Gary Harris finds his mark for the Orlando Magic

Gary Harris is the often forgotten fifth starter on a promising young Orlando Magic team. As the playoffs come into focus, his importance is becoming greater as a shooter and calming presence for the team.
Gary Harris is a critical piece for the Orlando Magic. Not for the points he scores but for his spacing and the calm he brings to the team. As he gets healthier and established, the veteran is making an impact for the team.
Gary Harris is a critical piece for the Orlando Magic. Not for the points he scores but for his spacing and the calm he brings to the team. As he gets healthier and established, the veteran is making an impact for the team. / Lauren Leigh Bacho/GettyImages

The Orlando Magic opened Thursday's game against the Utah Jazz with a relatively simple play.

Wendell Carter handed the ball to Paolo Banchero near the top of the key and started crashing toward the paint. Banchero followed him toward the basket. When the defender on the weak side pinched in, Banchero slid it over to Gary Harris.

Big mistake leaving the veteran open. He drained the three, one of three the veteran made and one of two he hit to open the game and give the Magic some early offensive life.

The Magic are not going to ask Harris to do a lot more offensively other than this. His role is to be available and ready to shoot when the ball swings to him. They know and trust that he will make the right decision in these moments and not abuse the green light he has as one of the few shooters on the team. He is not there to create.

That does not mean Harris does not have a ton of importance to every aspect of the game.

Orlando is short on shooters. It is short on experienced postseason players. And the team can always use more solid defenders who understand the team concept.

Harris checks all those boxes. And, as the team gets serious about its Playoff chase, Harris is starting to come back alive in the middle of (another) injury-filled season. And just in the nick of time.

"I'm just trying to go out there and win games," Harris said after practice Saturday. "Whether I'm starting, coming off the bench, whatever. I'm just trying to play winning basketball however that is. I feel like that's what makes our team so good. We could have 10 guys in the starting lineup, being able to go out there play your minutes, play hard and try to be the best teammates when you're out there."

Harris is averaging just 7.2 points per game, the lowest since his rookie season. He is making 36.9 percent of his 3-pointers on just 3.8 attempts per game. Harris has never been a volume shooter and the Magic have had to mix and match lineups as the team dealt with injuries at the point guard spot and with Harris himself.

Since returning from injury on Feb. 2, Harris is still only averaging 7.3 points per game, but he is making 48.5 percent of his 3-pointers on 3.3 attempts per game. Like the rest of the team, Harris may not be taking a ton of threes, but he is making them now.

Being in the starting lineup has helped too.

In 10 games as a starter this year, Harris is averaging 10.1 points per game and shooting 47.7 percent from the floor. That includes his 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting in Thursday's win over the Jazz.

The starting group with Harris posts a +1.4 net rating (113.5 offensive rating/112.1 defensive rating) in 74 minutes across seven games this season.

That is not anything to write home about, but hints at the success the team can have especially with Harris starting to round back into form. Harris fits in perfectly for what the Magic need from the fifth starter.

"Just defensively it's more than anything," coach Jamahl Mosley said after practice Saturday. "I think he does a great job of just being steady. Picking up multiple players. You've seen him pick up full court a ton. Offensively, what he provides space and a steadiness and a poise to the game and the way we are playing."

That is what the Magic are looking for from the veteran wing more than anything. They value his steady play. He is not a heavy-usage player at just 12.4 percent and 5.6 field goal attempts per game (the fewest since his rookie season). Orlando is not running a ton of plays for him.

But his presence can make a huge impact because of his ability to space the floor and work within the team's defensive scheme.

The Magic have a +2.7 net rating with Harris on the floor including a stellar-for-them 114.8 offensive rating. As if to drive the point about having shooting on the floor home, the Magic are only better with Joe Ingles on the floor (although it should be noted Harris and Ingles have shared the floor a lot this season).

Orlando has a lot of players who attack and score. Harris is there to be a spacer and a calming presence. He is the outlet when the team gets stuck.

And his importance is only going to grow as the Playoffs get closer.

"Between he and Joe, what they are able to bring to the table with their maturity and their experiences, they have had playoff experience," Mosley said after practice Saturday. "They understand the value of the basketball, the value of possessions, understanding keeping your poise no matter what is going on. Their demeanor and their approach as professionals is key to this group."

Harris still has a lot of value to give this team. Now that the group is healthier -- Jamahl Mosley reported no injuries on Saturday and Jonathan Isaac went through practice -- the lineups and rotations are starting to settle into what they may be when the playoffs begin.

Everyone has their focus on that and everyone is preparing for those postseason battles to come.

As team put more focus on how to stop the Magic, two things are going to become important:

The first is that teams will try to lock the Magic out of the paint and force them to shoot jumpers. That makes hitting threes -- which the team did at 39.5 percent in February -- all the more important to stay in games.

The second is that it means the Magic must be more committed to their principles and identity to overcome the normal swings throughout the season.

In all of these ways, Harris can help the team a ton.

"It's always nice to make threes, but we're a defensive team," Harris said after practice Saturday. "We're worried about getting stops. Making threes definitely opens up everything for us. There are going to be games when shots don't go in. We can't hang our hat on a team that just makes threes. We have to stick to our normal principles and then hitting threes is just a plus for us."

Harris has gone through his ups and downs this year especially. But he is rounding into form. And there are few players who understand how important it is to be locked in and consistent quite like Harris can.

Next. Mosley quiets doubters 03.02.24. Jamahl Mosley has quieted his doubters, shifted Magic's narrative. dark

And Harris is starting to pick up steam and give the Magic the shooting relief they will need for success in this playoff chase.