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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 Daily: Can the Milwaukee Bucks be Real Contenders?

Do the Bucks now have the talent and coaching to legitimately contend for this year’s championship?

Shane Rhodes

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The Milwaukee Bucks weren’t very good in 2017.

While they had one of the best players in the world, Giannis Antetokounmpo, on the court at almost all times, they struggled to win games under then Head Coach Jason Kidd. While things improved with the transition to Joel Prunty, Milwaukee and its underperforming roster ultimately fell to the Boston Celtics, sans their two best players, in the first round of the postseason.

But with Mike Budenholzer, one-time Coach of the Year award winner and former head coach of the Atlanta Hawks, in the fold along with some new personnel, are the Bucks good enough to challenge the top teams in the NBA?

If their 2018 debut is anything to go by, the NBA needs to be on alert.

On the road against the Charlotte Hornets, Milwaukee looked completely dominant at times with the Greek Freak leading the charge in a 113-112 win. Antetokounmpo was his usual dominant self and finished the game with 25 points, 18 rebounds and eight assists.

The most important take away from their season debut, however, has nothing to do with Antetokounmpo. It’s the fact that he got a sizeable amount of help from his supporting cast.

The Bucks often looked like a one-man show last season, with Antetokounmpo doing his thing while the rest of the team failed to pull their collective weight. They often looked slow and were worse than average, defensively; Milwaukee was just 20th in pace-of-play and 18th in defensive rating last season. And, amidst the NBA’s three-point revolution, the Bucks ranked just 25th in three-point attempts and 22nd in three-point percentage.

In a nutshell, the Bucks system wasn’t an ideal workspace for its star player. Antetokounmpo, who isn’t a great long-range shooter himself, needs all the spacing he can get in order to be the best version of himself. And that is why the 2018 version of the Bucks could be so dangerous.

Going back to the 2013-14 regular season, Budenholzer’s first as the Hawks head coach, here is how Atlanta ranked compared to the rest of the league in three-point attempts: 2nd, 7th, 7th, 16th, 7th. Budenholzer has instilled that same three-point happy offensive system in Milwaukee. Not only have they played faster, but they are shooting more; the Bucks attempted 34 shots from beyond the arc, 10 more than they averaged per game last season.

More importantly, the Bucks have the players to take advantage of that system and clear the interior as much as possible for the multipositional and uber-athletic Antetokounmpo.

Khris Middleton, the often underrated two-way wing, is a career 39.2 percent three-point shooter. Eric Bledsoe, who struggled at times last season, has been solid from behind the arc for his career as well. Free agent additions Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova, two big men who have steered into the three-point evolution of the NBA, have both shot 34 percent or better from three-point range over the last two seasons. Even rookie Donte DiVincenzo, who went two-for-four from three-point range against Charlotte, was a long distance specialist at Villanova and shot 37.8 percent from three during his three years with the school. The roster is loaded with more shooters than ever and they are being put in a position to shoot the long-ball, thanks to the gravity that Antetokounmpo has on the floor and Budenholzer’s system.

Now, as with almost everything, there could be some complications.

While shooting more shots per game could equate to more makes and, therefore, more points, it could, by the same logic, yield more missed shots as well. The Bucks aren’t a strong defensive team, nor have they been for the last four seasons or so, and those extra possessions for the opposition could kill the Bucks in the final stretch of games. Likewise, playing quickly can lead to more turnovers, creating further opportunities for opponents and hurting Milwaukee even further.

But, for now, the benefits seem to outeight the risks, and Antetokounmpo can cover up a lot of mistakes with the talent he possesses.

One game may seem like a small sample size to go on, but, if the Bucks can limit their offensive mishaps and defensive blunders, they have the chance to be a legitimate threat to win the Eastern Conference crown and, perhaps, the NBA title.

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NBA Daily: Kings Starters Show Promise Despite Loss

The end result may be the same as it has been every season in the past decade, but the Sacramento Kings have something brewing for the first time in a long time.

Spencer Davies

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The end result may be the same as it has been every season in the past decade, but the Sacramento Kings have something brewing for the first time in a long time.

