On July 23, 2015, Harry Giles stepped onto the floor at Rancho High School in Las Vegas, surrounded by fans on one side of the arena and a cavalcade of college coaches and media on the other. In the front row alone, Connecticut’s Kevin Ollie, Kentucky’s John Calipari, North Carolina’s Roy Williams and his eventual college coach, Mike Krzyzewski — surrounded by assistants Jeff Capel and Jon Scheyer — sat and watched as Giles displayed the dizzying array of physical gifts that made him the No. 1 player in high school basketball by most scouting services by the time the summer ended.
That day, Giles ran the floor like a gazelle, moved laterally like a player six inches shorter, and explosively leapt with ease. His lean, wiry, 17-year-old frame belied the strength within — he held his position on the block and overpowered weaker AAU players who couldn’t keep up athletically. It was clear his skill level in terms of shooting or creating offense was still a work in progress, but he was a versatile monster on both ends of the floor who controlled the game.
As I saw him from the stands that day, I laughed and remarked to a friend (and media colleague)that Giles would be wasting his time playing high school basketball over the course of the next year. He was that ready to come in and dominate the college game, just weeks after dominating the U19 World Championships in a similar manner. It was just a matter of time until Giles got to the NBA and had a chance to impose his impressive tools on the game as a top draft selection.
Unfortunately, Giles never got a chance to “waste his time” playing high school basketball in the 2015-16 season. He tore the ACL in his right knee in November 2015, just two years after tearing the ACL, MCL and meniscus in his left knee in 2013. Giles then had arthroscopic surgery on the left knee in the fall of 2016, cutting his preseason short and putting the freshman behind. By season's end at Duke, the formerly presumptive top-five pick (Giles fell all the way to No. 19 in mymid-March prospect rankings) had only put up 3.9 points and 3.8 rebounds per game in a sample of just 300 minutes played.
Those largely unimpressive 300 minutes are the only sample of meaningful action over the past two seasons that NBA scouts and executives will have to evaluate Giles. On Tuesday, Giles declared for the NBA Draft; he is expected to hire an agent, which will exhaust his eligibility after just one season.
This incomparable draft prospect leaves all 30 NBA teams with a quandary: Which Giles can be expected to show up in the NBA? Is it the confident athlete who took high school basketball and the international scene by storm, or is it the player we saw at Duke whose breakout never came? Was his performance at Duke due to post-injury tentativeness and a lack of knee strength, or is he a diminished athlete? Either answer could be correct. We don’t know at this stage of the evaluation process.
Those questions make him the most volatile NBA Draft prospect in recent memory. At this stage, with teams possessing relatively little information about his health compared to what they will have, it’s impossible to get an accurate read on his draft stock. It would not be a shock to see Giles go late in the lottery after a good draft process in which his knees were given the all-clear by multiple teams. It’s also not out of the question that he falls out of the first round if teams don’t like what they see with regard to the structural integrity of his knees. Over the past few years, the league has gotten much more sophisticated in terms of the way it looks at medical evaluations. Even with his eventual agent possibly running interference, teams will get a report on what they can expect going forward. Doctors will have the greatest effect on where Giles is selected, and that’s never a position you want a teenager to be in.
That makes Giles’ choice to declare for the 2017 NBA Draft a risky one, but it wasn’t necessarily the wrong one. Even with his history, a team is going to take a chance on him, as a first-rounder in a best-case scenario or as a developmental player with a two-way contract in the D-League in the worst case. He could have helped himself by returning to Duke and trying to get back to the player he was, but he also could have hurt his stock (or his body again) and never receive a chance at NBA money.
Because of the uncertainty of his situation, nothing about this decision was easy for Giles. He has to hope things work out in his favor. For what it’s worth, Giles is known in basketball circles as a high-level worker with a sterling reputation in terms of personality. He showcased that this season while on Duke's bench; he never appeared to be openly frustrated with his lack of playing time. He just never showed the same potential he displayed during his high school career.
That ability was on full display the day I saw him in the summer of 2015. His graceful explosiveness at his size was a sight to behold, and it made him look like potentially one of the best prospects in the past five years.
Now it’s up to his body to hold up its end of the bargain.