Why Gary Harris' extension may be the best value of 2017

Nuggets guard Gary Harris just keeps getting better. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Nuggets guard Gary Harris just keeps getting better. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Of all the rookie extensions signed during the 2017 league year, the Denver Nuggets may have received the best value on the four-year, $84 million rookie-scale extension that shooting guard Gary Harris accepted on Saturday. Of that $84 million total, $10 million are incentives, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

If Harris had waited to enter restricted free agency next summer, he could have bargained for much more on the open market. Adjusted for salary inflation, Harris’ contract is the equivalent of the four-year, $50 million deal the Nuggets gave Kenneth Faried in 2014. Last year, Allen Crabbe signed to a four-year, $75 million offer sheet with the Brooklyn Nets, which the Portland Trail Blazers matched. (One summer later, the Blazers shipped Crabbe to Brooklyn anyway.) Harrison Barnes signed for four years and $94 million, and appears comfortable as a go-to scorer in Dallas.

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Joel Embiid accepted a five-year, $148 million extension on Monday, and could be a future MVP if he can avoid being a walking WebMD page. Andrew Wiggins is taking his time contemplating the Minnesota Timberwolves’ five-year, $148 million offer, and Wiggins isn’t $60 million more valuable than Harris. Otto Porter received $106 million to be a third wheel, and Porter isn’t $22 million better than Harris, either. Harris hasn’t come close to reaching his ceiling, and you can be sure Denver isn’t banking on Harris remaining stagnant. The franchise is hoping Harris can blossom into its own Jimmy Butler, with a combo guard’s mind and body.

After each of Harris’ three seasons, he’s returned the next year as an improved shooter and a more efficient scorer. This was an unforeseen development following Harris’ disastrous rookie season.

Shield your eyes or pull out your solar eclipse glasses to peep the following from his first year: 30 percent shooting from the field, 20 percent from behind the arc and an average of 3.4 points in 55 games. As it turns out, Harris was severely undercooked. That was only two years ago. Harris is now just a 23-year-old entering his fourth season.

In the past 10 years, only nine other players have averaged at least 14 points while shooting 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from the 3-point line on a minimum of three makes a night — as Harris did last season. It’s a smorgasbord of dependable All-Stars and solid players, ranging from All-NBA mainstays Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and Steve Nash to dependable longtime pros Goran Dragic, Harris’ teammate Jameer Nelson and Mike Miller.

Harris’ playmaking and shot-creation skills were a subject of scrutiny last year. However, Harris is a problem for defenses as the ballhandler in pick-n-rolls, or as a catch-and-shoot triggerman.

What makes Harris such a valuable commodity isn’t his growth as a one-on-one player. It’s his ability to slot into so many different offensive roles that makes his special. He’ll never be the best player on a contender. Harris isn’t athletic or quick enough for a 6-foot-4 guard, and hasn’t displayed the ability to get to the free-throw line. On the other hand, he has a bit of C.J. McCollum in him. Not only are their shot charts identical, but they ended last season as two of the three most efficient scoring guards standing below 6-foot-5, especially from beyond 24 feet. Harris also offers the added benefit of being a tenacious defender in the half-court.

Harris is an excellent two-way player, but is also far from a finished product. He’s never had to add more volume to his scoring role at the risk of lowering his efficiency. Three-quarters of his buckets came off assists last season, but many of those came due to his astute cuts within the Nuggets’ offense. His assist-to-turnover ratio of 3-to-1 was also indicative of his growth as a playmaker.

Nikola Jokic, Mason Plumlee and offseason acquisition Paul Millsap comprise the best trio of passing bigs on one roster in quite a while, which explains why Harris was ninth in usage rate on his own team last season and averaged fewer than three assists a game. But what Harris’ extension does is settles the franchise’s two guard position for the foreseeable future — and for an exceptionally reasonable price tag.

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