Yes, a 25-9 lead was squandered and the game was lost to the Utah Jazz. Marvin Bagley III confusingly played fewer minutes than 14 of his fellow rookies in his NBA debut. They also forced more miscues than they committed, yet were still outscored 24-13 in points off of turnovers.

All of that makes it seem like Wednesday was the start to a long, frustrating season for the Kings, but don’t be so quick to judge. There was a ton of good to come out of the team’s season opener at the Golden 1 Center.

First off, what a night for Willie Cauley-Stein it was. He had the unenviable task of going head-to-head with Rudy Gobert, the league’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, to begin the fourth season of his career. We know that the 25-year-old isn’t necessarily a go-to scoring option, however, you wouldn’t have figured that to be the case if you watched the game.

Finishing with the third-most attempts for Sacramento, Cauley-Stein wasted no time and went right at Gobert when he touched the ball. Not once did he hesitate to put it on the floor, showing an improved, tighter handle on drives to the basket. Likely coming from film study, the 7-foot, 240-pound center excelled at using his body to get his shots up and over the “Stifle Tower” with great timing.

Cauley-Stein was determined to attack the paint all game long and showed no fear. He scored 19 of his 23 points with Gobert on the floor, including a thunderous alley-oop slam over the Frenchman following a screen-and-roll. To put the significance of this in perspective, his eight field goal makes are more than he’s had in each of the previous three seasons with Utah’s big man on the floor.

The Kings’ starters, in general, were especially solid, as all five players scored in double figures and had their squad’s best plus-minus ratings.

De’Aaron Fox swiped three steals, showed his playmaking skills and shared the love with his teammates, recording seven assists in addition to his 21 points. A candidate for a breakout year, Buddy Hield looked like the most comfortable player on the floor despite some lazy passes early, knocking down his signature off the dribble, mid-range fadeaways with ease.

Nemanja Bjelica used the threat of his outside shot to make his way to the basket for better looks and poured in 18 points. Starting at the wing, Yogi Ferrell held his own defensively against Donovan Mitchell and added a couple of threes to the mix as well.

Sacramento gave a double-digit led game away, but the players never gave in. During the fourth quarter, they got stops but just couldn’t seem to take advantage on the other side. It was the recurring theme of the night. The chances were there in transition. Now, they’ve got to work on completing those sequences and turning them into points.

Kings head coach Dave Joerger played essentially a nine-man rotation and got little out of his bench players. Justin Jackson struggled at the four spot and carved out 30 minutes of playing time in spite of it. Other than that, though, everybody in the second unit was on the floor for less than 17 minutes. It’s likely because of how well the starters performed, but they’ll need more out of those guys eventually.

There’s already a topic of discussion on the front of development vs. wins in Sacramento. Joerger’s addressed the matter with Bagley after the game and said it’s going to be hard to allocate minutes for a roster heavy with big men.

The counter-argument to that is simple—he’s the second overall pick of the draft. You have to find time for him, period. There should be no excuse not to regardless of who’s on the team. Don’t forget about Bagley being so talented that he re-classified to play with an age group above his own and still dominated as the ACC Player of the Year at Duke. He was a true freshman!

Aside from that whole debate, the Kings did not roll over and quit when they blew a 16-point lead and trailed by 14 soon after. In a game of runs, their young group hung in there and battled until the clock hit zero. Keep in mind this is a ballclub short of last year’s starting shooting guard still, too.

There may not be a whole lot of winning to come by in Sacramento—what with competing in the Pacific Division and Western Conference—but the season could be easier on the eyes if this is the type of effort they’re going to give on a nightly basis. Of course, we’ve got to be careful here since it’s only one game.

Even so, consider this writer in on “Kings SZN.”

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NBA Daily: Offseason Acquisitions Making An Early Impact

Basketball Insiders takes a look at five players on new teams who had a big impact in their respective season openers.

Drew Maresca

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Starting a new job is hard: new co-workers, new processes, new expectations, etc. Most of us have done it, and we can attest that it’s challenging on both a personal and professional level. It’s no different in the NBA. Sure, there is greater familiarity amongst players than for, say, a software engineer jumping from Facebook to Google, but the stakes are also higher. Most people are cut some slack initially due to a lack of familiarity, but not in the NBA. Players are expected to hit the ground running, and are judged harshly for getting off to slow starts. 

