2023 Orlando Magic Player Outlook: Gary Harris’ veteran stability will be vital

Gary Harris proved to be a solid veteran for the Orlando Magic and someone the team can rely on for consistency again. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Gary Harris proved to be a solid veteran for the Orlando Magic and someone the team can rely on for consistency again. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

Gary Harris probably should not think of himself as a veteran in the league.

He has been in the league since 2015 and so eight years under his belt probably does give him that status. Especially on a roster as young as the Orlando Magic’s.

Harris has seen a lot too. He has been part of a team on the rise, joining the Denver Nuggets as they transitioned from one era to the next and then watching the team select Nikola Jokic and seeing him grow into an MVP candidate and the Nuggets into a title contender.

Both Gary Harris and Terrence Ross, the two players on the roster older than 25 years old, have been part of championship-contending teams from the beginning before moving to Orlando, in part so their teams could add key players to their contending runs. They have a lot of experience to share with the young Magic players at this stage.

They have a lot to contribute on the court too. Especially if the Magic are trying to do much more than everyone is predicting for them.

Gary Harris is one of the few veterans on the Orlando Magic’s roster. But his veteran know-how and stability are key to the Magic’s success this season.

While Ross is there to be a boost off the bench, Harris is more valued for his consistency. The Magic know exactly what they will get from him every single night. And on a young team like this, consistency is one of the most valuable commodities.

So why did the Magic bring back Harris on a two-year deal? It is exactly for this reason. That veteran stability and leadership.

Last year, Harris averaged 11.1 points per game and shot 38.4 percent from beyond the arc. That kind of offense was necessary for a team that struggled with shooting. Harris was one of the Magic’s most reliable weapons.

According to numbers from Basketball Index, he shot 41.3 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. He took some of the highest quality shots in the entire league, according to Basketball Index’s shot-quality metric.

Harris’ offensive role was fairly simple. He was there to spread the floor as a spot-up shooter and occasional cutter to the basket — where he was surprisingly efficient as a scorer, averaging 1.32 points per possession on 0.6 cut possessions per game according to NBA.com’s tracking stats.

That is all the Magic needed from their veteran. He was not a creator or a playmaker. He was just there to be a floor spacer and an outlet. Give the young players trying to figure out how to create and score space to do so. There are just so few Magic players who do that to defenses.

Harris made a few of them pay, although he certainly is not a volume shooter. For a young team like the Magic, he was vital for being effective without taking a ton of shots away from other players.

He was also extremely valuable on defense.

He tallied 1.3 steals per 75 possessions, placing him in the 85th percentile. He rated in the 97th percentile in Basketball Index’s off-ball chaser defense metric and in the 85th percentile in their ball screen navigation metric.

What this all says is that Harris was an expert help defender able to dart into passing lanes and disrupt drives off the ball and then chase players around.

He is not the ace defender that many thought he could be from his days with the Nuggets. In this way, Harris is as good a supporting player on defense as he is on offense. He is important working in the background to make others better.

That bares out statistically too.

With Harris on the floor, the Magic had a 104.2 offensive rating with Harris on the floor, compared to 102.4 offensive rating with Harris off the floor. Defensively, the Magic had a 110.1 defensive rating with him on the floor and 112.0 with him off the floor.

These numbers do not deviate so heavily from the Magic’s season averages — 103.9 offensive rating and 112.1 defensive rating. But the team was clearly better with Harris on the floor. He was a stabilizer for this young team, especially coming off the bench and playing with some of the Magic’s extreme youth on the bench.

Harris was just a steady drumbeat and someone the Magic could rely on consistently to do the right things and be a good example in the background, helping the machine work. Or what counted as the machine last year.

Harris re-signed with the Magic for two years, reinvesting himself into this rebuild and continuing to grow with this team. He put his faith in these young players for his next contract.

Of course, that goes to the bigger story of his career.

Last year was as much about Harris proving his health as anything else — he played 61 games, the most he played since his famous 2018 season when he averaged 17.5 points per game. This season is about proving he can stay healthy again.

Of course, he is starting behind on that mark too.

Harris will miss training camp while recovering from a torn meniscus suffered in the offseason. He is back to shooting and doing some individual and drill work with the team (granted the team has had only two practices due to Hurricane Ian so far). It does not seem Harris will be out for so long.

But another start to the season or moment where Harris is on the bench and watching while rehabbing an injury brings up the worst parts of his career so far. It certainly hurts a Magic team that just needs the stability he brings.

There is a reason a lot of the debates for the Magic entering training camp included whether Gary Harris might start at shooting guard over Jalen Suggs. That is how valuable Harris’ shooting and veteran know-how was viewed.

Harris will still have that role to play this season. He will still be valuable as that veteran stabilizer, floor spacer and defender. The Magic have a lot of young players they are excited about, but it is all a mystery.

Harris is not a mystery. the Magic know exactly what they are going to get from him. And his skill set and know-how are the perfect support for the Magic.

All Orlando needs from Harris is more of the same he provided last year. It was hard to be upset with Harris. He was the exact veteran the team needed.

Next. 1 question for every Orlando Magic player entering training camp. dark

And his value and contributions should only increase as this team generally improves.