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Is The Promise of Harry Giles Enough?

A deep look at one of the bench bigs examines his strengths and weaknesses.

San Antonio Spurs v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers have a series of decisions to make about a wide variety of players on the roster last year. There’s Norman Powell, who played a key role with the Blazers late in the season after being traded here from Toronto, and there are key bench players like Enes Kanter and Carmelo Anthony, guys coming off one-year contracts who have their pluses but are admittedly flawed.

After that group, there are some guys that didn’t get a ton of extended run. Harry Giles falls firmly into that category. The 23-year-old big man played in 38 games this season for Portland and didn’t particularly impress, putting up a measly 2.8 points and 3.5 rebounds in just 9.2 minutes per game.

Despite an impressive preseason, Giles didn’t exactly wow Blazers fans like they had hoped, but he’s still a young center who clearly has some skill. Is the young Giles worth another look for Portland or is it time to move on after one short year?

Let’s start by looking into why Giles didn’t put up very gaudy stats. As noted above, Giles didn’t exactly break the box score. That’s partially because he didn’t get quite the same opportunity to do so as he did in Sacramento, playing five minutes less per game than in his prior two seasons with the Kings. He played only 215 minutes this year, much less than the 758 minutes and 634 minutes he played with the Kings in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons respectively.

Two reasons stand out immediately. The first was that now-former Blazers head coach Terry Stotts notoriously does not entrust young players with too much playing time. He preferred to play veterans. The second is that Enes Kanter was a solid option as the secondary five all year long, just continuing to grab boards and get buckets whenever needed.

There’s a third reason that unfortunately can’t be skirted around: Harry Giles wasn’t particularly great this season. He didn’t always put on display his impressive passing ability like many fans (including myself) had hoped. He continued to be a liability defensively. The defensive struggles in particular made it so his impact on the court was more negative than positive.

Ever since joining the league, Giles has been plagued by a very high foul rate. His foul percentage of 5.9% puts him in the ninth percentile among bigs per Cleaning the Glass. It’s an improvement upon the rates of 7.1 % and 7.2% he posted in the past two seasons respectively in Sacramento, but that’s not saying much. He got caught fouling way too much for a player who only posted a block percentage of 0.9% (which ranks in the 21st percentile among bigs).

This isn’t a very hard foul, but it still shows something that is troubling. Giles gets too upright in his stance, causing him to lose his balance and swipe somewhat haphazardly at the ball. A player like Tobias Harris is compact enough that he can easily overpower Giles and get him out of the way. It’s not ideal when your big man can’t be trusted to stop a penetrating defender.

In watching this Sixers game (which is one of the more hilarious regular season wins for Portland in recent history), it befuddled me how little they really attacked Harry Giles in the paint. It became clear when watching this one that the Sixers were either not capitalizing at the rim or were just not attacking as much as they should.

This should have been an easy make for Harris. Joel Embiid clears the space for him with a good-enough screen and Harris drives hard at the rim. Giles is there, but he gets pushed back pretty easily since he isn’t incredibly strong. Harris is short on the layup, but that’s a shot that nine times out of 10 you’d expect a high-quality player like Harris to make.

I’ve been a little harsh on his defensive prowess so far, so let’s give Harry a break. This is pretty good defense on this shot. He doesn’t let Embiid bully him down in the post and makes it so the only option is a difficult running hook shot almost at the free-throw line. That’s not a high-percentage shot for anyone, and the result is a miss.

Because we like to radiate positivity here, let’s end the defensive portion on that note. Now let’s jump into the offense. Theoretically, this was the calling card for Harry Giles. He possesses (in theory) three things that make him promising on this end: a nimble passing touch, a projectable jump shot, and solid finishing inside.

Let’s start with the last thing, because truthfully, he didn’t deliver on his inside scoring. After making his at-the-rim looks at a rate of 73% (good for the 79th percentile) last season, he only made a measly 54% of his shots at the rim this year. That puts him in the fifth percentile among all bigs this past year.

Regarding his jumpshot, Giles still showed some promise. He made an incredible 67% of his mid-range shots around 14 feet from the hoop, a number that ranks in the 96th percentile among all bigs. He also made almost 35% of his threes this year, albeit on a very small sample size (only 23 threes taken in total).

This three really isn’t anything special, especially considering it comes in the fourth quarter of a blowout against an Oklahoma City Thunder squad that was clearly trying to tank late in the year. I can still find three things I like about this play. First, it’s a pick-and-pop play, the type of action that Giles can thrive in because it theoretically should give him more space to throw pinpoint passes. Second, his form looks really solid on this shot. Third, he makes it! That’s good for the stats and the confidence.

I mention the passing because that’s something I would have liked to have seen more of from Giles. I don’t actually blame him that much for it. I thought Stotts was a good coach, but I also don’t think he ever really put Giles in a position to excel as a passer like he can. That’s too bad, because he can make some pretty passes.

This pass is awesome. Giles has enough space up top that he can make a clear decision about what he wants to do. Giles rarely makes the wrong decision in these situations. This time, he gets it to a wide open Anfernee Simons in the corner for a three. Once again, Giles makes the right decision.

Here’s just one more for you. This time, Giles is barreling to the hoop with a little more force. It’s a lot tougher for a big man — or truthfully any young player — to make a controlled pass out of this situation than in the previous one. But Giles does it calmly and with ease. The result? Another three from Ant.

I’m a firm believer that there’s still some promise in Giles. I think he’s shown that he can do a few things pretty well for the Blazers. He’s still raw, but there is real projectable skill in what he does on the court. Unfortunately, Portland doesn’t need promise; they need production. They don’t need someone who potentially could contribute. What they need is someone who can clearly contribute right now.

Unfortunately, that was something that Giles really couldn’t do for Portland. And the truth is that big men are relatively easy to find in the free agent market. Players like Nerlens Noel and Bobby Portis come to mind as posts who signed for cheap and have shown their value to their respective teams. They are guys who have a clear role and can be incredibly effective when they put their mind to it.

Giles hasn’t shown that he can do just that. I think he might be able to someday, but time is running out for him. His skills are projectable, but the Blazers don’t need projectable. Therefore, it seems like Giles’s time in Portland is coming to an end.