2016-17 Season Stats:
57.7 % from the field
50% from the free-throw line
Weight: 222 pounds. Height w/shoes: 6′11″. Wingspan: 7’3″. Standing Reach: 9’1″.
A sane Kevin Garnett without a jump shot.
Out of the league in two years.
Bootleg Tyson Chandler with crumbling legs.
Duke freshman power forward Harry Giles is a conundrum. As a wildly athletic big with elite size and intriguing finesse coming out of high school, he was once projected to be the consensus first overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. His stock dropped precipitously after an underwhelming freshman season in which he was hampered by injury and struggled to establish himself in Duke’s rotation. In spite of this, Giles decided to forego his remaining college eligibility and declare for this year’s draft, probably because NBA players get fairly compensated for their work and Division I NCAA players do not. Most draft boards now have him projected as a late-first round selection.
Evaluating Harry Giles is hard. Thanks to the unfortunate start-and-stop path his career has taken thus far, we still haven’t seen that much of him. For all the intrigue he creates, he’s still a bit of a mystery. In those fleeting moments in which we’ve gotten glimpses of him in action, he’s presented a dizzying mix of untapped potential and cause for concern, flashes of incipient brilliance and intimations of disaster. It’s just as easy to talk yourself into him as it is to talk yourself out of him.
As a prospect, then, Harry Giles is a lot like those pictures you see on the internet that look like completely different things to different people. Look at Giles from one angle and you’ll find an elite-level lob catcher in the making; look at him from another and a Greg Oden-esque draft disaster will appear. No one single way of looking at Giles is necessarily right, and they all might be wrong. So let’s take a look Giles from a couple different angles and see what there is to see:
Harry Giles as Star NBA Player
Though it may be hard to imagine after his disappointing season with the Blue Devils, it wasn’t all that long ago that scouts saw Harry Giles as a strong candidate for NBA stardom. It’s difficult to see why this was the case if you just watched him in college, but if you find video of him as a high school player, the case for his star potential becomes more clear. In high school, Giles had elite athleticism, elite size, was tremendously fast, and showed spurts of a developing feel for the passing and post games. He didn’t quite know how to play defense yet, but he seemed willing to give effort on that end and had all the physical tools to become an elite and versatile defender. In essence, Giles looked a lot like incredibly high quality Play-Doh coming out of high school. If you could imagine it, it seemed, you could mold the young front court player to become it. That was back then, of course. Once he got to the NCAA, things changed a little, which brings us to the next way to look at Giles…
Harry Giles as Potentially Defective Sports Car
It’s getting harder to imagine Harry Giles as an NBA star because of the big red flag that flies over his head: his long injury history. If Giles’ injury list were a deli sandwich, it would have a ton of ingredients and would probably receive an awful name like “The Smoked Amar’e Special” or “The D. Rose on Rye.” He tore both of his ACLs, one of his MCLs, and the meniscus of his left knee, and that was just in high school. On the cusp of beginning his freshman season at Duke, Giles had to undergo a third surgery on his left knee, from which he apparently struggled to rehabilitate. Whether these injuries will hobble him in the future or recur over the course of his NBA career is unclear. At various points during his single abbreviated season at Duke he looked off, perhaps hampered by his injuries and out of basketball shape. Still, he showed flashes of the boundless athleticism and explosiveness that made him so intriguing in the first place, enough of them to make you believe that he could still become the player scouts once dreamed he could be.
Drafting the supremely athletic Giles in the back end of the first round, then, is like buying a lightly used Ferrari that’s had its power steering pump replaced three times. On the one hand, you’re getting a Ferrari and, because you’re taking the risk that it might be defective, you’re getting it for way below what you’d otherwise pay for one. On the other hand, there’s clearly something wrong with this car; power steering pumps are important and it’s weird that a car that’s been used so lightly would have its pump broken so many times. Now you have to ask yourself: is it a problem with the car itself? Was it used irresponsibly in the past? Did it receive proper maintenance? And, most importantly, was the last fix it got really the last fix it will need? You might still buy the car–after all, it’s a Ferrari and at that low price you might be okay with the risk of buying a car that might never work. But you’re going to think twice about buying it over a car of lesser pedigree that you know is reliable, just like anyone considering Harry Giles is going to think a couple times before making that call to the league office on draft day.
Harry Giles as Vacuum Cleaner around the Rim
This is perhaps the best-case-scenario for Harry Giles’ career if he fails to become a star in the NBA. He showed flashes in his time at Duke of being a Tyson Chandler-ish lob catcher and rebounder, the sort of player who can corral the ball into the basket at point-blank range from all sorts of unwieldy angles. His superior coordination helps him a lot in this regard, but Giles has also shown a knack for getting inside position on his opponents. He has sneakily skillful hands when he gets possession of the ball around the rim and at times has demonstrated impressive patience is catching, gathering, and waiting for the tides of jumping defenders to fall before going up strong for a dunk or bank shot himself.
If true stardom isn’t in the cards for Giles, the team that drafts him might still end up with a guy who makes the basket feel like it has the gravitational pull of a supermassive black hole whenever the ball comes near it. Even in this age of stretch fours and fives, that’s a great player to have on your team. After all, someone still needs to rebound and keep defenses honest when they stretch to chase jump shot-happy guards around the perimeter. It isn’t hard to imagine Giles being a foundational piece in a deadly spread pick and roll attack who can also gobble up rebounds on both sides of the floor and offer a little shot blocking and rim protection, too.
Harry Giles as Basketball Red Bull
If nothing else, Harry Giles is an incredibly energetic basketball player. Simply put, Giles is the kind of player that just tries really hard whenever he’s on the court. (You’d think that should go without saying whenever we’re talking about a professional basketball player, but if you’ve ever watched, say, Carmelo Anthony playing defense, you know effort isn’t always a given.) In his limited minutes at Duke, Giles showed a zest for running on the break and chasing rebounds all over the floor. He was a menace following his own misses, leaping over opponents for put-back dunks with all the gusto of a pit bull fighting for a slab of fresh red meat. If he never reaches the heights of his potential, if his freak athleticism never fully returns, Giles can still be a serviceable burst of energy off the bench, a jet fuel injection that plays 20 minutes a night to take advantage of tired starters or disengaged reserves. Guys with far less natural talent and coordination have carved out productive, lucrative NBA careers solely by providing consistent energy and effort. If he can define himself as a reliable can of basketball Red Bull, Giles should have a place in the NBA for a long, long time.
Harry Giles as Draft Bust
This is always possible when we’re talking about the draft, but with Harry Giles the bust scenario feels uncomfortably realistic. The most obvious way he could wind up not panning out as a pro is if his injuries recur and prevent him from seeing the court for prolonged stretches. If this happens, Giles could be out of the league before his rookie contract expires. Even should his injuries not be an issue, there’s still the chance that he never really learns how to play defense and his above-the-rim offensive tendencies fail to translate to the NBA game where his opponents will be faster, stronger, smarter, and hungrier.
When there are so many unknowns surrounding a prospect, failure always seems likely. With Harry Giles, though, anything seems possible—it just depends on how you look at him. You want a potential star? Harry Giles could be that for you. You’re looking for a bootleg Tyson Chandler who could potentially whip smart interior passes? That could be Giles, too. You want someone to come off the bench, run like hell, catch lobs, and pull down boards? Giles might be your guy. Really, Giles could be anything. Where he ends up falling in this draft all depends on how he looks to the eye of the person with the pick.