Derek BodnerElias Harris
finished up his freshman campaign with an impressive 24 point performance against Syracuse in the NCAA tournament, capping off an extraordinary -- albeit somewhat inconsistent -- freshman season that seemingly put him in line to be a potential first round pick. Since surprisingly deciding to return to school last year, Harris has had one setback after another, creating a significant amount of uncertainty about his NBA prospects heading forward.
Harris' struggles began during the offseason, as he struggled to find playing time with the German national team. He then suffered a series of injuries early in the year that limited him early on and caused him to gain a significant amount of weight -- a shoulder injury before the season began and an achilles injury 5 games into the season. The injuries appeared to affect his athleticism, conditioning
and energy-level, all of which were amongst his main selling points last season.
Furthermore, the loss of senior Matt Bouldin
has created a void in the Bulldogs offense. The loss of Bouldin's playmaking abilities hasn't been fully replaced, and combined with inconsistent point guard play -- Demetri Goodson has never played the role of a major shot creator, junior college transfer transfer Marquise Carter hasn't had the type of impact the Bulldogs had hoped, and David Stockton is a redshirt freshman -- has resulted in fewer open looks for Harris.
Harris still has the physical profile that made him such an intriguing prospect, with good size, length, and a frame that looks like it should fill out fine for an NBA small forward. When healthy, he's an above average athlete with good coordination and an excellent second jump, which along with his length makes him a good finisher inside. Still, he's struggling to regain the same explosiveness that made him such a force around the basket last season, and his intensity level doesn't seem to be the same.
Harris still displays a good collegiate post game, ranking in the 84th percentile in efficiency according to Synergy Sports technology. He's shown some improvement in his post moves, flashing an occasional quick spin move over and drop step to go along with his right handed hook shot, and does a good job of playing to, and through, contact.
That being said, Harris is undersized to be primarily a post scorer in the NBA, and improving his perimeter game was imperative to making the transition successfully. Harris' jump shot has not made much progress this year. Part of that can be explained by a change in the quality of looks he's getting, as he's attempting more contested jump shots and jump shots off the dribble than last year, areas of his game that aren't yet fully developed.
Still, Harris has struggled to reproduce last year's success from the perimeter even when getting quality looks. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Harris has dropped from 1.68 points per shot on uncontested catch and shoot jump shots down to 0.882 this year, a drastic drop off.
After shooting 45.1% on three pointers last year (albeit on limited attempts), that number has fallen down to 34.1% this year. While never possessing picture perfect form on his jumper, the loss of effectiveness is disconcerting for a player who needed to prove his ability from the perimeter. Harris struggles through bouts of inconsistency with getting his feet set and with his follow through, and it has shown thus far in the results.
Further hampering his productivity from the perimeter is his ball-handling, an area Harris still needs considerable improvement if he's going to make the transition to the small forward position in the NBA. Outside of using his left hand to setup his spin move back to the right, Harris doesn't do much driving to his left. At this stage in his career, Harris is neither proficient at creating for himself or for others, and has lost a degree of quickness on top of that.
Another reason for his drop-off in productivity has been his inability to get to the free throw line at the same rate he did last year. Harris did a great job of drawing fouls last year, averaging 7.1 free throw attempts per 40 minutes, pace adjusted. While his free throw percentage has gone up fro 67.6% to 75% this year -- a good sign, for sure -- that number has fallen down to 4.8 free throw attempts per 40 minutes, pace adjusted. This is an area where his injuries, and the slow start and weight issues that may have contributed towards, may be showing up.
Harris uses his size well on the on the defensive glass, showing a high motor and doing a good job of tracking balls and using his good hands to secure rebounds. His technique could stand to improve some, as he at times gets caught failing to put his body on a man and boxing out as effectively as he could. This is an area that he should be able to improve upon, and he should be an average rebounder for a small forward at the next level.
Defensively is another area that's not so cut and dry when projecting Harris to the next level. His combination of size, length, and athleticism makes him an intriguing defender from a tools perspective, and his work ethic should lend itself well in this regard. That being said, his technique is sometimes in question, as he can get caught over rotating and biting on pump fakes, and he must prove he can move his feet well enough laterally to defend NBA level wing players, which is currently an area of concern. He must continue to play with the same chip on his shoulder that we saw last year, something that he's not really doing right now, likely partially due to his injury struggles.
For a player who was likely a first round draft pick had he entered the draft last season, many will question Harris' decision (along with those who advised him) to return, and rightfully so. Not much has gone right for the German prospect since last season ended. While there are a combination of factors -- mostly legitimate -- that have combined to explain his drop in productivity, for a player who last year had a ways to go to prove he could play on the perimeter in the NBA, this season has raised more questions than answers for him as a prospect.
Especially concerning for him is the fact that he's the same age as many NCAA seniors in this year's draft class, something that will surely affect the way NBA teams view him. While it's not impossible Harris returns to his previous lofty draft status -- one only has to go back to Wesley Johnson
last year to look at a substantially older player (for his class) who improved his draft stock dramatically in a short amount of time-- Harris has a great deal of work ahead of him. May will point to him as the classic case of knowing when to strike while the iron was hot, and now it's up to him to prove them wrong.