A Closer Look at Manny Harris

Dylan Burkhardt

I’ve been routinely pointing out Manny Harris’ struggles over the last several weeks. Michigan put the ball in his hands down the stretch in Madison and he let them down. He’s shooting just 23 of 68 (33.8%) over his last five games. He was suspended for an incident in practice. In short, it hasn’t been the best stretch for Manny Fresh and many, myself included, have been wondering “What’s wrong with Manny Harris?”

There are plenty of potential explanations for Harris’ struggles. First, he has been nursing a hamstring injury all season. It’s clear that he lacks that extra explosive burst that separates truly elite players from the rest of the pack. It’s also apparent that Manny is starting to let some of the frustration from the disappointing season catch up to him. Over the last month, it’s been easy to spot the angst on Harris’ face as things just don’t go his way.

Despite the mental and physical ailments affecting Harris, there is also something else to consider. Manny Harris has never been particularly efficient in Big Ten play. Most players see a drop in production from non-conference play (cupcake city) to conference play. In the case of Manny Harris, this drop is amplified by the drastic differences in style of play.

The more physical nature of the Big Ten means fewer free throws and much tougher shots for a player like Manny. Despite the success that Michigan achieved last year, Harris still took his lumps in conference play. He made 3 or fewer field goals in eight different Big Ten games and Michigan was just 2-6 in those contests. Here are Harris’ numbers in conference play over the last three seasons:

Manny Harris Big Ten Stats
Fr. 16.9 45.6 96.6 29.9 4.1 43.3 2.6 3.7
So. 15.3 44 97.3 32 6.7 44.7 3.7 3.5
Jr. 16.4 47.3 100.2 29 4.9 33 3.1 3.1

Several stats are actually up this year. His offensive rating has improved, he’s shooting a higher percentage from the field, turning the ball over less, and scoring more. The obvious negatives are that he isn’t pulling down quite as many rebounds and he isn’t getting to the free throw line.

These numbers obviously take into account the whole Big Ten slate, not just the last five games when Harris’ struggles have seemed to hit rock bottom. Manny has had some great statistical performances in conference play, including his gem of a game versus Ohio State (9-16 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists).

So perhaps nothing is wrong with Manny Harris at all. This is the same Manny that we saw last year during Big Ten play. He will have his great games but he also has his off-days when nothing seems to work. Every player has his bad games, that’s undeniable. The problem is that even if this is the same Manny Harris, Michigan was hoping for an improved Manny.

Expectations were high this year because improvement was expected. Harris and Sims would become more consistent.  Michigan’s role players would slightly refine their games to become less one dimensional. Looking at Manny specifically, I firmly believe that if he could shoot ~35% from three point range he’d be a lock first round draft pick.

The team was expected to improve across the board and it just didn’t happen. In fact, this year’s team has been quite similar to last year’s through conference play. On February 10th, 2009, Michigan was 5-7 in conference and had lost 7 of their last 9 games. Today, Michigan is 4-7 in conference and has lost 5 of their last 6. The non-conference slate is what let this season slip away because Michigan put themselves in a situation that required a miracle conference run that this team is obviously not equipped to make.

Conference play is a grind. Michigan entered as a wounded soldier and  they have been put down. Manny Harris’ struggles are one piece of the puzzle but in hindsight they shouldn’t be too surprising, we’ve seen this script before.

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  • Michael P

    Good insight, people were quick to forget that this team was somewhere around 7th in Big Ten conference play last year.

    The lack of performance by the supporting cast could also be hurting Manny, when nobody on the team can shoot above ~30% from 3 pt range, defenses tend to collapse…hurting Manny’s dribble drive game.

  • Jay

    This column should be named “whats wrong with the other guys?” Even if Manny gives us 25 ppg, we still lose. As long as 3-12 (and sometimes #2) are non existent, the team will struggle. Douglass, Novak, LLP..anybody else you want to lump in have been disappointments this season. It looks like none of them have taken an consistent step forward this season.

  • AG2

    What I find frustrating is that it feels like so much of what passes for “good defense” in the Big Ten would be called fouls in the other major conferences like the ACC and Big East. As a result, you see a lot of slow offense and missed long range shots.

    I’ve never been convinced that Wisconsin’s ability to play defense without fouling was legit. I just think they get a lot of calls. I haven’t seen anything to change that opinion.

  • tbliggins

    Previous articles on the strong play of Gibson, Novak, and the defense immediately led poor performances from those players/units. I expect after this article that Harris has an ORtg of 110+ for the rest of the season.

  • Eddie

    I think the biggest surprise is Manny’s free throw rate, and his FT shooting %, and sadly, both can be attributed to the fact that opposing teams really don’t have to guard anyone on the perimeter and can sag into the lane. Even in Manny’s worst games his first two years, he was guaranteed to get around 8 pts from the line per game on 80+% FT shooting. This year, he’s hard pressed to get 3 points from the stripe.

    It all comes back to a season long slump from the perimeter for the entire team. When threes are dropping, lanes open up for the slashers…

  • Rick Hammond

    This is starting to sound like a broken record. As other people have stated, what’s wrong with Manny is that it’s Manny + Sims + recent Darius Morris against the world. Players 4 through 12 are just warm bodies to put on the court. If the Big 10 were a 3 on 3 league things may be a lot different.

  • If you read the post beyond the headline. The conclusion is basically that Manny Harris, and this team to an extent, are basically the same players they were last year.

  • maxwell’s demon

    AG2 – I think that’s a valid point and with the NBA calling practically everything, you’d think it be advantage Manny. And to go along with what you’re saying, you can see why a lot of highly talented, high scoring recruits may look to other conferences.

  • Tom_McC

    Since this article is about Manny, I’m going to stay on that topic…I know other guys haven’t pulled their weight, but that isn’t the topic in this particular case.

