Raptors betting Harris another diamond in rough

With the 59th-overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft on Wednesday, the Toronto Raptors took Nevada redshirt junior combo guard Jalen Harris.

Harris was the Raptors’ second pick of the evening following the club’s pick of San Diego State point guard Malachi Flynn 29th overall.

As a second-round pick, and one taken second last in the entire draft, there likely won’t be a lot of expectations placed on Harris, but the Raptors have proven time and again they know how to find diamonds in the rough with success stories from the second round and undrafted players. And given Harris’ skills, there’s a chance Masai Ujiri, Bobby Webster and Co. may have struck gold once again.

Here’s a little more on Harris.

Age: 22
Position: Point guard/shooting guard
Height: Six-foot-five | Weight: 195 pounds
School: Nevada
2019-20 stats: PPG: 21.7 | RPG: 6.5 | APG: 3.9 | 3P%: 35.9

Quick background

Harris comes from a family with some basketball pedigree. He’s the son of two former Southern Methodist University basketball players, Karlin Kennedy and Erion Harris. Kennedy, in particular, was a great player, leaving the Mustangs as the school’s all-time leader in points, rebounds, blocks and field-goal percentage.

Harris grew up in Duncanville, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, and played his high-school hoops at Duncanville High School where he excelled — averaging 23 points, seven rebounds and four assists as a senior — despite breaking a vertebrae and missing half of the season. He still bounced back and managed to secure a scholarship to Louisiana Tech where he played for two years before transferring to Nevada and playing the best ball of his career this past season.

Versatile scorer

If you’re going to stick in the NBA, especially as a second-round pick, you need to bring at least one high-level skill to the table to carve out a niche for yourself, and in Harris’ case, that’s his scoring. He’s an athletic guard who is adept at getting his own shot up thanks to a tight handle and a quick first step that allows him to get into the lane where he’s a strong finisher.

He projects to be scorer mainly because he shoots the ball very well off the dribble and his pull-up game in conjunction with his handle and finishing ability will make him a very tough cover.

The varied ways he can score the basketball should translate to the NBA and are talents the Raptors are surely happy to have.

Budding playmaker

Even more exciting than Harris’ ability to score the ball has been his steadily improving playmaking abilities. He makes sound decisions in the pick-and-roll and shows potential to be a good passer. This appears to be something the Raptors are banking on and why they seem so high on him.

“He’s a big-time athlete who does a lot of different types of playmaking and attacking,” said Raptors assistant general manager Dan Tolzman. “He’s really comfortable with the ball in his hands and some people think he could potentially become a point guard down the road.”

Tolzman isn’t completely convinced that Harris has true point guard potential, but envisions him as a secondary ball-handler. So even if Harris doesn’t manage to master the lead guard role, for a second-round pick to possibly turn into a pressure-reliever who can fill it up occasionally sounds like some pretty good value.

Defensive focus looks like a question mark

The main knock against Harris is his defensive intensity.

He’s an athletic guy and has the potential to be a strong defender, but he’s been known to have a lackadaisical attitude on the defensive end — not fully committing to staying in stance and, occasionally, giving up on plays.

Granted, with Nevada, he was asked to carry a huge offensive load and it’s possible he may have been saving himself on defence.

In the NBA, he certainly won’t have as many offensive responsibilities, so it will be interesting to see what his commitment to the defensive side of the ball might look like if he only gets one or two shots per game starting out.

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