Paul Harris Shines at ABCD

Paul Harris continues to make a meteoric climb up the top 20 charts. Syracuse's main priority in the 2006 class has been outstanding at the ABCD camp this week, turning in several stellar performances that have showcased his ability to dominate in nearly every facet of the game.

In Thursday's afternoon session, Harris matched up against top 10 talent Daequan Cook and thoroughly outplayed him, scoring 16 points, grabbing 4 boards, and handing out 3 assists. Cook got off to a good start in the game by canning a 3 pointer from the top of the key when Harris got caught in a series of screens, but after that Harris virtually shut down Cook.

Late in the first half, Harris jumped a screen and blocked a Cook three point attempt, then tracked down the miss and threw a gorgeous 80 foot pass to a streaking Davon Jefferson for a flush. The play highlighted the two biggest strengths of Harris' game - defense and court vision. He loves to take on the challenge of defending the opposition's best scorer, and he also has an uncanny knack for setting up his teammates for easy scoring opportunities. In a word, he is unselfish.

That said, Paul Harris is actually leading the camp in scoring as well. In the evening session, he turned in a scorching 22 point, 8 rebound game that cemented his status as one of the top 3 players at ABCD (the others being O.J. Mayo and Greg Oden). Harris had the best dunk of the day when he took Eric Wallace baseline on a lower-than-lower crossover, then exploded to the rim for a one-handed tomahawk over two helpside defenders.

Unfortunately for Paul, his team hasn't played very well overall, losing 3 of their first 4 games. Harris has a pair of outstanding running mates in F Davon Jefferson and G Jonathan Flynn, but other than that his team is a bit weak. Even so, they managed to give the Sonics (Daequan Cook, Keenan Ellis, and Greg Oden) a run for their money in a thrilling 55-56 loss, then rebounded in the evening session with a 68-67 victory over Eric Wallace's Lakers team.

Both games provided viewers with thrilling endings. Against the Sonics, Harris snagged a rebound off a missed foul shot with 3 seconds left and found John Flynn racing up the court. Flynn re-directed the ball with a beautiful touch pass to Davon Jefferson, who took one step and threw in a vicious dunk, just milliseconds after the final buzzer sounded. Even though the basket didn't count, it made for a great "hold-your-breath" kind of finish.

After the three disappointing losses, Harris was instrumental in leading his team to its first win on Thursday night. He turned in an incredible sequence of defensive plays midway through the first half that allowed the Celtics to pull out to a 34-15 lead. In a three minute stretch he made two open court steals, then rose high above the rim to deflect a shot and grab the rebound. All three plays led to immediate fastbreak baskets that sparked an impressive 16-2 run.

However, his teammates didn't quite hold up their end of the deal. With Harris on the bench, the Lakers made a comeback and eventually tied the game at 61 on an Edwin Rios (Florida) three pointer. Jonathan Flynn then scored on a tough drive in the paint to make it 63-61, but the Lakers came back to tie the game on a pair of free throws by Justin Burrell.

This was when Harris and Flynn took control of the game. Harris dribbled down the court and froze the defense with a slick crossover, then drained a three pointer from the wing with 55 seconds left. Then, on the other end, he grabbed a monster rebound in the paint to cap off a tough defensive stand. Flynn then hit two free throws with 8 seconds left to seal the victory.

The best way to describe Harris's game is as a point forward. He is an excellent playmaker in the open court. His court vision and willingness to pass the ball separates him from the other elite forward prospects in the country.

His two weaknesses are an inconsistent perimeter shot and the fact that his playmaking is not as effective in half-court sets as it is in transition. When the game slows down, he does most of his damage off the dribble by trying to set himself up for scoring opportunities. He does a nice job of getting the ball into the paint from the wing, but didn't show much passing off the dribble in the set offense.

From a shooting standpoint, he is very effective from about 8 to 17 feet. His percentage dropped noticeably once he stepped beyond the three point line. Until he hit the crucial three pointer to win Thursday evening's game, he had really struggled from beyond the line (2-11). He tends the cock the ball behind his head (and right ear) before the release, and this results in a little bit of a hitch in his shot.

It bears mentioning that Jonathan Flynn has also had a very impressive week. He struggled somewhat on the first day, but stepped up his game on the second day to compliment Harris with his ability to run a half-court offense. While Harris excels at passing the ball in transition, Flynn did most of the damage in terms of setting up the structure of the offense when the game slowed down.

Flynn is rather small right now, but he just turned 15 so there is some hope that he will grow to be about 6-0 or 6-1. His outside shot has not been falling because he tends to fadeaway a little bit when he shoots. Otherwise, his form is very good and his release point is high enough that he can shoot over taller defenders. Another impressive aspect of his game is that he has gotten better each time that OrangeNation has seen him play, from February (PrimeTime Shootout) to June (Rumble in the Bronx) to July (ABCD). If he continues to improve at the rapid pace that he has shown, expect him to get serious offers from numerous Big East schools.


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