Harry Giles III appeared to be at least a little annoyed when asked Tuesday about his past setbacks that have derailed his career to this point.
While in high school, the 6-foot-11 center had been projected to be an NBA star by now. Instead, after a series of injuries starting in high school, Giles is on his second team while entering his fourth season and just signed a minimum contract with the Portland Trail Blazers as a free agent.
To hear him tell it, however, he is over all of the injury issues of the past, both physically and mentally.
“I’m good,” Giles said. “I still made it here. That’s like high school. I’m past that. I don’t even really talk about that anymore unless I’m asked.”
Giles certainly is an intriguing add for the Blazers. Long. Athletic. Excellent court vision. Strong passer from the high post. He has ability. For Portland, he checks in as the No. 3 center behind Jusuf Nurkic and Enes Kanter. Power forward Zach Collins could also see minutes at center ahead of Giles. But that could depend on how he develops.
“He gives us a different look,” Portland president of basketball operations Neil Olshey said. “He gives us that athletic, mobile center that can play against some of the more undersized guys that we have trouble with at times.”
Giles becoming a role player in the NBA was not the expectation in 2016 when he was ranked as the No. 2 recruit in the country by Rivals. Giles suffered ACL and MCL injuries that ended his senior season. He underwent another surgery before getting on the court the following season at Duke. That year, he played 26 games but averaged just 3.9 points per game. That didn’t stop him from entering the 2017 NBA draft, where Portland selected him at No. 20 but traded him and No. 15 pick Justin Jackson to Sacramento for the rights to No. 10 pick Zach Collins.
Sacramento played things cautiously with Giles, sitting him out his entire rookie season so he could strengthen his knee. The following season, Giles averaged 7 points and 3.8 rebounds in 58 games. Last season, he played 48 games with 17 starts and averaged 6.9 points and 4.1 rebounds. He had the best month of his career in March, playing 22 minutes per game and averaging 11.3 points and 6.8 rebounds.
Giles clearly had shown progress, but the Kings, not exactly overflowing with elite talent, still let him walk as a free agent. The Blazers scooped him up.
Giles thanked Portland for giving him an opportunity and said he looks forward to playing with All-Star guard Damian Lillard on a veteran team that expects to make the playoffs. The Kings haven’t reached the postseason since 2006.
Giles said the Blazers’ environment suits him as well. During the bubble restart in Orlando, Giles said he noticed how tight the team appeared on the court and around the team hotel, where the Kings were also staying.
“It’s cool to know you’re going to a place like that,” Giles said.
What should fans expect from Giles on the court?
“My energy and my passing,” he said. “And being a good teammate. I think I bring a lot to the game.”
Giles certainly relied on 38 dunks last season to boost his shooting percentage of 55.4%, but he also made 39.1% on shots from between 8 and 24 feet. He is not a three-point shooter at all, missing both of his attempts last season.
Maybe Giles’ best skills are his passing and court vision. His highlight video on YouTube is filled with backdoor passes, no-look passes, slick bounce passes and kickouts to three-point shooters. He’s averaged 3.5 assists per 36 minutes for his career.
Ultimately, Giles must take advantage of whatever minutes he receives to increase his value. He is just 22, but after being let go by his original team and signed to a minimum deal as a No. 3 center, dramatic growth is a must.
Giles said he feels his career as it stands is just fine and that he is still growing and believes in himself.
“I’m here,” he said. “I’m still in the NBA. So, that’s a great career to me, regardless of what your role is.”
Maybe most importantly, he says he is healthy. His body feels good. He works on it each day and feels blessed.
“I would describe my career as, ‘on the way,’” he said.
If Giles weren’t playing basketball, he said he might have entered dentistry. He said he loves great smiles and clean teeth.
“I used to like going to the dentist when I was young, too,” he said.
Getting one’s teeth checked for cavities isn’t usually near the top of the list of fun activities for children, but he also had another motivation.
“Maybe to get out of school, too,” he said.
Giles won’t have to decide if he truly wants to pursue being a dentist anytime soon. Maybe never at all. He has another shot at igniting his career with Portland, a place he said he feels glad to be with after being its original pick in 2017.
“I guess I’m back home,” he said.
— Aaron Fentress | afentress@Oregonian.com | @AaronJFentress (Twitter), @AaronJFentress (Instagram), @AaronFentress (Facebook).
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