When Tobias Harris was acquired by the Orlando Magic, they had their hopes set high. After being sidelined with an injury to start the season, he has performed inconsistently so far. Is Harris still to be considered one of the major building blocks for Orlando?
Spoiler Alert! Yes, Harris is most definitely a player the Magic will want to hold on to. He will be a very important player for them going forward.
In all likeliness, he will become one of the underrated top players, akin to his teammate Arron Afflalo. He will be the guy other general managers want on their teams, while many NBA fans will keep overlooking him.
To understand the value and potential of Orlando Magic's No. 12, one has to look at the reasons behind his up-and-down season. Once we do this, we know why Harris will improve in years to come.
Tobias Harris is Still Young
First and foremost, let's keep one thing in mind: Harris is still a 21-year-old youngster, despite playing his third year in the NBA. This is his first season with 30-plus minutes.
He happens to be the second-youngest player on Orlando's roster. He is even younger than the rookie Victor Oladipo, who gets a lot of leeway for his wild and reckless play, which often results in many avoidable turnovers.
Harris is still learning, by any means. Can we really expect his production to be more consistent than it currently is?
Finding His Position
A lot of the variation of his numbers has to do with the former No. 19 pick finding his role on the court.
The 6'8“, 226-pound athlete has been used at small forward and power forward this season (with a slight emphasis on the latter). His frame and style of play make him a hybrid. That can mean two things: He is either caught in no man's land or capable of filling both roles adequately.
Harris happens to be a decent player at both positions.
He can cause mismatches if used correctly. At the same time, however, he will face mismatches himself. Fortunately, his athleticism allows him to make up for a lack of size, enabling him to hold his ground in low-post battles. He is also capable of running the floor with the smaller guys.
This makes him such a valuable asset for any team in need of a versatile forward. He can be used as a wild card, a player who takes up one roster spot while giving you the option to use him at two different positions effectively.
So far, so good.
However, it is one thing for a young player to fulfill one clearly defined role adequately. Having to play two different positions can be a daunting task, especially two as different as small forward and power forward.
Harris is still learning how to approach this situation.
The recent departure of Glen Davis should help in this regard. He will now see more minutes at the 4, a role that he seems slightly more suited for, especially on the offensive end of the floor.
Getting Consistent Playing Time
This is another benefit of Davis' buyout.
A team with no hopes (nor intentions) of making the playoffs is the perfect breeding ground for young, talented players. It is certainly one of the positives in an otherwise disappointing season.
With Davis gone, the remaining players get their share of his 30.1 minutes per game. That equals more opportunities for Harris. However, he will have to compete for that extra time with Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O'Quinn.
Judging by how Jacque Vaughn distributes playing time, it is unlikely that Harris will get a huge amount of additional minutes. The Orlando Magic head coach still seems to evaluate his players for next season, giving everyone a fair share of court time.
Sometimes, he even just seems to meddle with his lineups for no obvious reason.
Nonetheless, with Davis gone, Harris can step up and let his game demand more minutes. His stock is certainly helped by Nicholson's continued struggles.
Playing Within His Limits
Ah, the recklessness of youth.
Nearly every young player has those moments when he "feels it" and lets the ball fly, regardless of circumstances. There is the turn-around fadeaway from 20 feet while being double-teamed, the three-pointer during a fast break instead of dunking the ball and everything in between.
While Harris appears to be immune to such fatal mental lapses, he seems to be convinced that he is a potent threat from the perimeter. Sadly, a success rate of 21.6 percent from downtown begs to differ. Strangely enough, his percentage rises to 34.1 when the margin is five points or less.
Actually, his entire offensive efficiency excels in close situations.
When the game is on the line, he shoots 49.6 percent from the field (as opposed to 44.2 overall), and his effective field-goal percentage rises from 46.4 to 52.8 percent. Granted, this takes into account the opening minutes of every game, but it doesn't change the fact that he shoots better in close contests.
Part of it has to do with concentration, part of it with responsibility and liability. You don't want to be the guy making the bad decision with the ball in your hand in a tight encounter. If Harris can play with this sort of mindset all the time, his numbers will certainly make a considerable jump.
He should also consider using his mid-range jumper more often if he can't get a dunk or layup. His shooting percentage from 10 to 16 feet is 46.9, compared to 36.7 percent from three to 10 feet. Of course, at the rim is where he excels with 64.8 percent.
Tobias Harris definitely needs to improve in several areas to make his mark in the league. But at the same time he can already be considered one of Orlando's key players for upcoming years.
He doesn't need to be "there" yet. After all, he is just 21 years old.
He has shown lots of talent and recently also more consistency. In his last nine games he scored in double digits and took good care of the ball, turning it over just 1.1 times per game.
He seems to play within his means more often than not as of late, and his numbers reflect that.
In the game versus the Toronto Raptors on February 23, the youngster started off shooting 5-of-6 from the field and scoring 10 of his team's first 12 points before inexplicably being subbed out. The rest of the team went 2-of-14 in that quarter, and the Orlando Magic ended up with 14 points in total.
Harris' numbers may not be spectacular, and he could do with improving his rebounding and defense, but he shows a lot of understanding for the game and seems comfortable fulfilling any given role.
Now it is up to Vaughn to actually provide him with that role.
Consistency starts with the coach.
You can follow @KurtJonke for more on the NBA in general and the Orlando Magic in particular.