Nuggets coach Michael Malone: We’re a different team when Gary Harris is on

If Gary Harris is hitting, the Nuggets’ offense teeters on unstoppable.

Consider that heading into Saturday’s matinee against the 76ers, Denver’s offense was second in the NBA, sandwiched in between Milwaukee’s and the Los Angeles Lakers.

And through eight games, Harris, their starting two guard, was only Denver’s eighth-leading scorer on the team. Harris had managed just 8.9 points per game on less than 14% shooting from 3-point range. Coach Michael Malone encouraged him to keep shooting even though hesitation and doubt seemed to have crept in.

Against a Sixers team that only had seven healthy players, Harris launched like he was destined for the 3-point contest. His season-high 21 points, featuring five 3-pointers, stretched Denver’s offense and was integral to pulling away from Philadelphia. Harris’ confident shooting offset a quiet game from Jamal Murray, picking up the slack in the backcourt that’s been inconsistent so far this year.

“Gary allows us to be a different team when the offense is flowing like it was tonight,” Malone said after his team’s 115-103 win over Philadelphia. “…Gary deserves it. He’s been working so hard, and for him to see the ball go through the net, I’m just happy for him because I know it’s been on his mind.”

Asked about his shooting after sinking 7-of-11 shots from the field, Harris laughed before he answered.

“It felt good definitely to see shots go in,” Harris said, stating the obvious.

Nikola Jokic, whose near triple-double once again set the tone for Denver, found Harris on four separate occasions Saturday for easy buckets. The reality is that Jokic is such an unselfish passer that if teams start to cheat off Harris due to his struggles, Jokic is going to make them pay.

Malone and his teammates have stuck by Harris, even as his scoring averages have dropped drastically over the last three seasons. That’s because Harris’ defense remains unassailable, and the spotlight on his defense, following the departure of Denver’s other two primary wing defenders this offseason, is even more important. As the Nuggets lean more into the offensive identity that their roster is built for, Malone has remained unwilling to concede the physical, steady containment Harris has always been known for.

Veteran Will Barton, who’s dealt with his own issues stemming from a balky knee, vouched for Harris’ significance to the team.

“He puts in a lot of work on his game,” Barton said. “We all know what he brings defensively. To see him make some shots tonight was a great sight. Any time a player like that who always puts the team first, no matter his struggles on offense, every night he’s still gonna bring it defensively, you gotta tip your hat to him.”

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