How Gary Harris’ success next to Nikola Jokic affects the Denver Nuggets’ offseason plans

Gary Harris thrived with Nikola Jokic as the focal point of the Denver Nuggets offense.
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Gary Harris scored a career-high 14.9 points per game in 2016-17. (Isaiah J. Downing/USA Today Sports)

Gary Harris showed dramatic improvement in his third NBA season. The Denver Nuggets' 22-year-old shooting guard increased his scoring average to 14.9 points per game, managed to make more shots than he missed (50.2 FG%) and hit 3-pointers at a 42 percent rate.

Harris' improvement, Nuggets coach Michael Malone said in March, was a credit to the work he'd put in. There was also another factor tied to the uptick in his numbers: The emergence of Nikola Jokic.

Harris thrived with Jokic as the focal point of the offense. His catch-and-shoot skills and ability to move without the ball meshed perfectly with the Serbian center's passing gifts. The Nuggets became the the best offense in the NBA when those two joined the starting lineup in mid-December.

Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly said Monday that one thing he'll keep in mind with the NBA Draft and free agency set to begin is how well Harris' skill set complemented Jokic's.

“I think Nikola is such a unique player," said Connelly, speaking publicly for the first time since he was promoted from general manager. "You saw his success working with a guy like Gary Harris. If you can play off Nikola, and you can be a catch-and-finish guy, a catch-and-shoot guy, you tend to be pretty effective with his playmaking ability. There are certain skill sets that stand out now because Nikola has developed as such a unique offensive player."

The Nuggets will be among the most cap-rich teams in the NBA when free agency begins July 1. They could have north of $40 million in cap space depending on what Danilo Gallinari, Mason Plumlee and Mike Miller decide to do.

High-profile power forwards Paul Millsap and Serge Ibaka will be unrestricted free agents. Clippers stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul could be too, if they decline their player options. The LA Times reported earlier this month that Paul already has plans to meet with the Nuggets, in addition to San Antonio and Houston.

Whatever direction Denver goes in, it will have to be conscientious of how a new piece fits alongside its budding star. The Nuggets were a brilliant offensive team when they handed the keys to Jokic.

They were also a pitiful defensive team, finishing second-to-last in defensive efficiency. Finding someone who can complement what's already in place on offense who also improves Denver defensively could prove tricky.

"I think we have a unique roster," Connelly said. "We have financial flexibility potential. We have a lot of young guys, and we have some guys in their prime. When you have all those things at your disposal, it’s right for deal making. But we have to do something that makes sense for both teams."

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