This was a strong offseason for the Portland Trail Blazers. They addressed several holes on the roster and shored them up with guys who are more than just marginal players. Instead of doing the bare minimum to try and improve the team, Portland has made a significant effort to try catapulting themselves into contention (even if RPM doesn’t think it’ll happen).
One of the more interesting and surprising moves that Neil Olshey and company made this offseason was nabbing Harry Giles III for a one-year minimum deal. The 22-year-old big man was a former high school standout who has dealt with a series of knee injuries already in his young career. But even despite these injuries he’s shown flashes of the productive big man that scouts and front office execs have hoped he could be.
Seeing the words “big man” and “knee injuries” so close together in a sentence is probably enough to give some Blazer fans cause for concern, but there’s a lot to like about Giles and what he brings to the court. So what exactly is he bringing with him from Sacramento? Let’s take a look.
At 6-foot-11 and 240 pounds, Giles has great size for a big. But it’s not just his size; it’s what he can do with it. Giles isn’t the freak athlete he once was before his injuries, but he still runs like a gazelle when he’s on the court.
Giles is an excellent finisher at the rim. He finished 75% of his shots in the restricted area, which is an absolutely absurd number. When you watch his tape it’s essentially a dunk every time he’s near the hoop. He’s not as good from the rest of the paint — his field goal percentage drops to 63.5% when it’s just shots less than 10 feet from the rim — but the at-rim finishing numbers are highly encouraging. The Blazers have never been a team that creates buckets for guys with lobs, but having Giles and the newly acquired Derrick Jones Jr. should make them think about it.
While he’s mostly effective at the rim, there’s been glimmers of good jumpshooting ability. Giles only took two threes this year and missed them both, but he did make 77.6% of his free throws this season and has a smooth-looking shot. He made 47.4% of his shots from 15 to 19 feet and 45% of his shots from the elbow, an area where he’ll be operating from plenty with Portland.
In the first play of this highlight clip you see Giles step comfortably into a jumper and drain it. The midrange isn’t totally en vogue in the NBA right now, but it’s still a useful tool. We’ve seen CJ McCollum elevate the Blazers numerous times with his midrange shot creation. Giles isn’t going to be like McCollum or anything, but he should hit that open elbow jumper and could potentially expand that range with some encouragement from Terry Stotts.
But the thing that stands out most about Giles is his passing. He’s an excellent passer for his size and can almost always find the open man with the ball in his hands. He didn’t put up crazy assist numbers, averaging only about 1.3 a game, but that number can be extended to about 3.2 per 36 minutes and 4.4 per 100 possessions. And the quality of his passing is just outstanding.
Watch the first two minutes of just this highlight mix and you’ll see him make a litany of difficult passes with ease. There’s a reason Danny Marang was gushing over it in the latest Blazer’s Edge Podcast (a great listen if you want a deep dive on all things Giles). When he’s on the elbow, Blazers should just start back cutting all over the place because there’s a great chance that he’ll find them.
You may have noticed by this point that for the most part it’s a glowing review of Giles and what he brings offensively. Unfortunately, when it comes to his defense, he needs to improve. His defensive rating of 109 was not great and neither was his foul rate of 6.4 fouls per 36 minutes. Greg Wissinger of The King’s Herald noted on the podcast that Giles goes full matador at times just to avoid fouls, which isn’t much of a solution to avoiding fouling. There’s a middle ground there that Giles has to find in order to earn consistent minutes.
There are some positive takeaways defensively when examining Giles. His defensive rebound percentage of 24.1% puts him firmly in the top 25 among defensive rebounders. But he doesn’t have a high block rate (only 1.0 blocks per 36 minutes) and fouls a lot, which isn’t great. He has the profile to become a passable defender, but he’s going to need some guidance in order to make that happen.
So what does all this info mean in terms of how Giles fits with the Blazers? For starters, he projects to be a solid option at the 4 or 5 off the bench. With Zach Collins out until January he’ll most likely have some chances to earn a spot in the rotation. But it’ll be a dogfight for those frontcourt minutes.
Right now, what it really comes down to is whether they’ll play him or Enes Kanter more as the backup to Jusuf Nurkic. Kanter has experience in the system and is a good presence offensively inside, but Giles brings a certain amount of versatility that Kanter just can’t provide. They’re both not particularly great defensively, but there’s a lot more room for growth with Giles than Kanter. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Giles takes minutes from Kanter because of this.
He’ll still have to fight Collins — the player he was traded for during the 2017 NBA Draft — for minutes once he returns though. Collins has him beat as a defender and spaces the floor more than Giles, but he’s not as good at finishing around the rim and is certainly not the passer that Giles is. There might be ways for them to coexist depending on how the jumper from Collins prorgresses, but it’s generally speaking going to be a battle for minutes.
Whatever Portland decides to do with Giles remains to be seen. Despite only having 104 career games under his belt in technically only two years (he sat out his first year to rehab a knee injury), there have been enough flashes of skill from Giles to suggest he could be a quality rotation player in this league. The big question for the immediate future is whether or not that happens with Portland.