Gary Harris is Proving That the Spartans Won’t Struggle to Score in the PostseasonPosted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on January 21st, 2014
With less than 10 weeks left until Selection Sunday, we can begin to look at how each team is addressing their weaknesses that could become a roadblock on their way to winning a national title in March. The biggest concern with Michigan State was their ability to consistently generate offense, specifically, whether they have a go-to guy scorer that isn’t afraid to carry them over the last five minutes of the game. The contenders usually have one such player, which is why Kansas, Kentucky, and Duke are still considered to be a force in March because Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, and Jabari Parker can manufacture points regardless of double teams against formidable competition. During the preseason, Gary Harris was tagged to be that guy for Michigan State, and he is making a strong case for his ability to lead the Spartans in March based on his performance over the past two weeks.
Harris has averaged 19 PPG during January, but more importantly, he has shown that he can score without just relying on the three-pointer. He has one of the prettiest looking jumpers from beyond the arc, but he hasn’t been very consistent, as indicated by a so-so 32% shooting. However, when his shot doesn’t fall, he has shown the maturity to move into the mid-range and leverage his jumper from the elbow around the free-throw line in the half-court. Against a hungry Illini team on Saturday night, Harris drilled a couple of clutch shots off the pick-and-roll from the mid-range. These types of shots will be available to him as long as he doesn’t settle for the three because the Spartans have a decent frontcourt that can run pull up from the mid-range in case the defender forgets to switch away from Harris.
Speaking of the frontcourt, it could be a blessing in disguise that Adreian Payne sat out three games with a sore foot because it has forced Harris to form a chemistry with the other forwards such as Matt Costello or Kenny Kaminsky. Costello shot 4-of-5 from the field against Illinois and was consistently involved in the pick-and-roll with Harris during the second half. Not only does Payne’s absence give an opportunity for Costello to pick up additional minutes to gain confidence in his jumper, but it also forces Harris to be assertive on the offense for the entire 40 minutes instead of taking plays off when Payne dominates the paint. Once Payne is back, he can focus on cleaning up the glass and working on the mid-range game, but still defer to Harris during the key possessions.
Conference season is viewed as a preparation towards the NCAA tournament in East Lansing. That is not to say that Tom Izzo doesn’t care about the Big Ten season, but it is clear that he uses the months of January/February to iron out any kinks on both sides of the ball before March. Playing a full 40 minutes with confidence and energy has been a problem for Harris, as it is for most of the younger players, but that attitude is slowly changing. He is slowly transforming into a complete player that a title contender such as Michigan State needs in March. One can almost expect Keith Appling to have a shooting slump or Payne to get into foul trouble during an Elite Eight matchup against a top team, at which point, Harris should have the confidence to take over the game and pull the Spartans towards the Final Four.