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Harry Giles is filling in the gaps

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The rookie forward’s defensive acumen and motor on the boards is cementing his place in the rotation.

Kimani Okearah

Ask any knowledgeable observer to chronicle the Kings’ inadequacies heading into the trade deadline and they’ll all cite the same list: a starting-caliber small forward, rim protection, and improved glass cleaning. There’s a reason Vlade Divac’s name has been attached to players like Enes Kanter, Otto Porter, and Harrison Barnes. The deficiencies in Sacramento’s roster are as glaring as their strengths, and opposing teams know exactly what to do to exploit those weaknesses: play a combo forward, attack the paint, and aggressively pursue offensive rebounds. The Kings are a franchise in the middle of a remodel, with several holes still remaining on the depth chart, but the recent play of Harry Giles has helped to fill several of those gaps.

Although Giles was hyped as a freakish passer and scorer throughout high school and into the NBA draft, his contributions as a multi-level defensive stopper have emerged as the most enticing component of his diverse skill set. His regular season career got off to a choppy start amidst flashes of brilliance followed by piles of fouls and prove-myself tunnel vision, but the young forward’s recent play has displayed a confident, comfortable contributor who is ready to take on the mantle of versatile defensive stopper for the Kings.

Dave Joerger faces an uphill battle on that side of the floor on a nightly basis. NBA defenses typically focus on funneling perimeter scorers toward one of two places: either an area of particular weakness within that player’s bag of tricks, or to the teeth of their defense with a rim protector at the center. The Kings struggle with this concept because they lack a competent shot-blocker who also operates smoothly within the offensive game plan. Willie Cauley-Stein has admitted to a fear of the rim and often refuses to even lift his arms when guarding the paint, Nemanja Bjelica was never brought in for his defensive acumen, Kosta Koufos doesn’t mesh with the run-and-gun style of play, and while Marvin Bagley has been more advanced than expected, the rookie center is better suited as a help defender than a one-on-one stopper.

Enter Harry Giles.

(Editors Note: All stats listed in this article do not include yesterday’s game against the Charlotte Hornets)

Since being granted regular minutes eight games ago, Harry Giles has held opponents to 10/24 shooting within six feet of the rim, reducing their average field goal percentage from 58.8% to 41.7%. During that same stretch, Nemanja Bjelica’s offensive counterparts have scored with about the same accuracy as they usually do, while Willie Cauley-Stein’s rim protection has completely abandoned him. His opponents’ field goal percentage sits at 71.4% at the rim, a full ten percentage points higher than their average and a thirty percentage points higher than Giles. He currently ranks 129th out of 149 qualified players in rim protection:

Part of Giles’ success in defending the rim has come from his emergence as a shot-blocker. He leads the team in total blocks since entering the rotation, recording seven rejections, despite playing the eighth-fewest minutes:

Shot-blocking

Player Total Blocks Minutes Played Blocks Per-100 Possessions
Player Total Blocks Minutes Played Blocks Per-100 Possessions
Giles 7 137 2.4
Bjelica 6 202 1.4
Cauley-Stein 6 229 1.2
Jackson 4 196 1
Fox 3 238 0.6
Shumpert 3 113 1.2

The rookie forward continues to grow in his understanding of when to play vertical, when to swipe down, and when to wrap up an opposing center and grant those within the Golden 1 Center a free Jumbo Jack. From October through the end of December, Harry averaged 2.3 fouls per game, even though he was on the court for just 10.1 minutes each night. That was lousy enough to rank him the third-most common fouler in the league, recording 8.2 per-36 minutes. As of late, his per-game fouls have stayed about the same, 2.5, while his minutes have increased to 17.6 per contest. That extrapolates to 5.3 on a per-36 minute basis: still not exceptional, but a definitive improvement.

Here he is guarding Andre Drummond. The Pistons All-Star center tries to use his physicality to shift Giles out of the way, but Harry holds his ground and uses his length to erase the ground-bound big man’s shot, rather than wildly swiping at the ball in response to the bump:

That’s in complete contradiction to an early season foul against the Nuggets in which Harry keeps both hand down and across his body, making it easy for the official to give Jamal Murray two shots at the charity stripe:

Here he is caught with his hands at the offensive player’s waist once again, granting Mason Plumlee a pair of free throws:

Giles isn’t just spoiling layups, dunks, and post-moves; he’s beginning to wreak havoc on the perimeter as well. His 0.9 steals per game don’t exactly shine with undying brilliance, but considering he plays just 17 minutes per game, excitement begins to build when envisioning him as a key part of the rotation. Harry is averaging 2.4 steals per-100 possessions, second only to De’Aaron Fox, who happens to be averaging the eighth-most steals per game in the entire NBA.

