In a surprise recruiting win, the Virginia Cavaliers landed Georgetown point guard Dante Harris as a rare December transfer commit. The 6’0 lead guard will sit out this season and have three remaining years of eligibility, per reporting by Hooz Got Next. After a breakout freshman season in 2020-21 that saw Harris win Big East Tournament MVP as the 8-seed Hoyas made a miracle run to win the championship, his sophomore year didn’t go as planned and Harris stepped away from the Georgetown team before this year.
An experienced guard was a key pickup for the ‘Hoos, especially as Reece Beekman plays his way into NBA Draft conversations. If Beekman and Kihei Clark both depart this offseason, the ‘Hoos would have been left with just Isaac McKneely and incoming freshman Elijah Gertrude in that lead-guard spot before Harris’s commitment. In a way, his recruitment was a product of necessity.
But if there’s one thing we know about recruiting under Tony Bennett, whether it’s freshmen or transfers being recruited, it’s that the team’s targets are very deliberately selected. Virginia didn’t offer Dante Harris just because they needed a warm body at guard; they clearly believe in his potential and see him as a contributor in the years to come. So what in Harris’s game might’ve stuck out to the Virginia staff as they zeroed in on their newest commit?
The raw numbers on the offensive end aren’t pretty for Dante Harris. In his career at Georgetown, Harris shot 40.9% on twos and just 26.8% on threes — for comparison, in his second season at Virginia, Casey Morsell shot 47.1% on twos and 26.3% on threes. In 55 career games as a Hoya, Harris made more shots than he missed just nine times.
However, there’s a case to be made that his rough numbers are a product of a pretty awful team situation. Georgetown’s offense was terrible last season, ranking just 321st in the NCAA in effective field goal percentage. It was also incredibly stagnant, as the Hoyas assisted on just 47.5% of their made field goals, 260th in the NCAA. Because of this, Harris as a lead ball-handler was frequently asked to create something out of nothing; as you’d expect from an undersized guard, those attempts didn’t go particularly well.
Harris attempted 104 midrange jump shots last season, 93 of which came off the dribble, and made just 32.3% of those off-dribble attempts. His three-point diet was similarly challenging: 64.7% of his 102 three-point attempts came off the dribble, and he shot just 24.2% on those threes off the dribble.
At Virginia, Harris will be asked to play a very different style of basketball in an offense predicated on creating catch-and-shoot looks and moving the ball for assists. The rotation player for Virginia who took the highest percentage of threes off the dribble in 2021-22 was Armaan Franklin, whose triples came off the bounce 22.3% of the time — barely one-third of Harris’s rate at Georgetown that year. Virginia has also assisted on over 66 percent of their made baskets this season so far, sixth-best in the NCAA and significantly better than the Hoyas.
It’s easy to charitably look at Harris and see not a highly inefficient shooter, but a good guard stuck in a horrible situation, especially with some pieces of evidence pointing in a positive direction. He’s a career 80% free-throw shooter, which typically has a strong correlation with three-point shooting ability. He averaged over 30 points per game in high school and shot 57% from the field and 48% from three with his AAU team at UAA Nationals. Perhaps most importantly, the jumper doesn’t look broken.
And if any coach is familiar with an undersized lead guard struggling to handle the lion’s share of the offensive load in an under-talented, static offense, it’s Tony Bennett. The parallels between Dante Harris’s Georgetown career and Kihei Clark’s 2019-20 campaign are easy to draw both statistically and aesthetically.
Perhaps the ‘Hoos are betting on Harris’s offensive production fitting the Kihei mold: not cut out for a role as the #1 option, but a very reliable complementary piece in a great offense. Their career advanced offensive statistics are similar, with Kihei recording a slightly higher assist rate but Harris recording a lower turnover rate.
It seems pretty clear that Harris is a better scorer than his raw numbers look (to be honest, it’d be hard to be worse than his raw numbers). How much better is the question. Thankfully for the Virginia staff, they’ll have the spring to evaluate Harris as he joins the team and determine if he’s a reliable option to run the offense at times next season or if they need to go portal-diving once again during the summer transfer window.
Strong defensive instincts are basically a given for any guard to earn playing time as a Virginia Cavalier at this point, so it’s not surprising that Harris is a stout point-of-attack defender. Again, the Georgetown scheme makes Harris’s true talent level tough to evaluate — under Patrick Ewing, the Hoyas have been on a pretty unparalleled streak of defensive ineptitude, never putting together a season outside the bottom quarter of the Big East in KenPom’s defensive efficiency.
However, all the numbers point to Harris being a decent defensive playmaker and contributor for a team otherwise devoid of those sorts of players. His numbers took a dip on that end in 2021-22 as Harris was asked to shoulder the offensive load, but the 2020-21 version of Harris finished with a defensive Bayesian Performance Rating (an advanced stat that accounts for box-score production like steals and blocks and lineup on-off data) of +0.20; to continue to belabor this comparison, Kihei Clark currently has a DBPR of +0.22.
Harris is a bit more of a playmaker on that end of the floor than Kihei ever has been, with a knack for passing-lane steals that’s very Reece-Beekman-esque. His career steal rate, a good proxy for a guard’s defensive playmaking ability, is 2.4%; that number slots in nicely between Kihei’s lower 1.8% and Reece’s higher 3.5%.
He’s also got more athletic pop than you’d expect from a guy with zero career dunks in 55 games. His quickness shows up on those aforementioned passing-lane robberies, and his timing is very solid, which can lead to highlight plays like this block against Howard last season.
Harris won’t pick up full court the way Kihei does — at least not every possession — and there’s always some projection involved when expecting a guy from a very bad defense to come pick up the tenets of a new, demanding system. Again, though, that’s why Harris having a redshirt season with the Cavaliers is so beneficial. The coaching staff has months to get Harris up to snuff on that end of the floor.