Even still, some players are simply so skilled that their impact is immediately obvious. With that being said, let’s analyze the top five debuts of players who changed teams this past offseason. 

  1. Kawhi Leonard — His post-game comments may have been understated Wednesday night, but his on-court performance was not. Leonard received an incredible amount of support from the Raptors crowd, and he did not disappoint. He posted 24 points and 12 rebounds and was +13 for the game. His offensive arsenal was on full display; he demonstrated his athleticism on dunks, his shooting prowess and range and his willingness to do some dirty work on the glass. No surprises here, but it is encouraging that he came back from the quad injury and looked mostly unchanged. Bonus points to Kyle Lowry for going the extra mile to get Leonard the ball (e.g., passing on an easy transition layup to feed Leonard). 
  1. DeMar DeRozan — While Kawhi did his normal thing, DeRozan may have had his foot on the gas a bit more — or maybe his performance was more a result of greater necessity. Either way, DeRozan delivered. He scored 28 points on 7 for 11 shooting, with four rebounds and four assists in 38 minutes. Similar to Leonard, no one should be surprised by DeRozan’s debut, especially given how upset he was initially with the trade. It’s even less surprising when you consider that he transitioned to playing for Coach Gregg Popovich, whose system is tried and true. If he keeps this up and all goes well for San Antonio, it could re-ignite questions about the Leonard-Popovich-Spurs snafu that resulted in the trade in the first place. 
  1. New New Orleans Pelicans (Julius Rande and Elfrid Payton – tie) — While Anthony Davis continues to be the main story line for the Pelicans, both free agents signings made their mark in the team’s season opener. Payton did so by posting a triple double in his first outing, demonstrating the versatility and promise that led the Pelicans to sign him in the first place; he notched 10 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds in route to an impressive +23. Randle’s performance was probably a bit flashier, but maybe less impactful on the whole. Nevertheless, Randle proved his worth in his first game with the team, finishing with an impressive 25 points on an efficient 9 for 15. He also chipped in eight rebounds and showed his versatility, leading fast breaks and dishing three assists. Concerns over the Pelicans may have been a bit overblown — but that might have more to do with Davis’ impact than the supporting cast. Time will tell.
  1. Brook Lopez — How did the perception of a former top-tier center slip so far so quickly? Just 17 months ago, Lopez was wrapping up another typical Brook Lopez-esque season: 20.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.7 blocks per game. Sure, the league has passed by centers who can’t extend the defense and switch onto guards in the pick and roll, but Lopez introduced an effective three-point shot in 2016-17, shooting .34.6 percent from deep. And yet, one year on the Lakers bench was all it took for the league to begin to overlook and/or underrate Lopez. That was a mistake. Lopez seems to be the same player he’s always been. He’s no longer a go-to option, so his scoring will likely be down from his 17.8 points per game career average; but he will contribute on offense and block some shots on defense. In his first game with the Bucks — with whom he signed for the bargain salary of $3.4 million — he scored 14 points and grabbed three rebounds in 21 minutes of action. Lopez should continue to aid the already talented Bucks. Can he push them deeper into the playoff? If he does, he would likely secure himself one more pay day.
  2. Dennis Shroder — Shroder’s performance may have been inflated by the absence of Russell Westbrook. Correction — Shroder’s performance was definitely inflated by the absence of Westbook. But he demonstrated his value all the same. Oddly, the Hawks decided they wanted to part ways with the 25 year old point guard. Their loss. He notched 21 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out six assists in 34 minutes of action. And it will get easier for him considering the Thunder opened against Steph Curry and the defending champion Golden State Warriors. Shroder gives the Thunder a third playmaker — exactly what they were lacking in last year’s playoffs against the Jazz, and exactly what they hoped Melo could be.

One thing all the guys on this list have in common (beyond being above average players) is their willingness to take on a challenge. Nothing in sports — or life — is guaranteed. But we will have a clearer picture if their respective changes of scenery were made for better or worse. If they were done successfully, they can shift the balance of power in the league, and rework the competitive balance to a pretty crazy extent.

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