2023 Orlando Magic Player Evaluations: Kevon Harris made a mark as two-way player

Nov 3, 2022; Orlando, Florida, USA; Orlando Magic guard Kevon Harris (7) goes to the basket against Orlando Magic guard Jalen Suggs (4) during the second half at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 3, 2022; Orlando, Florida, USA; Orlando Magic guard Kevon Harris (7) goes to the basket against Orlando Magic guard Jalen Suggs (4) during the second half at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports /

The two-way contract is still a peculiar thing in the NBA. Teams are still figuring out the right players and the right way to use these tools.

It is a limited tool. It is not something a team should rely on excessively. These are still end-of-bench players after all.

For the Orlando Magic, it has been a peculiar tool as well. A player whom they have had to throw into the fire quickly. Injuries forced them to use every part of their roster. And so the deficiencies in a player come to the front.

Then again, what is this position for? How best to use this limited roster spot and the limited time a team gets to use that player?

No doubt then, this is the Magic’s most successful year with the two-way contract.

One of their two-way players graduated to a full contract this season — and seemingly should no longer be going through the two-way ringer. The other seemed like he outperformed his two-way status, playing key fourth-quarter minutes on several occasions.

The Orlando Magic had their most successful season with two-way contracts as Kevon Harris grew into something more and made an impact with his minutes.

As the Magic’s first two-year two-way contract, Kevon Harris became a vital component of this Magic team. He stepped up on several occasions. And the Magic were better having Harris on the floor. They could not keep him off the floor.

Harris’ stats were of course fairly meager. A two-way player is supposed to be developed at the end of the bench and fight for playing time. He is further limited by the games limit the two-way contract imposes.

He averaged 4.1 points per game on 37.2-percent shooting from deep in 13.4 minutes per game across 34 games. In 21 games for the Lakeland Magic, Harris averaged 18.0 points per game and shot 38.4 percent from beyond the arc in 29.7 minutes per game.

His most notable individual game was a 12-point effort that included two big 3-pointers and a  putback dunk in the fourth quarter of the Orlando Magic’s home win over the Golden State Warriors early in the season. That was the highlight of four games scoring more than 10 points this season.

Those numbers do not get into Harris’ real value though.

He is not a numbers guy. His value was more about the bit of energy and chaos he brought on the defensive end of the floor. Every number and metric defensively spoke to his impact.

The Magic had a 109.7 defensive rating with Harris on the floor, third on the team overall behind Goga Bitadze and Jonathan Isaac. He averaged 1.4 steals per 75 possessions and 3.4 deflections per 75 possessions, placing him in the top quarter of the league in those categories.

Basketball-Index’s Passing Lane Defense rating puts him in the 86th percentile and his on-ball perimeter defense rating is in the 76th percentile.

All of his numbers are coming in fairly small samples, of course. And sporadic playing time at that. But the eye test checks out. Harris gets after his matchup and is first on the floor diving for loose balls, as much as that matters as more than a show of hustle.

The Magic had no qualms about playing Harris important minutes when they needed to mix things up defensively. His playing time only dwindled because the Magic were running out of games they could use him. Harris is the first Magic player that bumped up seriously against the two-way limitations.

Harris still has limitations. And the Magic are more than happy to keep him as that change-of-pace two-way player — a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency player more than a clear-cut rotation player.

The Magic are happy to have Harris chase after a guy to change their defensive energy. But he still has work to do to improve to reach a consistent NBA level.

Most of that comes on the offensive end.

Harris is willing to mix things up physically. That is a positive for him. He gets into the lane for offensive rebounds and can finish with putback dunks. That is impressive for a player of his size.

Harris also has shown some promise as a 3-point shooter. He was fairly reliable in the 3-point shots he got. He made 45.2 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-pointers last year including 50.0 percent on his corner threes. Again, remember, this is on a small sample.

Harris still has to be smarter in attacking in transition and limiting his turnovers and decision-making on the ball. Otherwise, he will remain a 3-point outlet (super valuable for this team) and a defensive energy changer.

Harris is just so unassuming that he catches everyone by surprise with his explosiveness. But he does not always use that explosiveness to finish. He is good jumping off two feet for a putback but not nearly as effective off one foot driving to the basket.

According to Basketball-Index, he shot just 56.3 percent at the rim, 42nd percentile, and had negative ratings finishing at the rim.

But his role was small for the Magic. That is the nature of being a two-way player.

A-. . G. Orlando Magic. KEVON HARRIS

The expectations for a two-way player are obviously fairly low. All anybody wants from that roster spot is someone who comes in and plays with energy when he is called and shows hints that he can make it to the main roster.

The Orlando Magic were clearly all in on Kevon Harris from the start. They signed him to a two-year deal. And Harris paid off with it.

For the first time since the Magic started using the two-way deal, they did not go for a veteran who would provide stability for Lakeland and something predictable on the main roster, they went with someone with clear upside who just needed time to refine his skills for the NBA level.

That is precisely what Harris did in his rookie season with the Magic. He made an impact with his minutes and he looked like he belonged.

An offseason of confidence that he can play at this level and perhaps a better idea of what the Magic might ask of him could set him up to graduate from a two-way player to a full roster spot soon.

Harris needs to maintain his defensive doggedness and improve his 3-point shot to get there. From that point, he can expand his skills to be a better line-drive driver and on-ball decisionmaker.

But this season was a huge step for him. It was a huge step for the Magic’s development program and what a two-way contract is.

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Harris made a true impact. It might have been small. But that was the nature of his role. And everyone seems eager to see if Harris can grow quicker than his two-way contract and put the Magic in a bind to play him more.