Orlando Magic lose a lot more than shooting without Gary Harris

Gary Harris had an important season in 2022 to reestablish himself. But injuries will keep the Orlando Magic guard out again. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Gary Harris had an important season in 2022 to reestablish himself. But injuries will keep the Orlando Magic guard out again. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic are no strangers to injuries the last few years. It has been the defining story for the team, eventually pushing the team over the edge into a full rebuild and coloring the first year of their reset roster.

No one has a roster that makes it all the way through the 82-game schedule without some injury — and often some major injuries. The team need a full roster capable of filling in. The Magic have enough young guys that everyone is always on standby.

Unfortunately, one month before training camp, the Magic are already going to start this year worried about some injuries.

Orlando Magic guard Gary Harris has suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee and is likely to miss training camp if not significant time. It will be a big loss on and off the court for the Magic.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN was the first to report — later confirmed by Luke Hetrick of Spectrum Sports 360 and Khobi Price of the Orlando Sentinel — Magic guard Gary Harris tore the meniscus in his left knee. He will undergo further evaluations to determine if surgery is needed. A timetable for his return is undetermined — it could range from a month or two or could be the entire season depending on the severity of the injury.

To say the least, this feels like a big loss all around.

Harris was a solid veteran player for the Magic last year, averaging 11.1 points per game while shooting 38.4-percent from beyond the arc.

Those numbers feel modest, but his consistency as a shooter and a defender were needed for a young Magic roster. And more importantly for Harris, after years dealing with ankle and adductor injuries, he was able to make it through the season.

His scoring average and the 61 games he played were the most he had since his breakout 2018 season (when he averaged 17.5 points per game for the Denver Nuggets in 67 appearances). Harris’ biggest battle has always been against health. He is an effective role player when he is able to be on the court.

Last year was about getting back to being healthy and reclaiming some of that play. That was something he was able to accomplish. It brought a lot of excitement for what was coming this season where he could help a young team improve with his play.

To see another injury derail him, especially after seemingly finding his footing and inking a fresh two-year deal with the Magic, is just difficult to see. He figured to be a key player for the team this year, certainly part of the rotation and possibly competing for a spot in the starting lineup.

That seems to be out the window.

The on-court production and impact was clear with Harris. Last year, the Magic had a -5.9 net rating (104.2 offensive rating/110.1 defensive rating) with Harris on the court compared to -9.6 net rating (102.4 offensive rating/112.0 defensive rating) off the floor.

Those are slight but clear differences with Harris on and off the floor. Considering the team’s poor shooting, having a player capable of hitting an outside shot the way Harris is able to is essential for this team’s success. He had big shooting games throughout the season that were able to free up space for the team.

The Magic have few players with any kind of gravity, Harris is one of the few defenses always had to account for.

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That is what a player like Harris is supposed to do: He makes life easier for everyone. It is why some considered Gary Harris the better option to start at shooting guard instead of prized draft pick Jalen Suggs. That is, if the team wants to win.

Regardless of what the Magic ultimately may have decided (remember too that Harris was slated to start opening night last year until he became a late scratch and Suggs filled in permanently — Harris started just 30 of his 61 games last year), Harris would have played a key role.

It was not merely his ability to space the floor as a shooter and be a solid defender when called upon. It was also that he is one of the few veteran players. He is the kind of player Jamahl Mosley could rely on to be in the right spot and do unspoken things to help the team on the court.

He is someone who could help fill in gaps during training camp especially or in film study. Veterans play a major role for every team. For young teams they help keep teams focused on the right things through their example. And especially at the formation stages early in the season, their buy-in clues everyone else to buy in too.

The Magic are an incredibly young team. The only two real veterans on the roster are Gary Harris and Terrence Ross. Orlando is banking on their group being serious and focused to take steps. They have shown every indication they can do that.

But this is still a team that has never won at the NBA level before and having players with that experience is key.

Orlando has plenty of options on the roster to fill in and help out. Jalen Suggs may well slot into that shooting guard spot depending on his own health. Cole Anthony, R.J. Hampton and Caleb Houstan can all play the 2-guard. Orlando could even get weird with its lineups if it really wants to.

But all of those options, as promising as they might be, are unproven. Harris was going to give the Magic something the team could feel sure about. An important outlet on and off the court for a young roster.

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At this point, nobody can really say when Harris will be back. When he does return, it will be a major relief to a young roster. Harris could be that important.