The long-awaited 2020 NBA Draft has finally come and gone. The Minnesota Timberwolves took another high-risk, high-reward project by selecting Anthony Edwards with the first overall pick. The Golden State Warriors – after weeks of leading rival teams to believe that they might take Deni Avdija, or another lower-ranked prospect – decided to draft James Wiseman, the obvious choice given their roster needs. Lamelo Ball – who has been known by many as a mere Instagram, or reality TV show star for the past few years – will finally begin his NBA career as a member of the Charlotte Hornets. The Philadelphia 76ers and Dallas Mavericks made a move that might send ripples throughout the league next season, sending Seth Curry to Philly in return for Josh Richardson and Tyler Bey.
The Toronto Raptors on the other hand, had a fairly quiet draft night. It’s unknown which serious trade discussions were had within the Raptors board room – if any at all – but ultimately the Raptors decided to stay put and draft the best prospect available at the 29th, and 59th picks. With some holes projected to open up in the Raptors’ backcourt, and few affordable options expected to become available on the free agent market, it makes sense that Toronto was on the lookout to address those needs.
With the penultimate pick of the first round, the Raptors selected Malachi Flynn – a 6’1 point guard who is seemingly cut from the same cloth as guys like Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry. Flynn has a “do anything it takes to win” attitude, and an rather undersized frame. Though Flynn’s resume is impressive, coming off a season in which he won the Mountain West Player of The Year, and Defensive Player of The Year, his spotlight should not take away from that of Jalen Harris.
Harris is another four year product from the University of Nevada, who like Flynn, transferred after his first two years at another school.
A basketball savant from the time he came out of the womb, Harris is the son of two great basketball players in their own right: Karlin Kennedy, his mother, and Erion Harris, his father. When Jalen was born, Karlin was only 19-years-old, and in her sophomore season at Southern Methodist University. Though she was forced to take a year off to tend to the birth of her child, she was able to return to the floor for her junior season, and her productivity didn’t drop off one bit. By the time Karlin graduated from SMU, she was the school’s all-time leader in points, rebounds, blocks, and field-goal percentage.
Erion Harris also devoted his college basketball career to SMU, although he wasn’t as successful on the court as his soon-to-be wife. Throughout 83 games played, he only earned seven starts, and averaged career figures of 4.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 0.7 assists.
Growing up with parents like that, there’s no question that Jalen was destined to become an elite basketball player. In fact, he was an elite athlete in general. Harris played competitive basketball, football, and baseball growing up, however he decided to give his football dreams a break after suffering a bad injury in middle school. That was when he started training more seriously with his dad, and began carving out his pathway to the NBA.
As a Junior in high school, Harris averaged 15 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists per game – good enough to earn him the District 8-6A Offensive Player of The Year. Despite getting injured midway through his senior year of high school, Harris’ stellar play and sheer dominance on the offensive end of the court earned him that honour for the second straight year. In one of the games that he was healthy to play, Harris dropped an astonishing 44 points. It’s been that same offensive prowess which has carried him throughout his basketball career, and now, landed him on an NBA team – but college wasn’t all too smooth sailing either.
Coming out high school, Harris was not as heavily recruited as some other top prospects. With only three Division 1 offers from the Kansas State Wildcats, the Indiana Hoosiers, and the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, Harris chose the latter option, and decided to take his talents to Ruston, Louisiana.
Starting off as a freshman at Louisiana Tech, Harris appeared in 27 games, but only earned the opportunity to start in two. He played an integral role off the bench, seeing 22.9 minutes per game, and he made the most of it, dropping 10.9 points on 44.7% shooting.
After making the the Conference USA All-Freshman team in 2017, his stock would quickly shoot up, and scouts from bigger basketball programs began to take notice.
11 games into Harris’ sophomore season, he ditched his starting role with the Bulldogs to sign on with the Nevada Wolf Pack. Reportedly, it was head coach Eric Musselman’s style, and the Nevada fans’ impression that sealed the deal for Harris to transfer schools.
Per the NCAA’s rules, Harris was forced to red shirt the 2018-2019 season, however that extra year to become acclimatized to his new program and style of play paid its dividends.
In Harris’ final year of college eligibility, he exploded to average 21.7 points on 44.6% shooting from the field, and a blistering 36.2% from deep. During one eight game stretch which began in January, 2020, Harris would average 27.0 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game. Unquestionably, Harris is one of the most talented athletes in the NCAA, and with that scoring outburst, he would also become the 14th highest scoring player in the nation. With such an impressive senior year, Harris earned his spot (coincidentally, next to Malachi Flynn) on the First-Team All Mountain West Conference.
After a long time coming, and a couple of tumultuous, career trajectory shaping decisions, Harris decided to declare for the 2020 NBA Draft. In comparison to other prospects available, Harris profiled as a talented three-level scoring threat, with high upside if he could work on his defensive motor. Beyond his shooting ability, Harris ranked in the 87th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball handler, converting 0.94 points per possession in those scenarios, and also in the 100th percentile on post-ups, averaging 1.33 points per possession. As a taller 6’4 guard with a large 195-pound frame, that same ability to pass over the defense, or back down smaller guards should translate relatively well to the NBA.
At the 2020 NBA Combine, Harris had the third highest vertical leap at 42.5 inches. He had the third best lane agility at 10.59 seconds. He had the fifth fastest three-quarter court sprint at 3.11 seconds. He also ranked top-ten in the shuttle run, at just 2.49 seconds. Anthropologically, Harris measured a measly 4.4% body fat, an impressive 6’7 wingspan – over four inches longer than his height without shoes, and relatively large 9.5-inch wide hands. All in all, it’s fair to say that Harris could be the best pure athlete in the draft.
In Harris’ first run in with the Raptors media, he expressed his excitement to join Toronto’s development program, citing the stories of players such as Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Norman Powell, who were all overlooked on draft night, but were able to craft a successful NBA career for themselves by working hard, and doing what was asked of them. He was also outspoken regarding his eagerness to play alongside Malachi Flynn, whom he played against in college for one year, and who he says is a feisty competitor.
The two players had a duel down to the wire this past season, where Nevada led for the majority of the game, but Flynn took over late in the second half to grab the lead, and win the game by a slim margin for San Diego State. Harris ended the game with 24 points on 8-18 shooting, while Flynn dropped 36 points, making 13-20 shots from the field.
Harris also told the Raptors media that he studies a lot of Jamal Murray’s game – who emerged as one of the NBA’s most prolific scorers during the Orlando bubble, and whose play style one could easily liken Harris’ too. Both players are subpar defenders, but can get a bucket from anywhere on the floor offensively, in nearly any situation.
While it’s unlikely that Harris ever reaches the level of stardom that Murray has, he will certainly have his opportunity. The Toronto Raptors have one of the best player development programs in the NBA, and playing alongside veteran guards like Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet (hopefully), Harris should be able to learn a lot as a rookie. With Norman Powell seemingly on the trade block, and Terence Davis due to be cut from the team if he is convicted in his domestic violence charges on December 11th, Jalen Harris could begin playing minutes off the bench as soon as December 22nd. Even if he doesn’t though, he should definitely be a fan favourite. He’s just a cool dude.