Should the Denver Nuggets Offer an Extension to Gary Harris?
Gary Harris, starting shooting guard of the Denver Nuggets, is one the most interesting prospects in the league. Entering his 4th year in the league, he just averaged 14.9 points, 2.9 assists, and 3.1 rebounds per game with a 50% field goal and 42% three-point percentage. Harris was rumored to be involved in a 3-team trade that would have sent Paul George to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Kevin Love to the Denver Nuggets, and himself to the Indiana Pacers. So the Nuggets are only willing to part with him if it means bringing in a four-time All-Star. Harris is already a staple of Denver’s starting lineup and still shows untapped upside. This creates a bit of a dilemma, as Harris will enter restricted free agency in the summer of 2018 unless the Nuggets and Harris agree to an extension. So the question becomes: Should the Nuggets extend Harris before he hits free agency and if so, for what price?
For a price point, you must examine Gary Harris the player. On offense, he is an excellent three-point shooter who can create and use the threat of his range to take advantage of overeager defenders and drive to the rim. In his first three seasons, Harris has consistently improved his offensive production and efficiency. At only 23 years old, he’s practically a lock to continue refining his offensive skillset and become even better than he is now. While the offensive numbers are great for Harris, his real value lies in his defense. Harris has proved to be Denver’s best defender and can cover multiple positions on the perimeter. This is key for the Nuggets because while they were 5th in offensive efficiency last season, they were second to last in defensive efficiency. If they want to make the playoffs this season, improving on defense is a must and Harris plays a vital role in contributing on that end.
Looking at the team’s composition and chemistry, Harris is part of a young core alongside Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. Flashes of potential have made all three prospective cornerstones for the Nuggets franchise. With more experience, these three can easily mature into players that bring the Nuggets into contention. The signing of Paul Milsap gave the Nuggets a high-quality veteran player who can complement any lineup involving Jokic, Harris, and Murray. The combination of shooting and passing in this group could be deadly and improves an already-lethal offense. It is difficult to find another player who can match Harris’s scoring abilities and also defend on the wing as well as he can.
If and when the contract extension gets done, we will know how committed the Nuggets are to a future involving Gary Harris. To estimate his worth on the open market, we can examine what other shooting guards with similar ages and skillsets received in the 2017 offseason. Tim Hardaway Jr. received a four-year 71-million-dollar contract from the Knicks in what was considered an overpay by many. Before Kentavious Caldwell-Pope became an unrestricted free agent and signed with the Los Angeles Lakers on a one-year 18-million-dollar deal, he reportedly rejected a five-year $80 million offer from the Detroit Pistons. Harris is a more productive and efficient player on offense and arguably a better defender than Pope or Hardaway. Unless he is willing to take a discount to keep the young Nuggets core together, it is hard to imagine him accepting a deal for anything less than $18-20 million annually.
As it stands now, the Nuggets could possibly have about 17 million dollars of cap space available in the 2018 offseason — a significant amount of space. However, it’s doubtful that they will be able to sign a player better than Harris on the open market with that money. Harris is young and already a valued contributor on a team that has a great shot to make the playoffs this upcoming season. The Nuggets should be pursuing a contract extension with Harris starting at $20 million annually. It may end up costing more to keep him but that outweighs the risk of a team offering Harris a max deal in restricted free agency and the Nuggets being forced to match or let him go.