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Harry Giles III Has Plenty of Potential with the Trail Blazers

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Kyle Garcia looks at Portland’s under-utilized center.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Few NBA teams are as acutely aware of the toll injuries take as the Portland Trail Blazers are. Mishaps are an unfortunate and inescapable reality of professional sports, especially in 2021. Several teams, through injuries combined with health and safety protocols, have been unable to field legal rosters this season, including the Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat, and Washington Wizards. Health issues are particularly devastating.

Portland has been another case entirely. With CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic out, they were already shorthanded. As other players — like Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr. — suffered minor injuries, the number of available players dwindled. It led to games like last week’s against the Sixers, one that will go down as one of the more random regular season wins in the franchise’s modern history.

There’s a silver lining, though. Injuries give players time that otherwise wouldn’t receive it. Enter Harry Giles. After being strapped to the bench for most of December, Giles has seen a five-minute bump in January and February, averaging 11.7 and 12.4 minutes a game respectively. It’s not a ton, but it’s almost double the 6.3 minutes per game he averaged in December.

Giles caught a lot of people’s attention with his stellar preseason performance, including my own. But how has he done in the regular season minutes he’s been afforded? Let’s take a look.

No box score stats really jump off the page when you first glance at it. He’s averaging only 2.9 points per game and 4.6 rebounds per game. He hasn’t even broken the double-digit barrier yet scoring-wise. He’s not shooting particularly well from the floor, making 40.7% of his total shots and 37.5% of his threes. He has a true-shooting percentage of 47.4%, which is a whopping 10.6% lower than last year’s 58% mark. Those numbers aren’t particularly great offensively.

Most of his shots are coming in the paint, with 72.2% of his shots up to this point being from within 10 feet of the rim. He’s only made 43.6% of those shots so far, which is a far cry from the 63.5% he shot last season. So far this season, he’s only made 53.5% of his shots at the rim. Last year, he made an incredible 75%, just dunking everything in sight.

What Giles does at the rim is important because he isn’t much in the way of a jump-shooter right now. A while back I touched on how he could potentially develop into a decent shooting threat, at least from the mid-range. So far he’s only shot two shots from 15 to 19 feet and made one of them. He has shot more threes than ever, though, even if it’s only eight attempts so far. Still, he’s made three of them, which isn’t a bad sign.

This is a tough running hook from Giles that I generally speaking wouldn’t expect to land. But it does! That’s because Giles usually has pretty good touch inside of 10 feet. It’s mostly just been this year that he hasn’t quite found the tin.

Giles is very good at filling the space he needs to. When he relocates to the block so Carmelo Anthony can do a post-up (something I wish didn’t happen, but here we are), that opens up some pace for Melo to make the pass. He flashes to the ball in order to grab it, secures the rock, and goes up strong. It’s a solid play that utilizes Giles’s finishing inside.

While the inside scoring is good, this is something I’m very interested in seeing develop. In this shot, Giles steps confidently into his shot after relocating off the ball. He pulls the trigger with confidence and drains it. It’s not something he has to do all the time; if anything, it’s just something to keep in his bag of tricks. But it’s also a sign that the solid shooting stroke could lead to more.

What I’ve always liked most about Giles’s offensive game is his passing. He makes some pretty passes for a guy his size. It’s one of the things Stotts praised the young big for when saying Giles had to step up after the Nurkic injury. He hasn’t turned into Jokic or anything — his assist percentage of 11.8% is actually the lowest of his career so far — but he still shows flashes of that solid passing.

Giles makes two great passes in this clip alone. The pass to a cutting Nassir Little is great and the exact kind of action I love to see in Portland. That doesn’t lead to anything, unfortunately. But when Little passes it back, Giles is able to zip it right to Anfernee Simons in the corner. It’s a great play from Giles in the high post, a place he should operate from more.

Here’s another good pass to Simons. I like this one because this is the exact type of play that usually results in a big man fumbling and losing the ball. Instead, Giles stays gathered and is able to find Simons relocating towards the corner. His handle isn’t majestic or anything, but for a big man it’s good enough that he won’t lose the ball in situations like this. It’s a good play from Giles.

The two above plays I think show some good passing versatility. I think that’s something that the Blazers can utilize more. Right now, most of his assists come off plays like this:

And those are good plays! Gary Trent Jr. can create separation consistently and Giles is comfortable handing the ball off. But I think putting Giles in positions where he can find cutters at the high post or relocating shooters would highlight that passing ability better. He found Little on the baseline and delivered a sweet pass and found Simons a couple times. We know he’s capable of it. I just want to see more.

One thing that has been really good so far has been his rebounding. Among players averaging at least 10 minutes per game, he’s ranked 11th in rebounding percentage. That’s mostly attributed to his stellar defensive rebounding. His defensive rebounding percentage sits at 28.3% at the moment, which is eighth among players once again averaging at least 10 minutes a game. (Note: Marquese Chriss is first and has only played two games, so Giles is really in the top seven for this category).

The offensive rebounding percentage isn’t as good at 8.5%, but the overall numbers are solid. It makes sense when you watch Giles play that he grabs a lot of boards since he plays with such energy. It was his hallmark during those stellar preseason games against the Kings and is probably still the main thing he provides at this moment.

I’m not that worried about Giles offensively or on boards because I think he’ll figure both things out. He’s a gifted player with good feel once he’s in a rhythm. I am, however, concerned about the defense. It has not been great. He’s at a concerningly high 113.6 defensive rating, and while defensive stats are always murky at best, when you combine that number with his currently low offensive rating (101.6), you get a net of -12.3. That’s not very good.

Christian Wood is an absurdly talented offensive center. But he’s also a skinny dude who doesn’t have too much of a problem getting by Giles here. Giles gives up the baseline and Wood is able to get by without too much resistance. The foul here prevents an easy bucket, but it isn’t ideal.

Fouling is a problem that Giles has dealt with in the past. In his first two seasons in the league he averaged 6.5 fouls per 36 minutes. This year it’s down to 5.9, which isn’t much better. But part of his strategy for cutting down on fouls has just been to avoid playing too much defense at the rim in the first place.

This is a bad play. Giles and Lillard don’t really do anything to cut White off here and do a half ole. All that does is lead to a foul on White and the and-one. If Giles is a step faster, then he cuts off a bucket. White is a little bit like a bowling ball, but I’d like to see Giles step up with authority.

One more example of a smaller player barreling into Giles. Zach LaVine is a strong, athletic dude, but he just goes right at Giles without a second thought and the young big loses his balance almost immediately. He really struggles to hold his ground in situations like this, and it works to his detriment. Giles has to get stronger.

The truth is, even with the injuries, it’s hard for Giles to get minutes when the guys ahead of him are frankly better at the moment. I thought that it was already possible that Giles is a better option than Kanter due to his versatility, but Kanter has done really well. Sure, Kanter looks like he has two left feet defensively, but Giles hasn’t looked much better. Plus, Kanter is really good at the two things he does best: Inside scoring and rebounding.

I think this hurts Giles because I’m not sure he’ll ever really get the chance to show what he’s capable of. His minutes feel uneven and it’s hard for him to get in a rhythm with so little time on the court. If Kanter wasn’t doing alright at the moment, I would be all for Giles getting more time. I still actually think that. It’s just hard when he’s no better defensively than one of the worst defensive centers in the league.

Giles is still young. He’s got time to figure things out. Everything above shows that the flashes are still there, even if they occur inconsistently. All Giles can do is make the most of the time he’s allotted.