Nuggets reserve Al Harrington building Sixth Man campaign
Veteran forward providing three-point shooting, consistent scoring off bench
Most people are familiar with NBA three-point range, that area of hardwood somewhere between 22 and 24 feet from the basket.
Big Al range extends a bit further.
After nearly every Nuggets practice, Al Harrington stands about 30 feet from the hoop and lets fly until he makes 10 shots from two wing spots and the top of the key.
The practice has been put to good use this season, notably last week in Washington, D.C., when he spotted up from 27 feet and drained a dagger in Denver’s victory over the Wizards.
“I think he has the most confident shooting range (on the team),” Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson said. “He’ll pull it from wherever. Once he gets it going, he’s going to knock it down.”
Harrington’s ability to knock down the three-point shot and his 15.2 scoring average through 18 games have put him among the early candidates for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award. The Nuggets have never had a Sixth Man winner, though J.R. Smith finished second in the voting in 2008-09.
“It’d be cool,” Harrington said. “It’d be nice to win it, but if not, as long as our team is successful and we make a deep playoff run, that’s what I’m happy about.”
Among players who have started less than half their team’s games, Harrington ranks third behind James Harden of Oklahoma City (16.4 ppg) and Lou Williams of Philadelphia (15.5 ppg) in scoring and sixth in rebounding (5.7 rpg). Harrington also ranks 11th among all players in field-goal percentage (.529) and third in two-point field-goal percentage (.634).
The numbers are a huge jump from the 2010-11 season when Harrington averaged 10.5 points on .416 shooting while dealing with various injuries to his foot, thumb and back.
“If you had to say who was the MVP of our team, Al would get votes,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “We knew Al was working hard (in the offseason). We knew Al was going to come back in better shape. We knew Al has a pride and a chip that he was angry about last year. They all kind of worked to our advantage.”
Though he still weighs about 250 pounds, Harrington dropped his body fat to 8 percent during the offseason and has no lingering health issues.
“Al’s been huge, man,” Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson said. “He looks like a whole different type of guy.”
In addition to his conditioning and physique, Harrington has the right mindset to contribute off the bench. Before becoming a primary starter for Atlanta, Indiana, Golden State and New York from 2004-10, Harrington spent six seasons as a key reserve for the Pacers.
“Early in my career I started off as a bench player, so that’s why I think it’s been kind of easy for me,” he said. “I know what to expect. You’re sitting over there trying to figure out what the team’s lacking that particular night and you try to be that spark coming off the bench.”
Harrington made a run at the Sixth Man award in 2003-04 when he averaged 13.3 points and 6.4 rebounds but finished second in the voting to Antawn Jamison.
Eight years and five cities later, Harrington has launched another campaign, with headquarters 24 feet from the hoop and beyond.