The former Blue Devil’s unique blend of speed, aggression, length, and motor allows him to affect multiple areas of the defensive side of the floor in a singular possession. His ability to challenge ball-handlers and guard the rim has resulted in an incredibly low defensive rating in 2019: 100.3. That’s good enough for second on the Kings, behind the equally impressive play of Justin Jackson (99), and a far cry from where the young forward was earlier in the year. Through December 31st, Giles placed last in offensive rating (92.3), and second-to-last in defensive rating (113.7), which equaled a discouraging -21.3 net rating, easily the worst on the team and 9.7 points behind the second-worst contributor, Frank Mason. Although he showed moments of competence, the first year player killed the Kings when he entered the game. Dave Joerger was forced to sacrifice success in the name of development.

Since the start of the New Year, Harry has looking like a completely different player, maybe even starting caliber. His offensive rating still needs work, sitting at 103.1, the worst among rotational players, but his defensive rating of 100.3 more than makes up for his still-developing scoring repertoire. His net rating of 2.8 is extremely similar to that of Willie Cauley-Stein (3) and Nemanja Bjelica (3.6). The team’s defensive identity is supercharged when Giles enters the game:

Defensive Differential*

Player Defensive Rating w/out Giles Defensive Rating w/ Giles Defensive Rating Differential
Player Defensive Rating w/out Giles Defensive Rating w/ Giles Defensive Rating Differential
Fox 105.9 95 10.9
Hield 109.9 98.2 11.7
Bogdanovic 107 100 7
Jackson 98.1 96.7 1.4
Cauley-Stein 107.8 81.4 26.4
Bjelica 110 83.8 26.2
Ferrell 96.6 99.1 -2.5
*Marvin Bagley and Iman Shumpert did not meet the minimum requirements to be included

The Kings not only struggle to win skirmishes on the defensive end of the floor; they also regularly surrender offensive rebounds when their opponents misfire jump shots. Sacramento gives up the third-most offensive rebounds in the NBA at 11.5 per game, gifting rival teams 14.6 second chance points each night, also the third-worst in the league.

Harry Giles has excelled in securing defensive rebounds following his takeover of Kosta Koufos’ position as backup big man. He’s registered a defensive rebounding percentage of 20.9%, falling short of only Willie Cauley-Stein’s 24.6% (Marvin Bagley also has him beat, but has played only four games). That may not seem encouraging as Cauley-Stein’s lack of focus on the glass is a constant point of contention within the fan base, but Giles plays a wholly different role than Willie. His 20.9% defensive rebounding rate ranks 15th out of 159 qualified forwards, good for the 92nd percentile, and is worlds better than his power forward counterpart Nemanja Bjelica, who sits at just 15.5%. Justin Jackson, the occasional option at small-ball power forward, is even further down the line at 9.9%. Harry hasn’t just played like an elite defender since earning Dave Joeger’s trust; he’s followed up those defensive stands by securing the all-too important rebound as well.

Here are four examples of Harry tracking man and ball, partially or fully sealing off the potential offensive rebounder, and securing the defensive rebound. Boxing out his man may not appear to be the most electrifying skill in the world, but his determination to clean the glass on both sides of the floor is far more intense than either of the Kings starting big men:

There are still issues within Giles’ rebounding game, as the rookie too often gets caught ball-watching when a shooter pulls up for a jumper. Even though he snags these boards, a savvier offensive rebounder may very well have captured the rebounds:

Project Harry Giles is by no means complete; he’s a 20-year old kid who has played 31 NBA games, but the young man is regularly demonstrating bursts of the immense potential that made him a high school superstar and the number one prospect heading into college. He’s defending the perimeter and the interior at a high level, has significantly decreased his fouling rate, and continues to shine as an above-average rebounder. Harry’s offense is still developing, as he’s learning when and where to pick his spots, but he’s still managed to record an assist percentage of 17.9% (third-best on the team) and a true shooting percentage of 56% (fourth-best on the team), throughout those growing pains. He may not be the perfect fit to fill every gap in the Kings roster, but his recent play has smoothed over and sealed several gaping holes within Dave Joerger’s rotation.