What's Tobias Harris' role? Magic still trying to figure it out
JUN 03, 2014 11:00a ET
Inexperience doesn't always equate to immaturity. Tobias Harris is proof of that.
Although he won't turn 22 until July 15, the forward who was acquired by the Orlando Magic in February 2013 from the Milwaukee Bucks takes his NBA career seriously. Reporters who come into the team's locker room after games or people who follow Harris on Twitter know there is substance and depth to what he says and thinks.
Finding his exact role in the Magic's on-court depth, however, is proving to be a tricky proposition.
A high ankle sprain which Harris suffered during the preseason caused him to miss all but one of the team's first 22 regular-season games. He soon became the starter at small forward when coach Jacque Vaughn abandoned the tactic of beginning games with Arron Afflalo, Jameer Nelson and rookie Victor Oladipo on the floor together. But when Nikola Vucevic went down Jan. 6 with a concussion which sidelined him for almost four weeks, Harris was moved to power forward so Glen Davis could fill Vucevic's spot at center.
And after making a total of 36 starts, Harris was brought off the bench for the final 19 games -- a move which struck more than a few observers as odd, especially with Davis gone. Playing off the bench, his scoring average actually increased up unitl the last two games of the season when limited minutes dropped his final average to 14.6 points a game. That was down from the 17.3 points he averaged in 27 games last season but still good for No. 2 scoring honors on the team behind Afflalo.
"The biggest thing for me is just winning and getting to a position where we can win games," he said. "And whatever role that is for me, I know I'll be part of it and excel at it."
The Magic were 7-15 and coming off a victory at Charlotte -- the second of only four road wins they would have all season -- when Harris returned for good. It took him a while to get back into some sort of groove, as was most evident in late December against the New York Knicks when Carmelo Anthony's 17-point first half came largely at his expense.
Despite the mounting losses, Harris kept plugging away and began to establish greater consistency.
"When adversity comes, always get back up and stay positive," he said. "Nothing's going to stop me from being the best basketball player that I can be."
On a team looking to find someone it can rely upon down the stretch of close games, Harris often came through. It was his dunk at the buzzer off an assist from Maurice Harkless which enabled the Magic to pull out a shocking 103-102 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. And his go-ahead free throws with 10.1 seconds remaining against the Boston Celtics helped the Magic snap a 10-game losing streak.
While their record in games decided by three points or less was a respectable 5-7, Harris is well aware of how the Magic's relative unfamiliarity with each other frequently cost them with the outcome on the line.
"We let a lot of games slip away in the fourth quarter," he said. "So having the composure to get stops and get the right plays on the offensive end, that will help us."
"He's such a worker and is so prideful in using the offseason to get better," general manager Rob Hennigan said. "So my expectation, our expectation, will be he'll focus on the defensive end of the floor."
The Magic had a 16-17 record in games where they allowed less than 100 points. If they can increase their number of wins in similar situations next season, Harris would be thrilled.
"We're not far from where we need to be," he said. "And we're going to take the steps to get where we want to be. That's to be, at this time next year, not to be where we're at now."
WHAT HE DID RIGHT
Despite starting less than half their games, Harris was among five Magic players to average more than 30 minutes a contest. He finished second to Arron Afflalo in scoring and Nikola Vucevic in rebounding while shooting better than 46 percent from the floor and 80 percent from the free-throw line. During a seven-game stretch to start March, he hit 31 of his 32 foul shots.
WHERE HE NEEDS TO IMPROVE
An injury to his left ankle which sidelined him pretty much until the middle of December might have been why Harris seemed to be not as quick on defense. He averaged only 1.1 steals and 0.6 blocked shots per 48 minutes played, unimpressive statistics for someone his size. And after making 27 3-pointers in 27 games with the Magic last season, he hit only 32 shots from that distance in 61 games.
Jan. 24 vs. Los Angeles Lakers. In the first 20-20 game of his career, Harris scored 28 points and grabbed 20 rebounds -- all but one coming at the defensive end -- as the Magic came away with a 114-105 victory. He also had a career-high 31 points March 2 when they defeated the Philadelphia 76ers.
Harris was among four players who had their option years picked up by the Magic before the start of the season. They would like to keep him around for years to come, but that approach could change if they draft another forward with one of their two lottery picks June 26.