ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — This time last year during Milwaukee Bucks training camp, Tobias Harris was in a hospital bed.
Dehydrated and diagnosed with a blood disorder, the then-19-year-old hadn’t gotten his career off on the right foot. Throw in a lockout-shortened season, and Harris truly got the short end of the stick when it came to his NBA introduction.
So this offseason, Harris spent more time at the Bucks’ practice facility than any other player and even some of the coaches. He played in the mornings and worked out at night — just to prove that he could make up for his lackluster beginning. Now, with his sophomore season set to get under way, Harris has impressed so many people in such a short time that his name seems like it’ll inevitably be thrown around to start at small forward when the season begins on November 2.
“We’ll see,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. “He’s got definite areas that he’s trying to work. He is a three-man, and three-men are generally very good with the ball. He’s trying to work on that. We know he can post people up, and he’s got a good face-up shot. But being able to put the ball down on the perimeter, go by somebody, and then make a decision and kick it to somebody else, he’s working on it.”
Harris has focused some special attention on becoming a more complete three-man, as opposed to a tweener four like he appeared last season, and knows that there’s a serious opportunity on the line. With small forward Luc Mbah a Moute out for training camp and possibly more with an ailing knee, Harris and guard/forward Mike Dunleavy seem to be the two most likely candidates to push for the starting spot.
And for Harris, his impressive offseason has definitely given him somewhat of a head start on impressing the Bucks coaching staff. Just his experience during the Las Vegas Summer League — in which he was one of the most impressive players at the entire camp — made a significant difference, Skiles said.
It’s definitely been a year of growth for Harris, who is still the youngest player on the Bucks roster. He knows his career has been and will continue to be a process — he still doesn’t regret his decision to leave after his freshman year at Tennessee. But with so much work put in during the offseason, Harris is in good standing with Bucks training camp underway.
“Just to be in this position now, to be able to go through training camp instead of being in a hospital bed, is a good feeling,” Harris said. “I’ve got to keep getting better on defense and getting better with my jumper. I’ve just got to keep working on everything.”
Dunleavy still a sixth man?: Mike Dunleavy may be in the mix to start at small forward when the Bucks start the season, but if he could choose, he’d rather come off the bench. And with a clear affinity for Dunleavy as a sixth man, Skiles may again take that approach this season.
“He has a comfort level with me coming off the bench,” Dunleavy said. “I have a comfort level with it. But again, we really haven’t even discussed it. … I’m down for whatever.”
Dunleavy’s experience off the bench last season was generally as positive one, as the veteran wing averaged more than 12 points as a reserve last season. He said a lot of that has to do with the scoring opportunities afforded to the second team when primary scorers like Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis are on the bench. That’s when Dunleavy says he excels the most.
Lamb out: After trying to defend a pick-and-roll play during practice a few days ago, second round pick Doron Lamb sustained a ligament injury in his elbow, forcing him out of the team’s training camp for the past few days. According to Skiles, doctors are “still evaluating what to do with it” and will likely wait for the swelling to go down before making a final decision.
Either way, the injury isn’t good news for a rookie that was expected to make some kind of impact of the bench this season. Lamb hopes to avoid surgery, he told reporters on Tuesday, but Skiles didn’t sound entirely optimistic about his outlook.
“It’s probably going to be a little while either way,” Skiles said.