Gary Harris starting to pick up his offense again

Orlando Magic guard Gary Harris had a frustrating start to the season, but the veteran guard is starting to round into form and pick up consistency on both ends. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Orlando Magic guard Gary Harris had a frustrating start to the season, but the veteran guard is starting to round into form and pick up consistency on both ends. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

The frustration with and from Gary Harris is real.

If Orlando Magic fans had their way, the team would discard the veteran or at least move him out of the starting lineup. He has become the team’s scapegoat — the veteran everyone believes is standing in the way of some young promising player (every team has one).

And for a team sitting at 5-20 (already a whole eight games out of the final Play-In spot), everyone is looking for someone or something to blame for that poor record.

Harris’ play to this point in the season has earned that blame though.

The veteran guard was brought in to provide some stability and consistency on both ends. But the often-injured guard has struggled to get his feet under him. His shooting was off and his defense, while solid, was not otherworldly.

Nothing probably exemplified this frustration more than his technical foul in the second quarter of Monday’s loss to the Golden State Warriors. Stonewalled on a screen from Draymond Green, Gary Harris sat on the floor and argued with the referee while Stephen Curry broke free and hit an open 3-pointer.

This is not the Harris the Magic expected to get. And eliminating these frustration plays will give the Magic the veteran leader they desperately need — not to mention probably help prop up Harris’ trade or buyout value later in the season.

Gary Harris has had plenty of frustrating moments to start this season. But the Orlando Magic guard is starting to pick up his pace and round back into form.

He may not become that player. But Harris is starting to show signs of giving at least the offensive stability the team has been looking for. His offensive game is starting to round into form.

Harris is averaging 7.5 points per game, the worst mark since his rookie season. He is making only 41.0-percent of his shots in total and 28.1-percent of his shots beyond the arc. Hardly the numbers the Magic need from their veteran wing and fill-in starter.

But Harris has hit a good spot where he is finding his rhythm of late. In his last five games, he is averaging 13.2 points per game while shooting 51.1-percent from the floor and 35.7-percent from beyond the arc.

This is closer to what the Magic surely envisioned for Gary Harris when they grabbed him in last year’s Aaron Gordon trade. Harris after his rough start is beginning to find some consistency and rhythm.

"“I’m just taking it one day at a time and continue to get better, gel and mesh with the squad,” Harris said after Monday’s loss to the Warriors. “We’re all trying to figure it out. I was able to hit some shots and I’m feeling good. I’m worried about trying to help get these wins and help get these turnovers down. I feel good, but there is still a lot of work to do.”"

That, of course, is the bigger part of the puzzle. Is Harris helping the team win.

His struggles earlier in the season did not help support a bench group that was struggling mightily and his numbers show it.

The Magic have a -15.0 net rating with Harris on the floor (97.1 offensive rating and 112.1 defensive rating). The team has a -7.2 net rating with Harris off the floor (102.3 offensive rating and 109.6 defensive rating).

But in his last five games, the Magic are posting a +1.1 net rating with Harris on the floor (106.2 offensive rating and 105.0 defensive rating). The team posts a team-worst -29.6 net rating when Harris is off the floor (86.9 offensive rating/116.5 defensive rating).

These are small sample sizes but a positive sign for Harris and his progression lately.

"“I think I’m seeing the Gary Harris that everyone knows his name for,” R.J. Hampton said after Monday’s loss to the Warriors. “That guy is a warrior and a fighter. Despite injuries and ups and downs, he’s going to keep going. You just see what he is really made of. He is a guy who can come into any franchise or organization and contribute at a high level. He’s going to continue, that’s the Gary Harris I know.”"

More than anything the Magic needed that defensive presence that Harris brings to the table. He carved out time as he came back from his various injuries because of his defense — it stood out in the Denver Nuggets 3-1 comeback over the Utah Jazz in the Bubble during the 2020 playoffs.

That part has been lacking this year too at least by some metrics.

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Harris’ -1.4 defensive box plus-minus is the second-worst of his career — only ahead of last season. And, according to’s tracking statistics, opponents are shooting 49.6-percent when Harris is the closest defender, the third-worst mark on the team and 3.3 percentage points better than expected.

But in his last five games, opponents are shooting 37.5-percent when Harris is the closest defender. That is the best mark in that time and 10.5 percentage points better than expected.

That includes Stephen Curry recording eight points and five assists on 3-for-6 shooting in Monday’s game. And that was hardly a good defensive performance from Harris.

What this all points to is that Harris is starting to pick up his play and return to form after a long wait.

"“He is coming out more aggressive defensively guarding some of the tougher guys,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Monday’s loss. “We tried to match his minutes with Curry. He was very willing to take on the challenge, which he has always done. I’m loving his aggression and his ability to continue to try to hold things together and keep pushing these young guys.”"

That kind of bounce-back is certainly something the team needs. And the idea of Harris as a three-and-D player is certainly something the Magic desperately need. Harris can help bring some stability and the Magic before Monday had turned in three solid performances that included a win and two close losses.

They need his veteran consistency and level-headedness most of all. That is perhaps why his technical foul from Monday’s game felt so frustrating and seemed to bring back all the negative feelings about Harris’ time with the Magic to this point.

The recent spurt is a brief one and the Magic hope that relying on him as a veteran will mean that it has become consistent.

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And if Harris is starting to shoot a lot better and his defense and focus come around, the Magic may have the veteran stabilizer they need. Especially with the promise of health around the corner.