Orlando Magic Basketball: Examining the Terrific Start of Tobias Harris
Just minutes before the NBA Trade Deadline, Orlando Magic General Manager Rob Hennigan finally provided the country an answer to the question, "Which team will J.J. Redick help make a playoff-push?" by packaging the shooting guard with point guard Ish Smith and power forward/center Gustavo Ayon in a trade with the Milwaukee Bucks. In exchange, the Magic receive veteran point guard Beno Udrih (on an expiring contract), rookie shooting guard Doron Lamb and combo forward Tobias Harris.
While the initial reaction to the haul was very lukewarm (much like the results of the trade deadline, which saw no star players or first-round picks change hands), Hennigan has seemingly "worked his magic" yet again. After netting high-quality players in center Nikola Vucevic, shooting guard Arron Afflalo and rookie forward Moe Harkless by virtue of the Dwight Howard trade, the immediate returns on the players that were recently acquired have not only boosted Hennigan's credibility and reputation as a shrewd talent evaluator, but added yet another young player/prospect whom the Magic can look to build around in Harris.
I can admit, when I saw the details of the J.J. Redick trade, I was furious that Hennigan didn't insist on receiving Milwaukee's first-round pick or power forward/center Ekpe Udoh (a player I believed could be an excellent defensive force in the paint who would complement Vucevic's game perfectly). But after watching the past few games, I realize why I'm not an NBA General Manager. Udrih has played very well as starting point guard Jameer Nelson has been sidelined with yet another injury, and the level which Harris is currently playing at reminded me that only a few years ago he was one of the top freshman in the entire NCAA.
In the three games that Harris has played for the Orlando Magic, he is averaging (on a per-game basis): 29 minutes, 17.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 2.0 blocks, 1.0 steal and 1.3 turnovers while shooting 67.7 percent from the floor (including 40 percent from three and 81.8 percent from the foul line), an astonishing turnaround from his bench-warming days as a Buck. To better put this sizzling stretch into perspective, the stats Harris was averaging this season before coming to Orlando were: 11.6 minutes, 2.0 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.3 blocks, 0.3 steals and 0.6 turnovers with a shooting line of 46.1 percent from the field, 33.3 percent from three and 88.5 percent from the line.
Is Harris the next Magic player wearing the number 12 to be a star in the league? It's hard to say at this point. Obviously players can put together a stretch of excellent games, only to fall victim to the law of averages, and a three-game test sample is not large enough to make a definitive statement one way or the other. And when you look at the teams that Harris has played against in his brief career in Orlando (Cleveland, Philadelphia and Sacramento), the average fan realizes that the opposition hasn't been elite.
The final point to consider is that Milwaukee is clearly a more talented team than Orlando, so Harris obviously will get more playing time with the Magic in comparison to his previous situation as a Buck. But if he's really as good as he's been playing, why wasn't he a bigger fixture in the Buck's lineup? Is he just putting up great numbers on a bad team? He's not been a great defensive player, which is grounds for permanent benching on a Scott Skiles team, but as a young talent (Harris won't turn 21 until July 15) with tremendous upside, how could you not put him on the floor and see what he can do?
Despite all the nit-picking of Harris' performance to date, the bottom line is this: He has played very well since being given an opportunity to showcase his abilities and can likely continue to develop and improve his overall game. Additionally, the argument that he has only played a few games with Orlando and could easily come crashing back to his previous production can be looked at through another light. Yes, he has only played three games wearing a Magic jersey, but maybe all Harris needed was a change of scenery and a chance to show what he can be. Maybe this run will all just be a flash in a pan, but maybe it's the start of something much better. Only time can tell.
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