Gary Harris has been the perfect veteran for the Orlando Magic

Gary Harris has proven to be the perfect veteran for a young Orlando Magic team. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Gary Harris has proven to be the perfect veteran for a young Orlando Magic team. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports /

Gary Harris has been through the rebuild before.

At last year’s trade deadline, Gary Harris got sent from the championship-contending Denver Nuggets to the lowly Orlando Magic as the Nuggets needed to add some more consistency and size to their team to contend (little did they know Jamal Murray was set for an ACL tear just a few weeks later).

Harris arrived knowing he needed to make the most of his opportunity with the Magic. He had one more full year left on his contract as he continually tried to chase a breakout 2018 season that already seemed like forever ago.

He was carving out his reputation still as an ace defender for the team, but his 3-point shot was fading. More than anything, Harris just needed a chance to reset and get healthy. A rebuilding Magic team would give him that chance, with the chance to sell himself before the trade deadline and free agency beyond that.

When he arrived, Harris was not necessarily thinking about all of that. That opportunity was in front of him, but so was the chance to build something else.

He talked in his introduction to the team about how he was there when the Nuggets were just starting to build into the title contender with the MVP they have become. He was there for those early days and that his goal was to be a good veteran for the young players and help rebuild the culture for the team.

Gary Harris needed to reclaim his shot and his health with the Orlando Magic. But as a veteran, he has left a big impact on this young roster as they have continued to build.

Orlando certainly viewed him as that kind of a presence in the locker room. And as the team has started to come into its own this season, Harris has been a key part of that. Not just as a player reclaiming something he lost due to years of recurring injuries, but as a veteran reminding this young team how good it really can be and what it will ultimately take to win.

Harris was front and center in Wednesday’s 119-118 win over the Indiana Pacers.

He not only scored 22 points on 6-for-11 shooting from deep (all six of his makes were 3-pointers), but he was the one leading the team in huddles reminding the team of what to do and what did not work the night before.

As Wendell Carter, Jamahl Mosley and Gary Harris explained postgame, Harris told the team to remember the situation they were in just the previous night when they struggled to execute in a close game and saw their chance to win slip through their fingers.

According to them, Harris suggested plays they could run to avoid a repeat and helped calm them down. Very quickly after that, Orlando erased a nine-point deficit — with Harris hitting two 3-pointers in the process.

It is these little things that have proven so valuable for the Magic. And that Harris has been effective for most of this season — first when he entered the starting lineup after Jalen Suggs’ injury and then returning to the bench after he returned — has been the cherry on top.

Harris is averaging 11.8 points per game with a 54.1-percent effective field goal percentage. He is shooting 38.2-percent from beyond the arc, something the poor-shooting Magic desperately need.

For the season, Harris has been one of the best corner 3-point shooters too, making 44.3-percent of his corner threes.

More impressively, most of Harris’ 3-point attempts are covered. According to data from Basketball-Index, only 13.6-percent of his 3-point attempts are open. He still gets and makes his open shots. On 179 attempts with the closest defender at least four feet away, he is shooting 38.9-percent on 3-pointers.

Splitting his season into segments: In the 19 games Suggs missed, Harris averaged 16.1 points per game and shot 42.1-percent from beyond the arc. Since Suggs’ return, Harris is averaging only 12.2 points per game, but hitting 42.9-percent from beyond the arc.

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Harris has been quite successful in that bench role as the team’s reserves have started to find their groove thanks in large part to the dual shooting threats of Gary Harris and Terrence Ross.

Harris has been a pretty solid sharpshooter who largely plays within himself. He has always had a knack for creative finishes around the basket.

Defensively, Harris has been as solid as he has been in his career.

According to data from Basketball-Index, Harris has a positive defensive impact even though he largely guards lead ball handlers, creators and movement shooters. Harris is the guy the Magic all on to guard the heavy-usage guards around the league and chase shooters around screens.

Harris’ impact is not directly felt in the statistics though. The Magic have a -7.8 net rating with him on the floor for the season — the same as their overall net rating. Even during this nice six-game spurt from the team, Orlando has a negative net rating with Harris on the floor, even if slightly.

There are still plenty of issues to sort through. The Magic, even in this brief spurt of consistency, are still facing some bigger questions. That is not an issue one veteran player is going to resolve or solve.

But that is not completely Harris’ role. He is not there to save the roster with his play. He is meant to be a supporting player. A floor spacer and defender.

He has done all of that.

But the biggest part of his role is to be that voice in everyone’s ears like he was Wednesday night. He is there to be someone who can remind them to play with calmness and stillness and remind them of situations as they come up. He has been critical to this team’s growth.

Everyone around the league is cognizant of the Feb. 10 trade deadline, now less than a week away. Harris is surely among the veteran players getting a lot of interest around the league — even at his expiring salary of nearly $20.5 million.

He would undoubtedly help a playoff team as much as he is helping a developing team like Orlando. And the Magic would be foolish not to explore that market unless they intend to re-sign him this offseason.

That seems unlikely because Harris is at a stage of his career where he should be seeking out the best chance to win. He has been a good mentor and he needed his time in Orlando to reclaim his rhythm.

If the Magic do end up moving him, it will be a huge loss. Orlando’s rebuild has gotten off to such a good start because of contributions from Harris both seen and unseen by the public.

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He has been the perfect veteran for this young group. And the Magic should be trying to soak up as much as they can from him.