Elias Harris came to Gonzaga from Germany as a virtual unknown. Besides the Zags only one school, Delaware, was active in recruiting Harris. From his first year in Spokane he had fans asking "will he go, or will he stay?" He went from a potential first round pick as a freshman to a four year starter and elite college player.
Harris finished his career at Gonzaga in second place on the Zags' all-time rebounding list. Jerry Vermillion, the all-time leader, played for the Zags back when they competed as an NAIA team. He ranks fourth all-time in scoring and at tenth, is the only non-guard in the all-time steals top ten.
Spending four years in college when you can leave early is increasingly rare. Kentucky builds team after team of one-and-dones. Some of these departures prove smart, and the players get an early start on their NBA success. Some, like former Zag Austin Daye, prove misguided. Has Harris missed his chance at a spot on an NBA roster by exhausting his college eligibility, or will he be the next Norris Cole or Jimmy Butler?
School: Gonzaga (Spokane, WA | West Coast Conference)
Hometown: Speyer, Germany
Weight: 239 lbs
Accolades: WCC Newcomer of the Year (Freshman); 1x All-WCC Honorable Mention; 3x All-WCC Team; 2013 WCC Tournament MVP.
Team Record: 110-27
From before his arrival at Gonzaga and through his first couple seasons, Harris was an active member of the Germany Men's National Basketball Team. He represented Germany at Eurobasket 2009 and the 2010 FIBA World Championships.
Playing for the Germans provided Harris with exposure and competition against some of the world's elite basketball players. However, particularly in 2010, it cut into his summer preparation time with the Zags. Spending the summer away from Spokane, coupled with shoulder and achilles injuries, led to a sophomore slump. There was a sizable dip in all major statistical categories, except assists, between his freshman and sophomore campaigns.
As an upperclassman Harris recovered quite nicely. He posted stats as a junior and senior similar to those from his freshman year. He never scored as many points as he did as a freshman, but his numbers in almost every other statistical category surpassed those from his freshman year. While the numbers recovered, the spotlight didn't. ESPN's Fran Fraschilla said of Harris,
Elias Harris has gone from overrated as frosh to underrated as a senior. One of most versatile forwards in country.
Final Season Averages:
14.6 pts... 1.6 asts... 7.4 rebs... 1.2 steals... 0.6 blocks... 1.8 turnovers... 27.8 mins... 50.1% FG... 17.0% 3 PT... 76.8% FT
While far from the most important statistic in regards to his game, I have to discuss his three point shooting first. Looking simply at the number above, 17.0% from three as a senior, you would assume Elias Harris is an awful three point shooter. That is, however, not true at all. He shot 35.2% from three for his career. As a senior he took 47 shots from downtown, the lowest single season total of his career. As a junior he took 70, the most in his career, and connected on 41.4% of those attempts. He's not a great three point shooter, but he's a good three point shooter despite his most recent season's average. He's also a clutch three point shooter.
After his stellar freshman year one of the flaws that emerged with Harris was his tendency to disappear for stretches during games. As a junior and senior he shed that tendency through effort. One of the ways to see a player's effort without watching him play is to look at his rebounding numbers. As a senior, Harris averaged 7.4 rebounds per game. That's a good number but not an impressive number when viewed alone. Harris ranked 143rd in the nation in RPG. The Zags had a surplus of bigs, Kelly Olynyk, Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski, that played alongside Harris. They also had Mike Hart, a walk on turned starter who earned his minutes with defense and rebounding. Hart was the nation's 18th most efficient offensive rebounder. Despite that cast around him, Harris led the team in rebounds, accounting for 21.17% of the Zags' rebounds.
As a freshman and sophomore, Harris logged rebound rates of 15.4 and 15.3 respectively. As a junior and senior he increased his rebound rate to 19.5 and 18.1 respectively. Increased effort resulted in an increase in rebounds.
Another solid stat that doesn't jump off the page is his points per game. Harris never led the Zags in scoring, but he was second on the team in each of his four years. In his freshman year the scoring load was, as expected, carried by senior guard Matt Bouldin. In his sophomore year it was senior guard Steven Gray that led the team. As a sophomore, junior and senior, many predicted Harris would lead the way. His slump as a sophomore didn't help. Then, as a junior the emergence of freshman guard Kevin Pangos and as a senior the emergence of Kelly Olynyk kept Harris as a complimentary scorer. While he never led the team, he scored enough to finish ten points behind Adam Morrison on the Zags' all-time scoring list. Remember, Adam Morrison led the nation in scoring back in 2005-'06.
Harris could have been the team's leading scorer in any or all of his four seasons, but he didn't have to be.
The final stat I will look at is his free throw shooting. Harris hit a very respectable 76.8% of his free throws as a senior. He drew 6.3 fouls per forty minutes. 24.97% of the Zags free throws last season were taken by Harris, the most on the team. He led the Zags in that category twice, as freshman and a senior. Harris loves to bang around near the basket and has the strength to finish while being fouled.
BEYOND THE NUMBERS
I already mentioned that Harris is an excellent rebounder thanks to his high effort style of play, but his rebounding ability is also thanks to his impressive leaping ability.
According to Draft Express, Harris' vertical of 38.0 inches is the 20th best in this year's draft class. Elias Harris can jump and will jump. If he's not jumping for a rebound he's probably jumping for a dunk. When you combine his rebounding prowess and fondness of dunking you get a lot of putback dunks (to go along with a lot of dunks in general).
If you have been following the Zags you know Harris can take over a game and lead the way. You should also have noticed that he is willing and able to defer to his teammates. With Olynyk exploding onto the scene last season, Harris lost some interior scoring presence. He made up for the interior scoring with interior assisting. As a big who looks to score, Harris knows what a big looking to score wants and that led to innumerable, deft post feeds to Olynyk and company.
Strength is also a strength for Harris. He's 23 years old with an NBA body.
He's 23. I don't buy this being a weakness but it's something that you'll see in this category on draft sites around the web. He's not a top-five pick, so his age shouldn't be a factor. Plus, he's what, a year older than most college seniors? The Spurs are in the NBA Finals and the Spurs are led by some really old guys.
A real concern however is his size and how it relates to his style of play. He's a power forward at the college level and he dominates as a power forward at the college level but, he's in an NBA small forward's body. Unfortunately for Harris, he's not at an NBA small forward's level. He's a good three point shooter, not a great one. He can create his own shot but he isn't that good at it, perhaps because he hasn't really needed to against the guys he's faced thus far in his career. He's quick on the break and can bring the ball up the court but he's not a great ball handler in traffic.
Current Prospect Rankings:
Chad Ford (ESPN): No. 79 (No. 19 at position)
DraftExpress: No. 93
Elias Harris worked out with the Minnesota Timberwolves on May 29th. The Timberwolves need a small forward and have two late second round picks (52nd and 59th overall) with which they can help fill that need.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau's quote "do your job" fits Harris pretty well. As I said earlier, as the Zags' need for points from Harris became less with guys like Pangos and Olynyk, he didn't complain. Instead, he did his job and contributed in the other ways the Zags' needed in order to get the win. The Bulls have two picks in the draft, 20th and 50th, so I don't see them using one of those to take Harris. But, with Thibodeau's mentality and the success of four year college player Jimmy Butler in Chicago, Harris could be a good fit as a summer league/training camp pick up.
NBA Draft: June 27th.
Take a look back at the "Strengths" portion of the article and then watch this video. Back-to-back put back dunks get things started.