After selecting three guards in the 2021 NBA draft, the Los Angeles Clippers have spent the last few weeks paring down their backcourt — trading Patrick Beverley and Rajon Rondo (for just Eric Bledsoe) and releasing Yogi Ferrell — while simultaneously looking to add size to the roster.
On Tuesday, The Athletic’s Shams Charania tweeted that the Clippers will sign 6-foot-11 big man Harry Giles, once the nation’s top-rated high school recruit.
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The deal, according to Charania, is non-guaranteed, so Giles may have to earn his place on the roster with a solid training camp, which begins for the Clippers on September 28. If he does make the squad, though, the 23-year-old could see significant minutes this season even as the third-string option behind incumbent starting center Ivica Zubac, who lacks Giles’s athleticism and passing ability, and 10-year veteran Serge Ibaka, who is coming off June back surgery.
But with Giles, known for his intensity and tenacity but for whom the injury gods have not been kind, nothing is a sure bet. Aside from making the team and staying healthy, he will need to bounce back after an all but invisible 2020-21 campaign in Portland, where he averaged just 2.8 points and 3.5 rebounds in 9.2 minutes over 38 games.
Giles Has Suffered Two Major Knee Injuries
There was a time when the notion of Giles signing a non-guaranteed league-minimum deal would have been laughable.
As a freshman in high school, at Wesleyan Christian Academy in High Point, North Carolina, he averaged 12.5 points and 9.5 rebounds and led the team to a state championship.
Then, as a junior at Wesleyan in 2015, Giles averaged 23.9 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks, and was selected First Team All-USA by USA Today — this despite missing his entire sophomore year because of surgery to repair a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus of his left knee, which he suffered during the summer following his freshman year.
The injuries, however, were not a thing of the past. Riding high off his spectacular junior season, Giles transferred to prep powerhouse Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia, for his senior year, but in the first quarter of Oak Hill’s first game, he tore his ACL again — this time in his right knee.
Although the subsequent surgery forced Giles to sit out his entire senior year, ESPN still ranked him as the No. 1 recruit for the class of 2016 and he received a scholarship to play at Duke, where it was assumed — even by head coach Mike Krzyzewski — that he would declare for the NBA draft after his freshman year.
“We don’t want to put a timetable, especially on a one-and-done player, because we have to be really careful about his future,” Krzyzewski told reporters in November of 2016 when asked if Giles, who hadn’t played competitive basketball in a year and had recently undergone arthroscopic surgery to relieve discomfort from his first knee injury, would start the season on time.
Indeed, even after Giles began the year late, Krzyzewski took it easy on the fragile freshman, limiting him to just 11.6 minutes over 26 games. Though Giles averaged just 3.9 points and 3.6 rebounds for Duke, his potential was such that he was still selected with the 20th overall pick in 2017. (Portland actually drafted Giles, but traded him that night, along with Justin Jackson, to the Kings for Zach Collins.)
Notwithstanding a clean bill of health from the Kings’ medical staff, concerns about Giles’s knees remained. So much so that Sacramento opted to keep him sidelined for the entirety of the 2017-18 season, a decision with which Giles wholeheartedly agreed.
“It’s a great decision, a decision I’m comfortable with, confident with and I believe in, because I know what the plan is going forward,” Giles told Sacramento’s ABC10 in 2017.
Improvement Amidst an Unusual NBA Start
Giles was cleared to play for the 2018-19 season, but right off the bat his inexperience and over-exuberance showed. In the Kings’ opening game, Giles committed four fouls in just 10 minutes of floor time, and, over the next three games, he committed a total of 14 fouls while shooting just 25.9% from the field.
Not a great start to his NBA career to say the least, though as the season progressed, so too did Giles. In his final 35 appearances that season, all off the bench, Giles averaged 8.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists while shooting 51.9% from the field. A thigh contusion in March, however, compelled the Kings to end Giles’s season with 11 games still remaining. But the injury was not serious and surely there were signs that he could find a place in the league.
2019-20 did not start well for Giles, however. He began the year with what the Kings called knee soreness, missing the first eight games of the season. But it was later revealed that Giles had shown up to camp out of shape, which perturbed then-Kings GM Vlade Divac so much that he decided to decline Giles’s option for his fourth season (2020-21), hoping that it would motivate Giles to work harder.
“My message to him was to be a pro,” Divac later told Marcos Breton of the Sacramento Bee. “You have to be a pro. And he responded very well.”
Divac’s strategy appeared to work. After playing in just seven of the Kings’ first 32 games, Giles began to see double-digit minutes beginning around the new year, and over a string of 20 games, beginning in January and after play had resumed following the COVID-19 shutdown, Giles averaged 10.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists while shooting 64.2% from the field.
But despite his improved play, Divac’s decision to decline Giles’s option turned out to be a fateful one for the Kings and Giles. An unrestricted free agent following the protracted 2019-20 season, Giles opted to sign a one-year minimum deal with the Trail Blazers, where he quickly fell out of favor with then-catch Terry Stotts.
The talent is still there though, and if Giles can find a spot on the Clippers roster this season, he might finally have a chance to live up to his once-sky-high expectations.
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