Who is the Orlando Magic’s best individual perimeter defender?

Franz Wagner shined as a versatile defender in his rookie season with the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
Franz Wagner shined as a versatile defender in his rookie season with the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports /
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Gary Harris, Orlando Magic
Gary Harris stayed with the Orlando Magic passed the trade deadline. Now the team has to have a big decision on his future. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports /

Who is the Orlando Magic’s best perimeter defender?

The Case for Gary Harris

One of the big debates and training camp battles that we will be watching throughout the preseason will be how the Magic settle on who to go with at shooting guard. Indeed, Jalen Suggs is not a guarantee to be starting there as the team looks to win a little bit more.

It is worth remembering that Gary Harris was set to start opening night last year against the San Antonio Spurs before he became a late scratch. Suggs started that game and things seemed to be working well enough that they stuck with it. It makes sense that Orlando would choose the young player with the season they had last year.

Now the Magic’s goals are still not all in on winning and making the playoffs. But the Magic say they want to win. So it makes some sense to lean toward the veteran in Harris for some lineup balance and spacing.

The biggest advantage Harris would have is his shooting. He is a critically good shooter for a team that lacks it.

But Harris is no slouch defensively either.

Opponents scored only 0.83 points per possession against him in isolation, according to NBA.com’s tracking stats, the best mark among perimeter rotation players. Granted that was only in 35 possessions (a sign perhaps that teams were loathed to go after him).

Despite his seeming small size — he does not have the other-worldly length of his teammates — he still displayed plenty of defensive versatility. According to Basketball Index, he mostly defended slashers and secondary playmakers.

Like Suggs, he ranks positively as a defender, ranking in the 75th percentile in on-ball perimeter defense last year. Like Suggs too, he was great at getting deflections and steals as well as chasing down defenders.

Suggs might be the more dynamic athlete in passing lanes, but Harris is just a smart and capable defender. He does not do anything super flashy but he is always seemingly in the right position.

The Magic’s guards do get a bit light.

Cole Anthony is a better defender than he gets credit for — Basketball Index rates him in the 67th percentile in on-ball perimeter defense. He had his struggles and is not characterized as a great defender although he took some important steps last year.

R.J. Hampton is being groomed as a strong defender. Everyone around the organization talks about him as if he will be one of the team’s best stoppers.

But the numbers all say outside of his ability to get steals, Hampton’s defense left a lot to be desired. However, Hampton gave up 0.80 points per possession in pick and rolls last season on 215 possessions. He stepped up to the plate in that front.