The Denver Nuggets’ first Summer League game of 2014 was all about three players: Gary Harris, Quincy Miller and Erick Green. While Harris is already under contract heading into next season, Miller and Green remain the most likely candidates to secure the Nuggets’ final two roster spots. Not surprisingly, it was these three who carried the Nuggets to their first win in Las Vegas on Saturday afternoon, each turning in impressive individual performances which I analyze below.
Holy crap where do I start?
Well, I guess I’d like to thank Gary Harris, first and foremost, for making me look really good regarding my analysis leading up to and past the 2014 NBA Draft. Harris was “My Guy” throughout the entire process (OK, I’ll admit, Nurkic bumped him down to No. 2 the day before the draft) and in his first Summer League outing he proved exactly why: 31 points (10-17 from the floor, 5-10 from downtown), four rebounds, two assists and two steals. I can’t remember taking more joy out of a Summer League game since… well, probably forever. And the best part about it? I knew Harris was gonna ball out from just about the opening tip…
After two minutes Harris already had four points, a steal and two great defensive possessions. And it just never stopped. The entire game was like those first two minutes got put on replay, one fantastic defensive possession followed by lights-out shooting from downtown. By half, Harris had 17 points. When the game concluded, he had hardly strayed from that pace. And let me emphasize in case I haven’t already: Harris’ defense was awesome. This was not some Carmelo Anthony-esque one-sided, offensive affair followed by defensive neglect. Harris was not only the best offensive player on the court — he was by far the best defensive player as well.
Going into this game I knew Harris had special defensive potential and 3-point shooting talent, which is why I liked him so much coming out of college. That was predictable. What wasn’t predictable, however, was the array of his tool set. Harris is just one of those guys who’s got it, the “It Factor,” as some say. He’s good at everything. His shooting stroke is as smooth as a baby’s but. His handle is sticky. His vision is altruistic. He knows when to attack, when to pass and when to move off the ball. He’s intelligent. He’s way more athletic than people realize. And something I noticed which I think is a harbinger for success in the NBA: confidence. Harris is not of the sulking persuasion. Over the course of his career he probably won’t help a lot of guys up after they fall, and he probably won’t ask for others to help him up when he falls (something I noticed during the game). Harris is just tough. You can tell his high-school football days have made a firm imprint into his basketball DNA. At one point during the end of the game someone stepped on Harris’ face as he fell to the ground, yet after a brief introduction with the hardwood he was up and ready to play ball like nothing had happened.
I know this is only one game (in Summer League of all places) but what I saw from Gary Harris was extremely encouraging. There was just something there, something that makes all the lights flicker inside your brain’s control panel. You know it when you see it. The play-by-play guy said Harris had been the most impressive player in Las Vegas thus far, more impressive than guys like Andre Wiggins and Jabari Parker. Meanwhile, Reggie Miller seemed to swoon over Harris’ off-the-ball movement and even compared him to Damien Lillard’s coming-out party in Las Vegas a few years back. The remaining two (at least) Summer League games will surely tell us much more about Harris than we now know, but if we’re to consider initial impressions, I’d advise you to secure your “Gary Harris” Denver Nuggets jersey now, because this kid’s got the makeup to be a certified stud and guaranteed steal.
Lost in all the Harris hype is the fact that Quincy Miller had a really solid outing as well. He had more first-half points than Harris (21, I believe) and demolished the entire Raptors team in the second quarter before hitting somewhat of a wall in the second half. As I tweeted during the game, it’s important we realize Miller’s still only 21, making him one of the younger non-rookies in Vegas. Had he stayed two more seasons in college and come out as a junior in this year’s draft, my guess is we’d all be pretty damn ecstatic over the performance he turned in on Saturday (23 points, four rebounds, three assists, four blocks).
Unfortunately (and I hate saying this after such a great game) I’m still somewhat of a skeptic when it comes to Miller’s future in the NBA — at least for now. Case in point: his body. He’s 6-9 and still somewhat of a twig. He has neither the bulk to defend NBA-caliber power forwards in the post nor the speed to defend NBA-caliber wings on the perimeter. His shot is still inconsistent and his release fairly awkward. And yet… I can’t really dismiss him either. Miller has talent — a lot, in fact. He doesn’t commit careless mistakes or take that many bad shots. And most importantly, as I stated above, he’s still pretty damn young. But Miller is the tweener of all tweeners. He’s has the height of a small forward, the weight of a shooting guard, the mentality of a stretch four and the desire to cross you up like Allen Iverson. For whatever reason, whether right or wrong, I simply can’t get past this.
We’ll obviously learn a lot more about Miller as Summer League plays out, but if I could offer him one bit of advice at this point in his career it’d be to focus on one thing. Whether that’s shooting, rebounding, defending or passing, Miller has to find his one skill that he can carve a career out of. He’s young and good enough at everything to re-up in the NBA for a few more years — even with his frail frame — but unless he specializes in one thing, he’ll have a hard time securing consistent playing time down the road.
Similar to Miller, Green was impressive but appears to come equipped with his own set of drawbacks from an NBA scouting perspective. He shot the ball well (7-11 for 17 points) and led the Nuggets in assists, but I couldn’t really get past how questionable his game is when looking at if from an NBA standpoint.
Green is a good shooter, but he’s not a great shooter. Furthermore, he’s not really that good at anything other than shooting. And even furthermore, he’s also undersized for his position and doesn’t exactly have springs for hops. So where does this leave him in the grand scope of competing for a roster spot in the NBA? That’s the question I kept asking myself while watching him. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still early and because he’s a good shooter he still has hope… but it’s tough to watch Green play ball and not notice these things. If Green wants to make the Nuggets’ roster he has to show some explosiveness off the dribble. He’s got to beat people one-on-one and display some semblance of a midrange game. Otherwise, it’s hard to see the Nuggets bringing him to Denver for the upcoming season, especially given the quality of free agents still on the market.