    Manny’s offensive struggles aren’t what bothers me most about Manny. Obviously, given what has transpired this season, the conditions weren’t such that Manny could have a truly efficient offensive season. When you couple his own struggles with injuries and his shot with the struggles of those around him, it’s understandable that his offensive numbers weren’t going to make a significant jump.

    What I think Manny has really struggled with since he has been at UM has been his defense. Manny is probably one of the worst team defenders on the roster. Manny is only decent(at best) guarding the ball and while he does anticipate well and he is active in the passing lanes…he is just not a very good off the ball defender. In the 1-3-1 he is also a sieve. Manny is a “ball watcher” and often loses vision on his man which results in breakdowns.

    I believe Manny has worked to improve defensively but I don’t think he is close to maximizing his ability on that end of the floor. UM has been playing solid D for much of the BT season…but from my vantage point, Manny hasn’t been the catalyst to the defensive improvement. In fact, at times, I believe UM’s good D has been in spite of Manny.

    In the preseason, I was hoping Manny would step up and take ownership of this team. While I feel like Manny made an effort to be that guy…usually your team leaders are guys that are your most reliable defenders, not guys who just put the ball in the hole. You look all over college hoops and for the most part, the teams that are good to really good have exceptional leaders. And typically, those leaders are not only effective offensively, they are likely even more effective as defenders.

    Just think back to last year…UM’s leaders were Merritt and Lee, who were both limited offensively but were reliable defenders.

    If Manny sticks around next year and he wants to take ownership of this team…the offensive numbers he produces won’t tell the tale…his ability to be one of, if not the most reliable defenders on the team will be the key to his ability to be the team leader.

  • Good points Tom… I’ve pointed out Manny’s defense before and it’s no doubt been lackluster at best. It’s just hard to look at defensive quantitatively so I skimmed over it here.

  • Tom_McC

    I’m with you Dylan. I think that is also part of the problem when fans evaluate players and this team. It’s too easy just to look at stats and say, well he avg’s 18, he avg’s 16 so those are the 2 best players on the team.

    I can look at my own experience as a coach and player and tell you definitively, that being the leading scorer(and rebounder for that matter) doesn’t equate to being the best player or a real team leader.

    I’ve always viewed Manny as a competitor, so it really does surprise me that he isn’t more of a tenacious and focused defender. Call me crazy, but even with the shooting struggles, I firmly believe that if Manny really pushed himself harder as a defender, the season would look drastically different.

    I know Manny did have some nagging injuries so I understand that may have really hindered him…but I’m just going off pattern of behavior. Manny has struggled playing consistently good defense since he has been @ UM and it’s not going to change unless something in Manny changes, simple as that.

  • Question: was Manny isolated for shots more in his Fr or Soph years? I’m new to some of these statistical angles, but the basic question is–is he forced to take his shot more within the flow of Beilein’s offense this year than in the past? Because if that’s the case–if Beilein is insisting the team move more to his intended style of play–then Manny could be playing better w.o. the statistics showing it. Or (conversely) if he’s working within the flow and then heaving them when the clock expires, that could hamper his stats.

    The statistical similarities year-to-year really MIGHT speak to a lack of development (since these things tend to even out). Or they might hide real differences. I’m with Eddie in thinking that if he’s guarded more closely because no one else can shoot then Manny really might be having to work harder to stay in place. In which case you’d feel more compelled to admire his steadiness than criticize lack of development.

    Could be wrong, but sometimes I want to throw out a question rather than just offer an opinion.

  • Bluebufoon

    The difference between Manny and the very good players is Harris doesn’t look to set-up his teammates, he does it when he is forced too. Manny is trying too hard to score every time he gets the ball rather than being the facillatator of the offense. Evan Turner isn’t selfish with the basketball. Bird, Magic and even Jordan as he matured, realized the more he got his teammates involved, the easier it made it for each of those players to score on their own and the more competitive it made each of their respective teams. I don’t know that Manny realizes that this is a team game and the better the team does, the easier it will make it for Harris to post his numbers.

  • Dylan or Calvin: The next time you do a recruiting round up, can you report on the four high school basketball games Coach Beilein is going to this weekend. I would assume and hope he is going to see Mt Pleasant High.

  • Sarah

    I don’t agree that Manny doesn’t look for his teammates. Sometimes he does try to hard and unfortunately this year shots haven’t been falling so of course it all looks worse. I really hope he stays because I don’t think he will make in the NBA if he leaves after this year.

  • Jeff

    Totally disagree that Manny doesn’t try to look for his teammates. Every game there are multiple times when the whole opposing team collapses on him and he hits a teammate for a wide-open shot….which they miss. DeShawn Sims gets easy dunks and layups all the time from Harris passes. Honestly, it’s not Manny’s fault that there’s just not much talent on this team. He can’t put the ball in the basket for his teammates.

  • DC

    One thing about Manny’s development does bug me.
    I have heard countless references to Manny’s need
    work on going to his left. He is now in his third
    (and perhaps final) year in college. What the heck
    is he waiting for? Isn’t it possible that if he
    *could* develop his left hand, he would have by now?
    If I were an NBA GM considering drafting Manny, that
    is a question I would have on my mind.

  • Bluebuffoon: I don’t think you and I are looking at the same player, and I would bet you none of his team-mates see him as selfish, either. I just think there a tendency to pile on certain players when things don’t go well, and it’s kinda. . . regrettable, esp. when unsupported by the facts. I thought Dylan’s post might cut down on some of that–the big reminder from me is that the whole team really is just a few bad breaks away from being where they were last year, in a much tougher league. I’m much more baffled by Novak and Douglass–where they heck have they gone, is LLP really THAT limited–than by Manny.