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NBA Sunday: Tyler Harris, the Unorthodox Path and Following the Process

In the long run, Tyler Harris will be known for more than being the younger brother of Tobias Harris.

Moke Hamilton

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Another city.

Another hotel room.

Another workout.

According to his father and his older brother, it’s all just a part of the journey.

So in many ways, then, it was fitting for Tyler Harris to wake up on Father’s Day in 2016 in a foreign country, nowhere near his father Terrell.

Only about 500 miles from his home of Long Island, New York, geographically, the neophyte isn’t very far from home.

From where it all began, though, still, somehow, he is worlds away.

“Everybody has a different path,” Harris said. “But I’ve been waiting for this and I know that my time will come.”

Trying to find his way, the younger brother of Tobias Harris—a featured player on the improving Detroit Pistons—wakes up in the Le Germain hotel. In the shadows of the Air Canada Center, this morning’s date is with Masai Ujiri’s staff of the Toronto Raptors.

Armed with a mature, candid demeanor, the benefit of experience and a pair of sneakers, Harris continues out into the sunlight of the early morning Canadian sun.

He continues out on his determined journey to prove that he is more than just the younger brother of one of the NBA’s rising young forwards.

* * * * * *

“Of course I’m in his shadow,” Harris says of his older brother.

Fueled by the want to prove himself on his own merit, Harris admits that he has benefitted from the success of his older brother—but not in the ways that one would typically think.

Drafted by the Charlotte Hornets with the 19th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, Tobias Harris would be traded to the Milwaukee Bucks on draft night and would spend the first two seasons of his career buried at the end of the bench of Scott Skiles. Eventually, a trade to the Orlando Magic gave the older Harris brother an opportunity to play meaningful minutes and, since then, he has excelled.

The entire way, his younger brother, who has long had NBA aspirations of his own, took notes.

“When Tobias first got drafted, he was showing what he could do but wasn’t getting the big opportunity that he really wanted,” Tyler says. “But throughout that entire time, he kept telling me ‘This is all just a process,’ and that everyone has to go through the process.”

“Now, I feel that’s exactly what I’m going through. [Tobias] went through the process, was patient, and continued to work on his game. He took advantage of the opportunities that he had, and as long as you focus on the process and realize that everyone has to go through the process, then the good will come to you. He taught me that and I’ve taken it to heart.”

Apparently, learning is something that has come quite easy.

Having spent his collegiate career at three different institutions, one who isn’t familiar with Harris’ development may assume the worst. From NC State to Purdue to Auburn, the immediate assumption would be that Harris—a young black man—had eligibility issues or otherwise couldn’t keep out of trouble.

“I usually get questioned about that when I go into meet with teams,” Harris says.

“People might think it’s a red flag, but once they realize the reasons I went to these three schools, they realize it was for good reasons.”

Shortly after Sidney Lowe had received a commitment from Harris to play at NC State, Lowe was removed. Harris, wanting to honor the commitment and being willing to earn his keep in incoming coach Mark Gottfried’s rotation, decided that he would keep his word.

Gottfried opted to give the bulk of his meaningful rotation minutes to his incumbent players and, to his credit, the team found success. Harris was along for the team’s ride to the Sweet Sixteen and saw, firsthand, what success at the collegiate level requires. Wanting to have an opportunity to get his own repetitions, though, Harris decided it would be best to seek his experience elsewhere.

After deciding to transfer to Providence to play for Ed Cooley, Harris sat out his sophomore year. His junior year, he played about 32 minutes per game and helped Providence win the Big East Men’s Basketball Tournament by averaging 11.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. The following season, as a senior, Harris put up similar numbers and helped his team to a second consecutive NCAA tournament berth. It was the first time Providence made tournament appearances in consecutive years since they did so in 1989 and 1990.

Having one year of eligibility remaining after sitting out his sophomore year, Harris decided to pursue his Masters Degree and eventually found himself being offered an opportunity to play for Tobias’ former coach, Bruce Pearl. Without hesitation, Harris took the opportunity to play the 2015-16 season with the Auburn Tigers.

“When I graduated [from undergrad], I had an opportunity to go play another year and to go get my Master’s degree. At the same time, Coach Pearl was looking for a player and he also coached my brother,” Harris said. “I felt like it was a win-win situation, where I could play for Coach Pearl in the SEC and figured he could put me in the position he put Tobias—at the point forward position.”

