A few years ago, Harry Giles was on track to NBA stardom.
He was the No. 1 ranked high school player in the country entering his senior year at Oak Hill Academy during the 2015-16 season. He was all set to attend powerhouse Duke University where he could blossom into a surefire NBA lottery pick.
But before he could ever suit up in season for Oak Hill, he tore his right ACL. He had dealt with injuries before having torn his left ACL which caused him to miss his entire 10th-grade year. He spent his whole senior year rehabbing in preparation for attending Duke in the fall of 2016.
Despite his injuries, he still had a lot of hype coming out of high school. He was on the John R Wooden Award watch list and he was one of the top selections for ACC Preseason Rookie of the Year at the start of the 2016-17 season.
His freshman year at Duke didn’t go as planned, however. He suffered another knee injury that would delay his college debut. He eventually got on the court for the Blue Devils, but he didn’t quite have the impact most expected. He left Duke after his freshman year and declared for the NBA draft.
Fast forward to now, and Giles is on his third NBA team in five years. After being drafted by the Sacramento Kings in 2016, he missed his entire rookie year as he continued to rehab and get up to game speed following his previous injuries.
He spent a couple of seasons with the Kings, spent a year with the Portland Trail Blazers, and now he’s trying to find a home with the Los Angeles Clippers. Only this time, he doesn’t have the security of a guaranteed contract. The Clippers currently have 14 guaranteed contracts on the roster and are looking for additional depth at center while Serge Ibaka continues to rehab from back surgery.
Giles is competing with Isaiah Hartenstein and Moses Wright for that 15th roster spot, and quite possibly the backup center position until Ibaka is ready to play. Giles knows that only one of them will likely make the team and after the Clippers preseason win over the Denver Nuggets on Monday night, he acknowledged the little awkwardness that comes from being teammates with someone he’s trying to beat out for a roster spot.
“It’s a little bit different when you’re competing, not everyone can do that. . .it was probably a little bit weird, we’re still trying to figure it out. I think as we went on and you’re competing, you’re seeing one another go hard, that’s the respect thing,” Giles told reporters after the game. “You’re always competing. Being on the same floor having to compete for minutes with anybody really. It’s a job and you do what you got to do but we can still support each other and both go out there and compete especially when we have the same jerseys.”
In his first minutes of play with the Clippers, Giles played 16 minutes off the bench and was largely impressive. He had eight points on 3-7 shooting from the field, but where he made his presence felt was on the glass.
He finished with a game-high 12 rebounds and had a couple of plays where he positioned himself perfectly in the paint to snatch up offensive rebounds and put-backs. Out of the three players vying for the final roster spot, each of them brings something different to the court and it’s a matter of what the Clippers may value the most.
Giles is a little bit more of a traditional big man in that he’s active around the rim and can finish strong in the paint. He can do a little bit more as well but he’s as close to a regular big man as you’ll get between him, Hartenstein and Wright.
Hartenstein is a little more perimeter-oriented and against the Nuggets, he showed off some of his passing ability hitting cutters on their way to the rim. And Wright is an athletic big who did a good job moving without the ball to go along with a thunderous dunk over Denver big man Bol Bol.
Giles also has the ability to be a solid defensive player and when combined with his offensive skill and knack for rebounding, it might be hard to pass over him for the final roster spot. Even before the preseason began, Giles was impressed with the Clippers offense in camp and was confident he’d fit right in.
“I’ve been able to shoot the three from the corner and I’ve been able to drive and kick, it’s been an offense that I really haven’t played in before especially being given the freedom right away to play. It’s training camp so they want to see what we can do,” Giles told reporters during training camp. “I think something like this is something I can thrive in. I feel more comfortable in it because it’s giving you a platform but lets you be you at the same time.”
This is the first time in his career that Giles has been in this situation, having a non-guaranteed contract and having to make the team. But as far as competing against other players and earning the right to playing time, that’s something he’s dealt with the entire time he’s been in the NBA.
In a way, the situation is new to him, and if anything, he’s already got a little bit of a head start in what it takes to secure a spot on the team and in the rotation.
“I came in with guys already ahead of me, lottery guys, guys that got drafted the same number as me or higher. I had to go earn it wherever I went,” Giles said. “I just got to show up every day, play hard, and do the best I can…I don’t really try to go into a situation thinking what’s gonna happen already cause it never happens like that. I’ve always had a different outcome in every situation.”
As far as getting back to the player he once was, the player that was the consensus top prospect in the nation, the player that was once guaranteed to be a top NBA draft pick, the player who can certainly help the Clippers as they embark on their quest for the first championship in franchise history, Giles just wants everyone to remember one thing, that player never left.
“Sh*t, I’m still him. I’m still him, I’m 23 now,” Giles said. “I went through some injuries but I’m still him. I do everything I did then, just better. I shoot the ball better, I’m smarter, I’m stronger, I know how to take care of my body better. Now it’s just putting it all together and just hoping it all comes together. It’s all about timing in this league, the right situation, the right opportunity, so I’m just gonna keep working and stay ready.”