Breaking Down Everything You Need to Know About LA Lakers' Elias Harris

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Breaking Down Everything You Need to Know About LA Lakers' Elias Harris
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Not everyone dismisses the importance of the NBA's Summer League.

Thanks to his strong showing in Las Vegas, the Los Angeles Lakers have agreed to a two-year contract, which includes a "significant" guarantee for 2013-14, with versatile forward Elias Harris.

With Metta World Peace, Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark all plucked from Mike D'Antoni's rotation, Harris has the chance to become a recognizable face in "La La Land" next season. He might face an uphill battle for meaningful minutes, but he could become the budget addition the cash-strapped Lakers need.

His size (6'7", 240 pounds) makes the small-forward spot his most likely permanent home, but the former Gonzaga star has a hybrid hoops background that makes his definitive future hard to pin down.

 

 

Path to the NBA

David Becker/Getty Images

A German native, Harris has spent time with both the country's junior and senior team in international play, where he shared the floor with new Lakers teammate Chris Kaman.

His introduction to U.S. hoops came at the University of Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash., where he spent four seasons as a member of the Bulldogs.

It didn't take long before he looked destined for stardom. With size, strength and well-rounded skills, Harris often looked ahead of his American peers. 

But after his brilliant debut, his stats started to plateau. The NBA was never removed as a possible destination, but it was no longer the guaranteed landing place it had looked like just a few short seasons before.

By the Numbers: Harris' Gonzaga Career
PPG FG% 3PT% RPG
2009-10 14.9 54.7 45.1 7.1
2010-11 12.4 51.7 35.3 6.0
2011-12 13.1 50.2 41.4 8.5
2012-13 14.6 50.1 17.0 7.4

StatSheet.com

Still, his resume was strong enough to earn him a spot on the Lakers summer league squad. There he flashed a relentless motor and soft hands, both of which bolstered his stock as a productive, hustling role player:

He didn't quite light up the Sin City scoreboard, but he did manage 10.2 points per game on 44.7 percent field-goal shooting. His 5.6 rebounds per game were second on the team, trailing only Lakers sophomore, and Harris' former teammate at Gonzaga, Robert Sacre.

Had he fared better than 18.8 percent from beyond the arc, Harris' contract might have been fully guaranteed. Still, he made enough plays off the dribble to convince the front office that he was worth another look as a potential fit as the stretch forward in Mike D'Antoni's system.

 

 

Key to Sustained Success

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Lakers have neither the funds to secure a star nor the locker-room leverage to take on another superstar presence (see: Dwight Howard's short-lived "nightmare," as reported by USA Today's David Leon Moore, tenure).

Harris doesn't need to play beyond his limits. While he spent his freshman season at Gonzaga without a ceiling, he all but installed the skylight in his final three seasons in Spokane.

While D'Antoni would love to see Harris' three-point stroke resuscitated, the fact that he's shot just 11-of-63 since the start of his senior season from distance suggests that it's a weapon best left out of his arsenal. There's still time to rediscover his stroke, but no reason to rush it back into his repertoire.

Instead, he needs to take advantage of the talents that are currently clicking. That means taking bigger defenders off the bounce or overwhelming smaller ones on the block.

Harris may have carved out his NBA path on the offensive end, but the opposite side may hold his key to a prolonged career.

L.A. was a subpar defensive group last season (106.6 defensive rating, 20th in the NBA, according to Basketball-Reference.com). Its top defensive win share producers have either moved on (Howard, 4.8, and Metta World Peace, 4.8) or will begin next season on the sideline (Kobe Bryant, 2.6). The Lakers need Harris to be a defensive presence, regardless of which forward spot he fills.

Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The Lakers also have a sizable void on the glass. For all of his headaches, Howard still snagged a league-best 12.4 rebounds a night.

Kaman will help, but he's only averaged double-digit boards once in his 10-year career. He also failed to match his career average 8.0 rebounds per game in each of the last three seasons.

Here's where Harris can leave his biggest imprint. After corralling 18 percent of available defensive boards in his first two seasons at Gonzaga, he tracked down better than 21 percent in both his junior (24.4) and senior (21.4) seasons, according to StatSheet.com.

With his length and bulk, he should be able to bully opposing glass eaters.

 

A Name for Lakers Fans to Remember?

In the short-term, Harris is probably best served flying under the radar. The Lakers need a glue guy, someone who does all of the little things that don't show up on the stat sheet.

If Harris is doing his job correctly, he'll be hard to identify for the casual fan. That means not conceding clear driving lanes, not getting bulldozed off the glass and certainly not attempting to replace World Peace's 412 three-point attempts.

Over the long haul, though, Harris has the makeup of a player Lakers fans can grow to love.

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Given his international experience and four-year stay in the West Coast Conference, he won't be fazed by the bright lights of the NBA. He should hit the ground running if he can squeeze his way into D'Antoni's rotation.

The Lakers have always housed a superstar roster built to match its Hollywood background. As more of their brightest lights keep dimmingBryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol aren't getting any younger—they need someone willing to do the dirty work.

NBA hustlers aren't often bred at the collegiate level. If a player is talented enough to make it to the league, he's usually surpassed the typical glue guy's statistical output somewhere around the first TV timeout.

Harris has the skills to be that kind of player. He can impact the game in a variety of ways, chases down loose balls and errant shots and has a body built to withstand the punishment inside the paint.

Whether he can find that hustler's mindset is a question unanswered at this stage. His ability to do so will shape this chapter of his lasting legacy and determine if his basketball saga is a bestselling novel or a forgettable short story.

 

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