As a result, Harris, just one year his junior, will begin his professional career five years after his older brother.

“Even though I did go to three schools, they were all specific moves to help me and they all were great moves,” Harris said. “I went to NC State and got a Sweet 16 experience, went to Providence and won a Big East championship and went to Auburn and got the opportunity to go get my Master’s degree and learn from Bruce Pearl—the coach who helped my brother develop.”

In a day and age where the gross majority of NBA prospects enter the league without having come close to earning a Bachelors Degree, Harris will enter the league with a Master’s.

A student in the classroom, after having had the opportunity to develop relationships with four head coaches and play for three of them, Harris has also been able to continue his development as a student of the game.

Now, as he looks toward the next level, some scouts feel that his ability to contribute on the NBA level may be overlooked.

“Draymond Green was selected with the 35th pick and it was mainly due to concerns over his size and how he would translate at the NBA level,” one scout told Basketball Insiders.

“Tyler Harris is in a similar predicament. But with his size, vision and ball handling ability, it’s difficult to imagine him not being able to help an NBA team almost immediately.”

In recent years, we have seen the “one and done” freshman dominate the headlines and the early picks of the draft. However, the list of more experienced players who have become difference makers includes Stephen Curry, Kawhi Leonard, C.J. McCollum, Damian Lillard and Draymond Green, the latter three having played four years of college basketball.

Harris hopes to join that list. And he has worked hard to ensure that he has the opportunity to fulfill his potential.

* * * * * *

“I bring versatility that every NBA team needs,” Harris says. “I can handle the ball like a guard. I can pass and shoot outside from off the dribble. I’m a great scorer, defender and rebounder and I’m a lefty, so I’m really crafty. I can get to the rim and score for myself or create scoring opportunities for others.”

And although his recent workouts have brought positive feedback from scouts and two front office sources who spoke with Basketball Insiders, Harris realizes that his adjustment to the NBA is going to require some additional studying.

“I need to continue to work on my right hand and going right,” Harris admits. “I also need to focus on the speed of the league. It’s going to be a lot different from college and I will need to continue to work on my shot and get used to the NBA three-point line. I want my shot to be consistent where I’m knocking it down consistently and on a regular basis. There’s so many great shooters in the league right now, I just want to be one of those guys.”

A simple conversation with Tyler Harris reveals a young man who is mature beyond his years and thoughtful about the decisions he makes. He has a rare combination of humble candor and outspoken confidence.

With a quick first step, a nice reach, appreciable size and the ability to start or finish a fast break, what will help Harris get to where he hopes to go will be just as much about what’s between his ears as it will be about his brawn.

Each step he takes, though, whether in person or in spirit, he carries the lessons taught to him by his older brother and his father.

“I represent the definition of work ethic and that’s really what I live by,” Harris says. I’m a person who’s in love with the game and wants to improve as a player and as a person, each and everyday. I think that’s just really what separates me from everybody else; I’m never satisfied.”

And best believe, Tyler Harris is also not done.

* * * * * *

As he laced up his sneakers and began his workout with the Toronto Raptors, Harris continues along in his journey. On this day, separated from his father—the person who first put a basketball in his hands—Harris continues to work hard to achieve the goals that he has set for himself.

More than 500 miles away from where it all began, separated from his father, Harris carries his legacy with him.

“My dad wants me to be the best I can be in life, both in basketball and as a person,” he says. “Teaching [my brothers and me] drives him each and every morning. He’s one of the hardest working and devoted people I know and I’m gonna make him proud.”

And on this morning in particular, in spirit, Terrell Harris is with his son. Yes, the journey continues and the process persists.

Where it ends, at this point, we can’t be too sure. But what we do know is that here and now, Tyler Harris has traveled the road less trodden. And in the long run, it may end up having made all the difference.

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders.

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NBA

Fred VanVleet is Finding Success in the NBA

David Yapkowitz speaks to Toronto’s Fred VanVleet about his unheralded path to the NBA and more.

David Yapkowitz

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Fred VanVleet is used to being the underdog. Prior to the NBA, he spent four seasons at Wichita State, a school that hasn’t always been in the national spotlight when it comes to college basketball. Even after he finished his college career in impressive fashion, leading the Shockers to the NCAA tournament every year he was there, he went undrafted in the 2016 NBA draft.

But despite the lack of recognition from national media outlets, VanVleet always knew that he was good enough to play in the NBA. He knew that his path to the league was going to be much different than many other top prospects, but he was confident. He put his trust in NBA personnel to recognize what was right in front of them.

