By John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com
Standout forward Tobias Harris has a pregame routine that works for him and he’s sticking to it no matter how much good-natured grief he has to take from his Orlando Magic teammates.
“He always comes in so early and I think he’s crazy for that,’’ Magic center Nikola Vucevic joked.
Harris’ nickname – “All Business’’ – is a product of his focused and regimented preparation for games. And it perfectly sums up just how seriously he takes his craft for the Magic (15-11), who host the rival Atlanta Hawks (16-12) on Sunday night at 6 p.m.
For 7 p.m. Magic games at the Amway Center, Harris usually arrives three hours prior to tipoff so that he can closely adhere to a pregame routine that has worked for him since he got to the NBA 4 ½ seasons ago. And for road games, Harris always takes the earliest bus possible to the arena – the one usually packed with first- and second-year players – so that he can get himself ready for tipoff.
Considering the enormous success that Harris has had – especially at the start of games – there is no need for him to change a routine that helps him get his shot, his body and his mind right before games. Of Harris’ 14.6 points per game, 5.4 points come in first quarters when he shoots a stellar 56.1 percent from the floor. To put those numbers into perspective, Harris’ first-quarter production is better than that of LeBron James (4.8 points), Kevin Love (4.8 points), Kawhi Leonard (5.2 points) and Atlanta’s Paul Millsap (5.3 points).
And since Magic coach Scott Skiles made a lineup change on Nov. 24, moves that resulted in Harris shifting from power forward back to his natural position of small forward, he’s scoring 6.4 points in first quarters – twice the amount of any other quarter – while shooting a robust 58 percent from the floor.
“I think that’s a huge role for me, trying to be one of the leaders on the team, trying to bring energy every night and keep my attitude positive to get the guys going,’’ Harris said of his fast starts. “When the game starts I care about the next guy more than myself. I know the five (Magic) guys who are out there. If we can have a collective effort with a lot of energy (at the start of games) that helps us going forward. That’s been my mindset and it’s been working.’’
Has it ever been working. In Orlando’s 102-94 defeat of Portland on Friday, Harris was dialed in from the start, scoring 13 points and swiping two steals in the first quarter alone. That strong start set Harris up for one of his best all-around games of the season as he contributed 25 points (on nine of 13 shooting), 12 rebounds and three steals.
“Tobias is having a good year,’’ Skiles raved. “He’s dependable and we know pretty much night in and night out what we’re going to get from him.’’
Skiles takes particular delight in seeing Harris’ preparation and professionalism considering that he played a big role in the start of his NBA career. Coach of the Milwaukee Bucks back in 2011, Skiles pushed for them to trade for the 6-foot-9, 235-pound forward on draft night because of his versatility on the court and his focused approach off of it. Seeing how Harris, now 23, has blossomed gives Skiles a great sense of pride.
“We never have any worry about whether Tobias is going to come ready to play,’’ Skiles said. “On a game day at 7 o’clock (for tipoff), he’s here by 4 o’clock and he has a whole regiment that he does to get himself right and ready to play. It’s fun for me to see because I had him when he was so young and it’s special seeing him now become such a professional.’’
As for Harris’ three-hour pregame routine, he gets to the arena extra early so that he can go through a detailed shooting drill from various spots all over the floor.
Following a stretching session with athletic trainers, Harris usually sprawls out on the locker room floor with a book to get his mind calmed down. Hitting the pre-game chapel session is also a must for Harris, who is often expressive about his faith. And once on the floor, Harris attacks the warm-ups with the intensity of an overtime game to get his juices flowing for the challenge ahead.
“He’s always ready and in that mindset to be ready from the beginning,’’ Vucevic said of Harris. “You can tell from his warm-up that he goes really hard to try and get warm. And before the game he’s really focused and it shows on the court with him doing what he has to do.’’
Added shooting guard Evan Fournier: “It’s nice to have Tobias playing at this level. He’s back to playing 100 percent confident (following the lineup change) and that’s what we need from him. He’s doing a lot – he’s a big (small forward), he can guard the big guys and he can shoot the three. It’s just great to have Tobias playing at this level.’’
Harris’ professionalism was a big reason why the Magic were determined to re-sign him in July not long after he became a restricted free agent. And Harris has justified the the four-year contract by posting career numbers in rebounding (7.5), assists (1.9), steals (1.1) and blocks (0.6). Harris’ scoring is down (from 17.1 ppg. to 14.6 ppg.), but that’s a sacrifice that he’s been more than willing to make in the name of the Magic having much more success this season.
“My goal this year is to just win,’’ said Harris, who has led the Magic in scoring five times and in rebounding 10 times. “I’m going to win by any means and try to go out there and have our team on the right page to be able to win at the end of the game.
“Having a contract is great and it takes the pressure off my back a little bit, but at the end of the day I’m still going to go out there and play like I’m fighting for my next deal,’’ Harris continued. “That’s just been my mindset since I was a kid until now. I’m never satisfied with my play or our team’s play. I think we can always be better.’’
That, Harris said, is why he will continue to arrive at the arena long before his teammates and stick with a routine that helps him be successful. After all, winning is what matters most after seeing the Magic struggle mightily the past three seasons. Like their focused forward, this Orlando team under Skiles is “All Business’’ – just the way Harris likes it.
“We’re not content with where we are right now. We feel like each and every day we can be better,’’ Harris said on Friday night following Orlando’s third straight victory and their ninth win in the past 12 games. “Winning is contagious and everybody in this locker room has that feeling now. It’s like a little itch that we have to keep going for because it feels good every day coming to practice, playing in front of our fans and (having) our fans knowing that we should be winning these games. I think that’s one of the best feelings.’