Tobias Harris - USA TODAY Sports
Harris' Magic career is off to a strong start. Will he be able to maintain such a high level of play?
In their three games with newly acquired forward Tobias Harris in the lineup, the Orlando Magic have lost twice by double-digits at home to certain lottery teams, so Harris' arrival hasn't exactly turned the tide of Orlando's season.
But Harris, obtained from the Milwaukee Bucks on February 21st, has played three standout games, leading the team in scoring once and tying for the team lead another time. In 86 minutes in pinstripes, Harris has scored 53 points on 21-of-31 shooting from the field and 9-of-11 shooting from the foul line. That high-volume, high-efficiency scoring is a welcome sight for the Magic, who've struggled offensively for much of the season. That Harris contributes in a bench role is a bonus.
The question, naturally, is whether Harris can sustain that level of productivity. He never looked this good in his one-plus seasons in Milwaukee, averaging a solid-but-not-spectacular 15.4 points per 36 minutes on 46.5 percent shooting. And he's done his best Magic work in garbage time, which has certainly inflated his stats.
To wit: with Orlando trailing by 20 or more points, Harris has shot a whopping 11-of-13 from the floor for 26 points in 24 minutes, according to NBA.com's official stats tool.
I don't use that stat to suggest that Harris can't play; I think he's shown great promise as a scorer. But of course he's going to put up great numbers in garbage time against the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Sacramento Kings, the league's third-worst and very-worst defenses, respectively, when those teams have already sealed a victory.
Harris certainly has a bright NBA future, and trying to offer a comprehensive evaluation of his play after three games would be foolhardy no matter how those games ended. Nonetheless, we've observed that he's at his most effective catching the ball in space and moving quickly to the basket, where he's converted 14 of his 17 shot attempts, according to NBA.com. He's also shown signs that he's an instinctive cutter, flashing into the paint off the ball and awaiting a pass from a teammate.
Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said before Wednesday's loss to Sacramento that Harris' ability to lead a fast break is also an asset for Orlando. Rather than grabbing a defensive board or picking up a steal and then having to dish to a point guard, Harris is comfortable pushing the pace himself. "For us to increase our pace and get the ball up the floor, that's an advantage," Vaughn said.
We saw that dynamic later on Wednesday. Harris snared a defensive board with eight seconds remaining in the first period and pushed the ball up the floor himself, shedding a defending John Salmons with an around-the-back dribble before dishing to Beno Udrih on the right wing with about 4.6 seconds remaining. Udrih set up Al Harrington for a corner three-pointer as time expired, but Harrington's shot went long.
In the third quarter, Harris again advanced the ball himself off a Kings miss and again shed Salmons with a dribble move, though Salmons poked the ball away and in the process committed a foul, stopping Orlando's fast-break advantage.
"In Milwaukee, he didn't get a chance," Udrih said of Harris, who also arrived from Milwaukee in Thursday's trade. "And now he's playing, he's playing hard. In Milwaukee, they put him more at the small forward position even [though] in college he was playing power forward, and here he gets to see minutes at both positions. He's got a lot of potential and he can be a great player in this league, and I believe he's going to keep improving. We'll see what happens."
If Harris can maintain his soft touch around the rim and expand his shooting range--he was a career 29.5 percent shooter on threes before coming to Orlando, where he's shot 2-of-5 for 40 percent--then he'll be a long-term offensive contributor for the Magic in the years to come. And, with any luck, he'll help the Magic be on the other side of those blowouts too.