“If you can play, they’re gonna find you. That’s the best thing about the NBA, you can’t hide forever,” VanVleet told Basketball Insiders. “You just got to try to wait and keep grinding for the opportunity, and when it comes be ready to make the most of it and that’s what I did.”

Making the most of his opportunity is definitely what he’s done. After he went undrafted in 2016, he joined the Toronto Raptors’ summer league team in Las Vegas. He put up decent numbers to the tune of 6.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 54.5 percent shooting from the three-point line.

He also showed solid defensive potential as well as the ability to run a steady offense. The Raptors were impressed by his performance and they invited him to training camp for a chance to make the team. They already had 14 guaranteed contracts at the time and had invited five other players, in addition to VanVleet, to camp.

VanVleet did his best to stand out in training camp that year, capping off the 2016 preseason with a 31 point, five rebound, five assist performance against San Lorenzo de Almagro of Argentina. The Raptors were in need of another point guard after Delon Wright was ruled out to start the season due to an injury.

Not only did he make the Raptors’ opening night roster, but he ended up playing some big minutes for the team as the season went on. This year, he started out as the third-string point guard once again. But with another injury to Wright, he’s solidified himself as the backup point for the time being.

“You just want to grow each year and get better. I had a smaller role last year, I’m just trying to improve on that and get better,” VanVleet said. “It’s a long process, you just try to get better each game on a pretty good team, a winning team. Being able to contribute to that is what you work for.”

VanVleet’s journey to the NBA is one that is not very common anymore for players coming out of college. More and more players are opting to spend one, maybe two years at most in college before declaring for the NBA draft.

Players like VanVleet, who spend the entire four years in college, are becoming more of a rarity. Although for him, he feels like the additional time spent at Wichita State helped him make more of a seamless transition to the NBA than some of his younger peers.

“I think more so off the court than anything, just being an adult, being a grown man coming in the door,” VanVleet said. “A pro before being a pro, being able to take care of your business. Coming in every day doing your job and being able to handle the things that come with the life off the court.”

The NBA season is a long one. Teams that start out hot sometimes end up fizzling out before the season’s end. Similarly, teams that that get off to a slow start sometimes pick it up as the season progresses. The Raptors have been one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference the past couple of years and this season looks to be no different.

Even with the Boston Celtics’ hot start, the Raptors are only three games back of the top spot in the East. They’re only one game back in the loss column. There was a time when mentioning the word ‘championship’ was unheard of around this team. Things are different now.

“We’re trying to contend for a championship. Obviously, we’ve been at the top of the East for the last few years,” VanVleet said. “We’re trying to get over that hump and contend for a championship, that’s definitely our goal. It’s a long year and still pretty early, but we’re just trying to grow and build and get better each game.”

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G-League

NBA DAILY: Tyrone Wallace Is Breaking Out in His Own Backyard

On his second G-Leauge team in two years, Tyrone Wallace is putting up numbers close to home, working towards his NBA shot.

Dennis Chambers

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Located in the heart of Southern California, Bakersfield sits just on the cusp of Los Angeles’ shadow.

In terms of size, it’s not easy to overlook this Californian destination. Bakersfield is the ninth most populated city in the state. But it doesn’t hold the glamour that its contemporary two hours south down Interstate-5 possesses. Instead, Bakersfield rests its laurels on the farming past that made it the city it has become today, with three of the four top employers in the city either being farm or produce companies.

Working for a produce company doesn’t interest Tyrone Wallace, though. He’d much rather spend his time on the hardwood. Wallace grew up in Bakersfield. He’s Bakersfield High School’s all-time leading scorer and two-time Bakersfield Californian Player of the Year.

Wallace has sown his oats with a leather ball as opposed to some vegetables.

Growing up in Bakersfield is crucial to Wallace’s story, however. On the outskirts of Los Angeles, Wallace grew up a hardcore Lakers fan, caught up in the generation of kids who idolized Kobe Bryant. It’s Kobe, and Wallace’s brother, Ryan Caroline, who led him to where he is now.

Where that is, exactly, is playing professional basketball in the NBA G-League for the Agua Caliente Clippers. About another 45 minutes down Interstate-5 from his hometown.

For Wallace, getting an opportunity to work towards his dream of playing basketball at the highest level so close to home is a blessing.

