Gary Harris' decision on whether to enter the NBA draft is looming over the Michigan State Spartans. For a team that has lost two starters, with the possibility of losing up to four, Harris' upcoming decision is vital.
Harris' worth to Sparty goes far beyond just scoring. The 19-year-old averaged 16.7 points per contest and still went through severe shooting lapses. It would sting for the team's leading scorer to depart, especially considering that Adreian Payne (16.4 ppg) and Keith Appling (11.2 ppg) will graduate this spring.
That's a lot of scoring.
However, none may harm the Spartans more than Harris' potential departure. The Indiana native is a tremendous three-point shooter, though streaky at times, but can also score from mid-range or finish at the basket with authority.
Harris serves as the team's most reliable scoring option. He was has been known to burst out in the biggest games and most important stages of those contests, from his 27-point eruption against Michigan on Jan. 25 to hitting two monumental three-pointers that helped seal the victory against Harvard in the Big Dance.
No matter the magnitude, Harris has performed. He has the raw scoring abilities, but what separates him is his resolution to the big moments.
One can't mistake his importance offensively. Where Harris is often overlooked, however, is his defensive prowess.
First, he doesn't take possessions off. Harris actively plays defense within Tom Izzo's scheme, using his quick hands and intuition to create turnovers. The 6'4" Harris can guard multiple positions due to his size and quickness.
This season, he finished third in the Big Ten with 1.9 steals per game. For a player who isn't initially regarded as a premier defender, that is a revealing statistic. It shows that he is always actively involved and also displays his opportunistic mindset on the defensive end.
Quite simply, he is the most well-rounded guard in the Big Ten. Harris' worth on both ends of the floor can't be mistaken, especially for a team that has only one other established wing player.
With his 2013-14 campaign, Denzel Valentine solidified himself as a future star in Izzo's system. He and Harris formed a tremendous, versatile backcourt along with Appling.
However, Alvin Ellis' collective performance didn't exactly assure Spartan fans that he is ready to move into a primary role. Ellis averaged only 1.8 points in less than eight minutes per game.
In all fairness, Ellis' role was limited due to Harris and Valentine's talent on the wings. But the freshman failed to provide a spark for the vast majority of the season. Ellis has solid athleticism and displayed an ability to knock down open shots, but is he truly prepared for a more prominent role?
His performance suggests not, though he wasn't exposed to consistent opportunities. Another year of Harris' services would benefit Ellis and his progression, as he could learn hands-on from a future NBA player. Additionally, a Harris withdrawal would place much of the onus on Travis Trice and newcomer Lourawls Nairn, neither of whom has starting experience.
This season, Harris accounted for 5.3 win shares, easily the most on the team. The Spartans would likely contend for a Big Ten title with Harris. But without him, it's reasonable to expect Sparty to finish comfortably behind Wisconsin and Michigan in the Big Ten standings.
While it appears that Harris will turn pro, nothing has been finalized yet. That decision will largely determine how the Michigan State Spartans' 2014-15 campaign unfolds.