he can start to create his own shot more effectively this season. Last season, 158 of his 329 shot attempts came from 3-point range, with the Spartans running him off screens to get open. This focus on perimeter shooting also limits his drives to the basket, and by proxy, free throw attempts, which results in the types of easy points (he shoots 75.5 percent from the line) Harris will need if he wants to push for B1G Player of the Year. With the talented sophomore hopefully now at 100 percent, we should anticipate a corresponding increase in his explosiveness and driving abilities. For a big guard, he has not yet proven to be an elite finisher, shooting below 50 percent last season from two-point range (49.7 percent, precisely). Ben McLemore, as a comparison, hit on over 55 percent of his twos, but whether Harris’ good-not-great percentage represents a skill deficiency or those nagging injuries remains to be seen. We’ll find out in the coming months.