“It’s been really fun for me,” Wallace told Basketball Insiders. “You know (Bakersfield) is a smaller city, not too many guys make it out, especially for basketball. It’s more of a football city, but the support there is awesome. Everybody’s behind me you know. Good games, bad games, guys are treating me, and you know the whole city is, I feel the whole support from the city. So to be so close to home is definitely a treat. I have friends and family that will come out to our games quite often. During preseason I had friends and family come out and watch. It’s been a blessing.”

Playing in front of familiar faces isn’t new territory for Wallace. After making his mark in Bakersfield, the 6-foot-4 guard went on to play his college ball at the University of California. Amid his four years at Cal, Wallace finished first-team All-Pac 12 his junior year, along with being named a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award, given to the nation’s best point guard.

Sharing the court with the likes of other NBA players like Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb in college, Wallace joined the professional fraternity himself at the eleventh hour on draft night in 2016 when the Utah Jazz selected him 60th overall.

Pick one, or pick 60. It didn’t matter to Wallace that night in June. He was just happy to get the first chance he worked his whole life for.

“It was emotional, man,” Wallace said. “You watch everybody and see them go, I had Jaylen (Brown) earlier in the first round who I was really excited for. Just sitting there, pick after pick you’re waiting there hoping you get called. But it was a dream come true, better late than never. Very few people get the opportunity to say that they were drafted so it was emotional. But after I was finally selected, I was happy, there was tears of joy. There was a lot of family with me watching throughout and we were just sitting there hoping to be called, and it happened, so it was a dream come true.”

After being selected by the Jazz, Wallace experienced his first summer league action. His performance at the time was marginal, and didn’t warrant an invite to the big league club. Instead, Wallace found himself down in the minors for Utah, with their G-League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars.

During Wallace’s first taste of professional basketball, he displayed some flashes of why, as he put it, he was one of 60 guys drafted in 2016. His first season in the G-League was promising when he posted per game averages of 14.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.3 steals on 27 minutes of action a night.

Alas, that wasn’t good enough for the Jazz organization. On July 18, 2017, just over a year after being selected with the last overall pick on draft night, Utah renounced Wallace’s draft rights, leaving him free to sign with any team.

For some, being let go after what could be considered a productive developmental year may have been a derailing let down. Not Wallace, though.

“I think in every situation you always reflect,” Wallace said. “And look back and say what could I have done better, on the court or off the court. So I think you know you always do that, but I’ve always stayed confident in myself, and I believe in myself. I kinda let that as a new opportunity that I was gonna have to go somewhere else and prove that I can play, and that I can belong. So I wanted to continue. I look at everything as a chance to learn and grow so I was just excited for the new opportunity that would be coming for me.”

New opportunities did come for Wallace. More than a few actually. But it was the opportunity that allowed the California native a chance to return to the place that led him to professional basketball initially, that has really allowed the second-year guard to flourish.

On Sept. 27, Wallace inked a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers. They weren’t his childhood favorite Lakers, but they were the same distance down Interstate-5 from his hometown. Most of all, they represented a chance to keep chasing his dream.

After playing in the preseason, Wallace was one of the last players cut from the NBA roster, and he again found himself in the G-League. This time with Agua Caliente.

Wallace’s second go-around in the G-League so far this season feels different than his last, though. Almost as if the comfort of playing in his own backyard, something he’s been accustomed to for the majority of his basketball life, is easing him out on the court. Whatever it is, it’s reflecting itself in his performance. This year, Wallace upped his averages from last season to 22.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, and five assists per game.

“I worked really hard this summer,” Wallace said. “Just going to the gym, hitting the weight room. I don’t think I necessarily changed anything. I just think being a year in, another year of experience playing in the G-League, I think that helped within itself. Then I think the system here that we run in LA helped a lot, fits my game,  more uptempo. Trying to get out on the break, a lot of pick and rolls. So I think everything just took off at once. I definitely feel like I got better in the offseason, but also just playing in this system where it helps my game.”

It’s been an interesting journey for Wallace since he left college. With the way things have shaped out, especially during this season where he seems to do no wrong on the court, it’s imperative he stays focused on his own goals. Instead of looking at others across the league who may be getting a shot he feels he deserves, Wallace wants to just “stay in my own lane.” Patience and hard work are what Wallace believe will ultimately deliver the goals he’s after.

“I know it’s coming,” he said.

