2022 Orlando Magic Player Evaluations: Gary Harris gets his groove back

Gary Harris had a breakout season in 2018 that he has chased for his entire career. He got closer than ever to it with the Orlando Magic in 2022. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Gary Harris had a breakout season in 2018 that he has chased for his entire career. He got closer than ever to it with the Orlando Magic in 2022. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

Gary Harris was an idea when the Orlando Magic acquired him from the Denver Nuggets.

He was simply an idea because various injuries — knee and leg injuries that just would not seem to go away — kept him from reaching his full potential. It felt like Harris was always chasing the vaunted 2018 season that seemed to set the expectations for what he could — the one where he averaged 17.5 points per game and shot 39.6-percent from beyond the arc.

It is always hard to chase the ghosts of something like that. Harris still had his moments — his defense was key in the upset first-round win over the Utah Jazz in the 2020 Playoffs in the bubble — but he was not reaching those heights as the Nuggets started hunting for bigger game.

Coming to a rebuilding Orlando team was his chance to reset, get healthy and reclaim that groove.

That was certainly his goal entering a contract year too. And the Magic were happy to give him those opportunities provided he helped stabilize the roster and provide good leadership and presence in the locker room.

Harris did all that and seemingly more in what was a clear “get-right” year for Harris. He got right and showed he can still be a big contributor for a team. And maybe even the right veteran to help this young Magic team take its next steps.

Gary Harris had a “get-right” season for the Orlando Magic as he showed he can still defend and hit threes, creating an opportunity for him to stay or find his place in the league again.

Yes, Harris seemed to fit in so seamlessly and help the team so much that it does not seem completely unlikely the team aims to re-sign him this offseason. There will be a time to debate dollars and cents in the coming weeks. The Magic likely already know whether that is a possibility from him and how much they are willing to spend.

How Harris got there this year was quite the trip and a pretty solid statement for what the Magic are trying to build and how they can get there. It is also a sign of how important veterans still are for a young team.

Harris averaged 11.1 points per game and shot 38.4-percent from beyond the arc. It was a renaissance, his scoring numbers were his best since 2019 and his shooting numbers his best since that vaunted 2018 season.

Harris was simply elite as a corner-3 shooter. He made 46.5-percent of his corner threes this season, becoming essentially automatic from beyond the arc. He did this on 2.3 corner 3-point attempts per game, the eighth-most in the league.

That is something considering the Magic were a team at the bottom of the standings and with one of the worst offenses in the league all year long. Gary Harris (and Devin Cannady) are the first Magic players to rank in the top-20 in corner 3-point attempts per game since Ryan Anderson took 1.8 per game in 2012. They have not had anyone in the top-10 in 3-point attempts per game since Jason Richardson in 2011.

That is to say, the Magic have not had 3-point shooting like this since Stan Van Gundy was coaching and Dwight Howard was sucking attention in the paint.

It is at least a small sign the Magic are modernizing their offense just a bit. Corner threes usually come about because of superb ball movement that stretches the defense thin — the corner being the last thing a team can cover and the corner 3 being the most efficient 3-point shot because it is the closest three to the basket.

As a team, the Magic took 8.1 corner 3-point attempts per game (20th in the league) at 38.4-percent (15th in the league). No one will say the Magic are proficient at getting those quality shots.

But Harris was elite at them when he got them. And that makes him valuable as a possible outlet as the team’s offense continues to evolve.

He can still create a little off the dribble, but his best value is as a catch-and-shoot player. That will make him extremely valuable in the free-agent market.

He had his struggles early in the season, but once he found his groove, it was easy to see the impact he could have as a floor spacer. It was easy to see the impact he had on the floor for the team.

The Magic had a -5.9 net rating with Harris on the floor, showing improvements on both offense and defense with Harris out there. The team had a 104.2 offensive rating and a 110.1 defensive rating with Harris on the floor.

With Harris off the floor, the Magic had a -9.6 net rating with a 102.4 offensive rating and a 112.0 defensive rating. Those are small but impactful changes.

Harris’ consistent value has been his defense. Even as he struggled with injuries, his defense was a constant. And that always gave him a role.

He averaged 1.3 steals per 75 possessions, putting him in the top quarter of the league for that metric. Basketball-Index rated his defense at +0.68, placing him in the 75th percentile of that metric. There are very few perimeter defense metrics where Harris rates poorly on defense.

That is who Harris wants to be. His defense is his standout skill and that is why every contending team with enough money to spend will be hunting for Harris. And why Harris may well have his pick of teams as he hits free agency.

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Final Grade: B+

Whether the Magic are able to keep Harris or not, is really a matter left up to Harris and what he wants. Orlando has to spend money on someone and it might be best to spend on someone they know — as well as someone they know can fit in and support whatever lineups they put him in.

Harris is about the things the Magic want their players to be about. If Harris is invested in that group and this vision, the Magic would find it hard to add someone who does what Harris does well.

Harris certainly would not make the same closing salary of $20.5 million. He is not that player anymore — although the Magic might have to pay a premium to retain him (starting perhaps at that $20 million number and front-loading the deal for salary relief later). A three-year, $55.6-million might be a bit steep, but that might be the cost of doing business.

It is unclear what Harris wants and what the Magic are willing to spend. But with Terrence Ross’ future extremely uncertain, the Magic need a veteran to support this roster. Preferably someone who is invested in the long-term project.

The fact Harris got to this point makes this season a complete success for him. He may not have found a long-term home, but he got himself back in the game after years of injuries slowing him down.

He would have played more if not for the Magic’s plans to shut down veteran players to give young players a chance to play late in the season. And to be fair, that was as much a statement that they felt Harris would help the team win too much.

Again, this is all a positive sign for Harris. He successfully reclaimed his career and has a clear place in the league somewhere.

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The Magic are just unsure whether it will be with them moving forward.