Remember when we were all so certain about who the Milwaukee Bucks would draft on Thursday? No, we didn’t have it down exactly, but there were three or four names we felt good about. Even after they moved down, there was still two or three guys we figured were a lock. The scuttlebutt had been out on Marcus Morris and Marshon Brooks for some time. We knew one of those two, or somebody like them would be available and would be the pick. It’s 2011, the Twitter Age. We have rock solid information about everything seconds after and often way before it happens.
Boy, were we wrong. Tobias Harris snuck in the back door on a big Bucks news day. He wasn’t a flashy selection that Bucks fans could ooh and aww over. His game isn’t athletic like Alec Burks, he isn’t a scorer like Brooks or powerful like Morris. And he doesn’t have that beautiful three-point shot that Klay Thompson has. He’s one of the few prospects that hasn’t really been connected with the Bucks at all of late, probably because he’s one of the few prospects in this draft that isn’t much of a one-skill guy.
You don’t look at Tobias Harris footage and take away that one NBA skill he has from it. But, fortunately, it’s tough to watch that footage and feel like the wool has been pulled over the eyes of the Bucks either.
They may have a player on their hands.
Harris may only be 18 (soon to be 19), but from the looks of it, he’s more polished than the Bucks first round pick last year Larry Sanders. That’s the advantage of drafting a former McDonald’s All-American, ranked as high as number six in his class prior to college. And the Bucks took notice of his polish in both his play on the court and the way he handles himself off of it.
“We’re thrilled to be able to pick Tobias Harris,” John Hammond said after the draft. “He’s an amazing guy. And young guys like that, if they can ever find their way to the floor at that age the improvement they can make is so rapid. It’s not easy to improve if you’re not playing, and you know Scott (Skiles), he’ll have to earn that, but if he can do that, his upside is just tremendous.”
It’s the package of age, versatility and work ethic that have the Bucks very excited about the team’s first round pick. Milwaukee envisions him primarily as a three, but knows he has the capabilities to move down to the block here and there if need be. The dreaded tweener tag has been the word bandied about at the start of many ill-fated careers before and we’re all too familiar with it in Milwaukee after the Joe Alexander experience. But Harris’s apparent comfortability with the game looks to be a huge advantage. It’s one thing to be an athlete than can play basketball. It’s another to be a basketball player. And Coach Skiles heaped some unusually lavish (for him) praise on the youngster’s motivation.
“He’s got a chance to be really versatile,” Skiles said. “I know it’s early, but you feel just by looking at him and watching him, whatever his ceiling is going to be, he’s going to reach it. He’s a very high motivated kid.”
Only one other time have I heard Coach Skiles use a phrase similar to that one regarding Harris’s ceiling: During the 2009-10 Media Day when speaking about Luc Mbah a Moute, a famously hard worker.
Harris will have to translate from largely playing inside in college to what will likely be a more perimeter oriented role in the NBA, but he knows a thing or two about playing on the outside. His polish must come from somewhere, right? Growing up with an NBA agent father, Harris had the pleasure of working out with NBA great George Gervin as a youngster. That sort of training and a professionalism he exhibited even when things were rocky at Tennessee is part of what has the Bucks so excited about him.
“He’s got a lot of things you can get excited about and work with,” Skiles said. “You don’t know how quickly somebody like that’s going to come along. Sometimes guys surprise you, sometimes it’s a little bit longer, who knows. But we believe he’s got a really exciting upside.”
Last season, a fairly raw Sanders played roughly 15 minutes per game in 61 appearances. Sanders battled himself as often as he battled his opponent as he did his best to break some of his old habits and learn his place on the court. The talented and ground-bound Harris should be able to pick things up a little quicker than his predecessor in the first round. So perhaps we didn’t know who Tobias Harris was, but even at the tender age of 19, he might make himself known in Milwaukee sooner rather than later.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.