When that opportunity does come, whether it’s near home in Los Angeles, or somewhere else across the country, Wallace will be happy to just be wanted. Just like the way Bakersfield has always treated him.

“Man, I’ll tell you any team for me it would be great,” Wallace said. “I haven’t really had a real NBA deal, and so for me just getting to that level on a team would definitely be a dream come true. I don’t have a specific team I would like to play for. Whoever wants me, I’ll want them.”

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NBA

NBA DAILY: Lou Williams Stepping Up For Injured Clippers

The Clippers have been hit by injuries again, but Lou Williams is doing everything he can to keep the team afloat.

Jesse Blancarte

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The Los Angeles Clippers have been decimated by injuries this season. Blake Griffin is sidelined until approximately February of next year. Danilo Gallinari has been sidelined for an extended period of time with a glute injury and will continue to be out of action for some time after suffering a second glute injury recently. Patrick Beverley underwent season ending microfracture surgery in November. Milos Teodosic suffered a foot injury in just the second game of the season and only recently returned to the lineup. Austin Rivers just suffered a concussion and could miss some time as well.

With so many injuries, the Clippers currently find themselves in the 10th seed in the Western Conference with an 11-15 record. This isn’t what the Clippers had in mind when they brought back a solid haul of players last offseason in exchange for Chris Paul.

Competing with the top teams in the Western Conference was always going to be difficult for this Clippers team. Los Angeles has plenty of talent on the roster and added a few younger prospects to develop. However, key players like Griffin and Gallinari are injury prone and both needed to stay on the court for the Clippers to have any hope of staying in range of the West’s top teams. The Clippers lost 9 games straight in the middle of November and it looked as though they were on course to be competing for a top lottery pick in next season’s draft.

However, despite all of the injuries and setbacks, Lou Williams, along with iron man DeAndre Jordan, has picked up the slack and has done more than his fair share to keep the Clippers’ playoff hopes alive. This season, Williams is averaging 20 points, 4.8 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game, while shooting 45.2 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range (on 6.2 attempts per game). Williams is sporting a healthy 21.2 Player Efficiency Rating, which is a near career best rating (Williams posted a 21.4 PER last season). His True Shooting percentage (59.3) is tied with his career high rating, which Williams posted last season as well. Williams’s free throw rate has taken a dip this season, but his ability to draw timely (and often questionable) fouls has been a valuable asset to his team once again. Simply put, Williams has been particularly efficient on offense this season for the Clippers – a team that has lost its most reliable scorers and playmakers.

“We’ve had some guys go down with injuries and somebody has to step in and fill that scoring void,” Williams said after helping the Clippers defeat the Magic. “I’ve been able to do it.”

Williams has also hit plenty of big shots for the Clippers this season. Most recently, Williams knocked down a go-ahead three-pointer in the final seconds against the Washington Wizards that sealed the win for the Clippers. The Clippers are used to having a natural born scorer coming off the bench to act as a sparkplug as they had Jamal Crawford on the roster for the last five seasons. Similar to Crawford, Williams struggles to hold his own on the defensive side of the ball. But Williams has been more effective defensively so far this season for the Clippers than Crawford was for the majority of his time in Los Angeles. Williams isn’t going to lock down the Russell Westbrooks of the world, but he isn’t giving back the majority of the points he scores either.

In addition to his scoring, Williams is a solid playmaker and has managed to facilitate the Clippers’ offense at various points of the season. Williams isn’t exactly Chris Paul in terms of setting up his teammates for easy baskets, but he has been notably effective in this role, which is very important considering how many playmakers have falled to injury this season. Williams is now, arguably, the team’s best offensive weapon and one of its most effective floor generals. Now that we are nearly two months into the NBA season, it seems as though Williams and his teammates are starting to find a little more chemistry with one another.

“I think these guys are just starting to be more comfortable. They understand we’re going to have some injuries and guys are going to be down,” Williams said recently. “So they’re just playing with a lot of confidence. I think at first you’re kind of getting your feet wet and guys don’t want to make mistakes. Now guys are just going out there and playing as hard as they can.”

Williams will need to continue building chemistry with his teammates if they are to keep pace until players like Gallinari and Griffin make it back onto the court.

The Clippers have won six of their last 10 games and are starting to steady what had becoming a sinking ship. Smart gamblers and predictive algorithms would caution against betting on the Clippers making the playoffs this season, but they are in much better shape now than they were in the middle of November — an accomplishment that Williams deserves plenty of credit for.

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