Michigan's Nik Stauskas and Michigan State's Gary Harris put on quite the show for scouts Saturday night in a heated head-to-head battle.
It was an interesting storyline to watch from an NBA draft standpoint—Harris, the high-profile prospect with lottery expectations going toe-to-toe with Stauskas, the emerging star with a revamped game.
Stauskas and the Wolverines prevailed in an end-to-end 80-75 win, though neither was a loser from a draft-stock perspective.
|Stauskas vs. Harris|
Both prospects made significant strides from one year to the next. Stauskas evolved into a go-to scorer from a spot-up shooter, while Harris transformed from role player to Michigan State's primary option.
These are your two leading scorers in the Big Ten, which is something few would have predicted just three months ago.
Last year, Stauskas played a complementary role as a floor-spacer alongside Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. He averaged 11 points per game thanks to a deadly 44.4 percent three-point stroke, which he used to knock down 2.1 three-pointers a night.
This year, he continues to cook from downtown (46.2 percent), yet it's his off-the-dribble game that's propelled him to a whole new level.
Stauskas is averaging 18.5 points a game—he's creating shots for himself on the perimeter and he's getting to the rim.
He's even getting to the line 6.1 times per game, compared to 2.2 as a freshman, a better rate than Duke's Jabari Parker.
East, west, north, south—he's become a joystick with the ball, creating shots and opportunities by dancing in any and every direction.
As a scorer, he's learned to separate off the dribble into balanced, makable jumpers, which is an awfully useful skill to take to the next level. Over his last three games, he's been a dominant, difference-making presence in the lineup, going for 23, 26 and 19 in wins over Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan State, respectively.
Scoring alone isn't going to trigger an NBA team to bite this June; it's his high basketball IQ and passing instincts that help complete the offensive package. Stauskas is averaging 3.8 assists per game, showing a tremendous feel as a playmaker, something he wasn't initially pegged as.
Still, regardless of how well Stauskas has played and developed, he's got nothing on Harris' two-way upside. That is bound to drive him straight into the lottery portion of the majority of NBA draft boards.
"If (Gary) Harris isn't the best player on both ends of the court in the league, God bless whoever is," coach Tom Izzo told Mlive.com's Gillian Van Stratt.
Not only has Harris blown up as a scoring threat, but his ability to impact a game defensively gives him a lot more margin for error. He's really tough to shake—Harris stays in his man's grill throughout 35-second possessions, and he's quick to jump in a passing lane or force a tougher shot.
Offensively, Harris made similar strides to Stauskas with regard to his offensive repertoire. After averaging 12.9 points as a freshman, he's now racking up 18.8 per game as a sophomore despite an inconsistent outside stroke.
And while some may view Harris' shooting struggles as a concern, it just shows he's finding ways to score without relying on a jumper. With clean mechanics, shooting projects as one of his strengths at the next level.
This year, he's become deadlier off the bounce, where he's found a pull-up and step-back jumper to complement his attack game as a driver. Even if his offense isn't flowing, it's his ability to impact a game defensively that's helped build his image as a terrific two-way prospect.
Harris and Stauskas are two rising prospects at similar positions with different NBA projections.
Credit Stauskas for his development and transformation. This is a kid who played a side role as a freshman and is now taking over the Big Ten as a sophomore. And because of the consistent impact he's made, along with his newly refined offensive repertoire, Stauskas has become a legitimate first-round option in June.
However, it's Harris who's starting to look like that can't-miss prospect many expected him to be.
He's officially sold me. I didn't buy into the hype following his freshman year at Michigan State, but after roughly 10 weeks of ball in 2013-14, I now consider Harris the safest pick outside of the top six.
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