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Q&A: How Larry Harris and the Warriors created a first class, winning organization

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The Golden State Warriors Assistant GM is one of the best at what he does. Perhaps the Wizards could take a page from their counterparts in the Bay Area.

Golden State Warriors Assistant General Manager Larry Harris (C) has played a major part scouting and helping build their NBA dynasty. Jordan Bell (L) and Stephen Curry (R) are just two of the many successful players Harris had a part in.
Yanir A. Rubenstein

The Wizards and the Warriors were bottom-feeders from 2009 to 2012, averaging 22/28.5 wins per year, respectively. Those results translated to the fifth (Wizards)/seventh (Warriors) pick in 2009; the first/sixth pick in 2010; sixth/11th pick in 2011 and the third/seventh pick in 2012.

Though Golden State had lower picks than Washington in each of those four years, the Warriors capitalized on their picks and won three NBA championships in the last five years. Meanwhile, the Wizards are nowhere close.

While I was covering the NBA Finals for Israeli NBA magazine Hoops.co.il. I had the pleasure to get a firsthand impression of one of the key architects behind the Warriors’ success, assistant GM Larry Harris, who is also the second longest serving front-office member of the Warriors having risen from an assistant coach in 2008 to scout, director of player personnel and ultimately assistant General Manager in 2016.

Coincidentally, per Ben Standig of NBC Sports Washington, Harris’ name was also floated during the current GM search for the Wizards, as well as during the recent GM search for the New Orleans Pelicans per Adrian Wojnarowski.

Bullets Forever: What’s your day-to-day work like?

Larry Harris: If you take my job in the scope of a year, from the start of training camp till the NBA Finals, basically the core of what I do, 90 percent of the time, is to go out and find talent for our team.

Whether it be watching college games for the Draft, going to Europe and watching the international players coming into the Draft, we do that. And whether it’s going around the world and watching Americans and internationals that are beyond their draft year, as well as watching players in the G-League, as well as watching our team and other pro teams, we do that too.

In a nutshell, it’s basically player procurement, trying to help General Manager Bob Myers and our ownership to formulate a team every year that has a chance to compete for an NBA title.

BF: Do you work together with Kent Lacob and the G-League’s Santa Cruz Warriors?

LH: It’s a two-way system in the sense that Bob, Kirk Lacob and myself are mainly with Golden State. And likewise, Santa Cruz Warriors (SCW) General Manager Kent Lacob and his staff like Ryan Atkinson are mainly with our G-League affiliate. Still, everything we do is in unison.

This is because we’re going to send players from our team down to Santa Cruz and we want to make sure that they are learning the same plays, same terminology and style of play.

We will have the SCW scouting staff go out and see NBA, other G-League and some college games so that when free-agency and the NBA and G-League draft comes around we all have input because we have all seen the players we are talking about.

BF: We’ve all seen “Moneyball” the movie. Obviously you can’t go out to all the colleges and all the European leagues out there. Do you have some sort of a filter that the analytics people provide for you to reduce the number of players you have to physically watch?

LH: Well, there are two parts to it. The analytics is something we certainly incorporate in our scouting. But I would say the analytics is just part of the process. We have staff in Europe and in some sense, we work for them and they work for us: they sift through players all over the world, to find the younger players they think we should see when we go over there.

And then internally, in the United States, we identify the players that we want our European staff to see when they come over here and see how the international players compare to those American players. And then we use analytics to cover all leagues and say `OK, what players are playing well, what analytics are jumping out to confirm what we’re seeing with our eyes.

There are probably very few players that among our entire staff of nine we have not seen live. But we may not have seen a player enough. We need to go back and see a player again if we see a jump analytically over a two-month period.

BF: Europe is not close to California. So do you need to have a lot trust in your scouting staff?

LH: Very much so. We have to rely on them since games are being played here and in Europe at the same time.

BF: You’ve been here before Stephen Curry. Did you participate in drafting him?

LH: I was part of the staff at the time. But drafting players has always been a group effort. It’s teamwork, no question about it.

BF: Fifty-four percent of players in the NBA have gone through the G-League.

LH: I just heard a stat that 16 of the players in this Finals played in the G-League.

We’re putting more resources into this every year. The most immediate direction to the NBA is through the G-League. We have 2-way contracts. There is more of a premium on the G-League than there’s ever been.

BF: With Luka Doncic coming from Real Madrid this year, do you think that changed a bit the perception about European players having inferior physicality?

LH: We’ve always valued the understanding of the game of basketball that the international player has brought to the NBA and more recently to college basketball. We’ve always felt that the international player brought more skill to the game because they start at a much younger age working on skill development as opposed to the American player.

For instance, centers in Europe are doing stuff the guards are doing at a young age as far as ball handling and shooting though I believe the U.S. is slowly catching up to the skill development side of the game. You see centers shooting three-pointers in high school. The game has expanded and you see it in full display now in the NBA Finals.

To be honest, among front-office people in the league we rarely have conversations about `Oh, that’s an international player, he’s not that athletic,’ I think all that has gone by the wayside.

For example, while Denver Nuggets center Nicola Jokic may not have the best athleticism (no disrespect by the way), he is one of the greatest basketball players we have in the NBA today. So there are a lot of different ways to get to the NBA, and I wouldn’t say that you have to be a freak athlete to make it to the NBA — that’s a big misnomer.

BF: When you see someone like Jokic, do you kind of say `Man, I should have hit the button on him earlier in the draft!’?

LH: You know what, I think probably all 30 teams do exactly what we do each year before every draft. You always take a look back over the last two to three years and try to see what players we got right, what players we got wrong.

BF: Talking about second round picks, the Jordan Bell move was ingenious by all accounts.

LH: Well, I have to give Joe Lacob credit for that because we wouldn’t have been able to get somebody like him if he hadn’t decided to pay for that.

BF: But Lacob had to listen to somebody to give that green light, right?

LH: Right, it’s very much a team concept. I’ve told that to anybody that wants to listen. The magic sauce in Golden State if you want to call it that way really starts with the players and continues with Joe Lacob giving us the resources to be able to do it.

We were able to go out and identify some players, whether it be Patrick McCaw or Bell, two players that we were able to financially go and get when we didn’t have a pick. The faith that he has in us to spend that money wisely has benefited us.