Re-Signing Tobias Harris Sets Up Orlando Magic's Young Core for Bright Future

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 4, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - APRIL 3: Tobias Harris #12 of the Orlando Magic shoots against the Minnesota Timberwolves during the game on April 3, 2015 at American Airlines Center  in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)
Jordan Johnson/Getty Images

With Tobias Harris back in the fold, the Orlando Magic are still brimming over with young talent at virtually every position in the lineup. According to RealGM.com's Shams Charania, the soon-to-be 23-year-old forward is coming back for the next four seasons:

Harris himself confirmed the news, revealing just how excited he was to spend the next chunk of his rising career with the team that has adopted him: 

But what are those four years going to mean? 

The Tennessee product is now one of the veterans on this young Orlando roster, and he's being paid like a leader. It's put up or shut up time for the burgeoning star, and he now has 64 million reasons to work toward leading a playoff push—young roster and all. 

Thing is, this team may well be talented enough to make some serious noise in the Eastern Conference, especially now that Harris is coming back. Orlando boasts young talent galore, and this forward could be the man who pushes it over the top in the chase for seed No. 8, as long as he keeps improving. 

In 2014-15, Harris averaged 17.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.5 blocks while shooting 46.6 percent from the field, 36.4 percent from beyond the arc and 78.8 percent from the charity stripe. Those are all solid numbers, and his overall profile actually left him a bit underrated. 

To that point, Stephen Shea of Basketball Analytics, a mathematician whose work has been featured all over the world and the Interwebs, called him the most underrated: 

The numbers suggest that Tobias Harris is one of the better VFs in the NBA today. Statistically, he stands among some of the game’s biggest stars. He is only 22 years old and has been praised for his character and work ethic. Harris is certain to improve on his already first-class ability. Tobias Harris is the most underrated player in the NBA, but it won't be long before he gets the credit he deserves.

But this substantial praise doesn't mean he can be content to cash his massive paycheck and stagnate. The 22-year-old must continue improving, and doing so in two areas can help the Magic immensely. 

First, Harris must continue to hone his three-point stroke. He made a substantial leap during this last season, but now it's time to prove that was the start of a trend, not merely a one-year fluke: 

Tobias Harris' Perimeter Shooting
Year3PA3P%
2011-120.526.1
2012-13231.5
2013-142.125.4
2014-153.536.4
Basketball-Reference.com

"Harris has improved his corner three, but he's spent a lot of his time at power forward, and his skill set runs a bit counter to the drive-and-kick system Orlando envisions," Grantland's Zach Lowe wrote midway through the 2014-15 campaign. "Harris can be a ball stopper, and he doesn't grind on defense like Payton, Oladipo or Gordon." 

For Harris to continue improving on this Magic roster, he simply must continue to get better in catch-and-shoot situations. According to NBA.com's statistical databases, he scored exactly one point per possession when spotting up, and that left him in the 62.9 percentile. That's solid, but it's not quite at the level the Magic need, given that aforementioned penchant for drive-and-kick play that will likely continue under new head coach Scott Skiles. 

And as Lowe also hinted at, defensive improvement also needs to become a priority. The Magic desperately need Harris to become a more physical presence on the point-preventing end, as that both fits in with the mentality of the roster and doesn't force them into an offense-defense platoon system at the 4 with him and the inexperienced Aaron Gordon. 

HOUSTON, TX - MARCH 17: Tobias Harris #12 of the Orlando Magic stands on the court during a game against the Houston Rockets on March 17, 2015 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloadin
Bill Baptist/Getty Images

Problematically, Harris has been a negative on defense throughout his entire professional career.

To his credit, he made slight improvements in 2014-15, but he still posted a minus-0.7 defensive box plus/minus, which indicates that a league-average defender would aid an average team by 0.7 additional points per 100 possessions. 

Going into this last season, he knew this had to be an area of emphasis, per Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel

Pushing the pace on the offensive end and being able to really be held accountable defensively, that's something that everybody's going to have to buy into. I've been really conditioning myself for this year to be able to play both sides at a high level, and I'm on pace to do that and really have been working at it. So I've put the time in and I know I'm ready for it.

But more work is still needed.

Harris was a sieve in isolation (47th percentile), struggled against ball-handlers in pick-and-roll sets (44.6 percentile), was obliterated on the rare occasions he got caught defending a roll man (21st percentile) and was middling against spot-up shooters (53.8 percentile). He could hold his own when defending post-up plays, but his primary assets on the defensive end simply involved ending up in the right spot and helping at the proper times. 

Of course, he now has four more years to improve. Harris is still young, and he has the physical talent necessary to become more than just an adequate defender, especially since he's already dedicated time to improving this facet of his game and should continue to put in more work throughout this new contract.

And if Harris is going to emphasize his catch-and-shoot game while settling into his defensive stance with more confidence, this Orlando depth chart suddenly looks awfully appealing: 

Orlando's Potential Depth Chart
PGSGSFPFC
StarterElfrid PaytonVictor OladipoTobias HarrisChanning FryeNikola Vucevic
2nd StringTyler HarveyEvan FournierMario HezonjaAaron GordonDewayne Dedmon
3rd StringMoe HarklessAndrew Nicholson

Obviously, plenty could change there. Harris can easily shift over to power forward and send his cousin (Channing Frye) to the bench, filling a hole in the second unit as a stretch 4 while allowing Mario Hezonja or Moe Harkless to waltz into the starting five. Other changes are possible, as well. 

No matter which five start on the floor, this Magic team is brimming over with upside. Though it may not have an identity quite yet—and shooting improvement is needed from Elfrid Payton, in particular—it is already a dangerous squad.

Dangerous enough to make the playoffs? Potentially, though that would require Payton, Oladipo, Gordon, Harris and others to make substantial strides.

Picking postseason teams is always a difficult task at this point in the offseason, and it would be a bit too bold to expect the Magic to jump from 25 wins into the eight-team field without making any marquee additions. A 2017 arrival feels much more likely, just based on natural progression through internal improvements.

But such a leap can't be ruled out now that Harris is back on the roster, and that's already quite a bit of good news for a rebuilding organization that's just continuing to load up on young talents. Without re-signing the former Volunteer, a low lottery finish would've been virtually guaranteed. 

Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference.com

Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.

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