Orlando Magic’s Gary Harris is at rock bottom to start this season

Orlando Magic guard Gary Harris has struggled ot find his footing this season. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Orlando Magic guard Gary Harris has struggled ot find his footing this season. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

There was a possession in the first half of Monday’s game at the Atlanta Hawks that explained why Gary Harris is struggling so much at this point of the season.

Harris had just taken a quick shot or made some other poor play where he made a quick decision and was trying to make amends. Instead, though, he got stuck. Open enough to get a shot if he wanted or take the space, it looked like he froze.

The defense collapsed around him at that point and he had to dish the ball haphazardly somewhere else. These kinds of pauses in an already-struggling offense hurt more than anything else. The offense needs flow and rhythm. It needs players making quick decisions and a willingness and confidence to shoot when a player is open.

Coach Jamahl Mosley has often talked about continuing to encourage and have faith in shooters to step in and shoot confidently. The team still has to work to avoid contested shots.

Eventually, yes, the team needs some shots to go in.

Harris has plenty of confidence to shoot. There are no issues there. The Magic want him to shoot and try to find the shot-making that made him such an intriguing prospect four years ago.

Very clearly though, the reserves are not there. The shot-making is not there and his athleticism only comes out in flashes.

Harris is still a solid defender, but the numbers are increasingly not there to support the amount of trust the Magic are and almost have to put in their veteran guard.

This is seemingly rock bottom for Harris.

Gary Harris has seemingly hit rock bottom as he continues to struggle on both ends and not give the Orlando Magic the stability he promised.

Harris is averaging 5.3 points per game and shooting 37.5-percent from the floor and 21.1-percent from beyond the arc. The numbers are really bad very clearly.

They get worse.

Andrew Bailey periodically puts out lists of where every player ranks among an average of several catch-all statistics. As flawed as they may be, they give at least a snapshot of where players rank in comparison this year.

Harris’ ranking is dead last among players who have played at least 100 minutes so far this season:

That is obviously not a good thing. Especially since the Magic are still leaning on him for veteran leadership — R.J. Hampton has credited Gary Harris with being a good mentor and veteran since coming over to Orlando with him in the trade with the Denver Nuggets — and playing him a ton of minutes.

Harris has just struggled in every way imaginable.

The team has a -32.5 net rating with Gary Harris on the floor, only ahead of the little-used Robin Lopez. The Magic have an 86.0 offensive rating with Harris on the floor.

That is at least partially because Harris has played alongside the team’s poor bench lineup. Even the numbers above show there is a huge drop-off from the Magic’s starters (minus the struggling Jalen Suggs) to the Magic’s bench players.

But Harris’ struggles at least seem to go a bit beyond that. And Monday provided some hope with Harris scoring seven points on 3-for-8 shooting. But it was not a whole lot.

The team’s starting lineup with Harris in it has just a -31.7 net rating in 30 minutes when using him in the lineup for Suggs (the starting lineup Mosley used Monday with Suggs out with a sprained ankle). The team has a -10.0 net rating in two minutes when using Gary Harris to replace Cole Anthony with the starters.

To say the least, Harris was expected to provide some stability to the lineup. If anything, the early numbers suggest Harris is not giving the boost the team expected.

In general, Orlando has not gotten enough on-court production from either of its veterans. They have struggled to integrate with the team’s young bench players. And Mosley has struggled to find a consistently functioning rotation.

That has gotten better as Ross has started to shoot much more effectively and find some success. But everything is still seeming a work in progress even 14 games into the season.

Harris too is struggling to find where his shots will come from or when and where to get them. His role offensive is still an issue.

According to NBA.com’s tracking stats, Harris has taken 28 of his 56 shots (50.0-percent) with the closest defender at least four feet away from him.

Perhaps more interestingly or alarmingly, 17 of his 56 (30.4-percent) shots this season have come after 3-6 dribbles. That trails only his 21 shots with zero dribbles (the kind of shots the team probably wants Harris taken).

By comparison, last year Harris took 143 of his 337 shots with the closest defender four feet away or closer (42.4-percent) and 75 attempts after 3-6 dribbles (22.3-percent).

Related Story. Orlando Magic are a fourth-quarter team, if they can get there. light

In 2020, Harris took 241 of his 519 field goal attempts (46.4-percent) with the closest defender four feet away or closer and 109 of his shots after 3-6 dribbles (21.0-percent).

What this all says is that Harris is taking more shots with defenders draped over him and he is shooting a bit while dribbling and trying to create more.

The easy answer then is to get him better spot-up opportunities — although he is shooting just 4 for 16 on catch-and-shoot opportunities this year, pointing to some poor shot selections in catch-and shoots.

Where Harris is supposed to make up for his now-inconsistent shooting is with his defense. While he has been put in some poor defensive lineups and Harris has had some good defensive moments — especially in the win against the Utah Jazz, which he finished on the floor in the fourth quarter — Harris’ defensive impact is not particularly clear.

According to Basketball-Reference’s Defensive Box Plus-Minus, Harris is posting a -3.3 defensive box plus-minus, by far the worst mark of his career. Opponents are shooting 56.5-percent when Harris is the closest defender, according to NBA.com’s tracking stats. That is among the worst marks on the team and 11.0 percentage points better than an expected field goal percentage.

Further, opponents shoot 1.13 points per possession when Harris is the defender in pick and rolls according to NBA.com’s tracking data. That is in the 13th percentile in the league. Opponents are scoring 1.35 points per possession on spot-up opportunities when Harris is the closest defender, good for the eighth percentile.

Every defensive number will tell you Harris is playing poorly. And it is hard to point to what he is doing well consistently.

This is bitterly disappointing. But this is unfortunately how Harris’ career has gone since his initial knee injury.

He has struggled to find consistency or find his shot. His defense was his saving grace and what he has traded on.

If that is gone, then Harris becomes really hard to use.

Harris is getting the benefit of the doubt as a veteran for now. The idea of Harris is still something that is enticing — and there are still brief flashes of it. But that is not the Harris the team has gotten so far.

Next. Franz Wagner has beaten every expectation. dark

Orlando should be hoping this is as bad as it gets. If it is not, the Magic need to be willing to move on from Harris and find other solutions on their roster. Especially as players begin to return from injury.