By John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com
Tobias Harris is the type of athlete who practically oozes confidence out his every pore. On the basketball court, there is no situation that scares him and no moment too big for him.
He’ll take – and make – big shots, as proven by his game-winning dunk against Oklahoma City two weeks ago. And Harris has no hesitation when it comes to his position on the floor, willingly playing either small forward or power forward against bigger players.
But Harris’ seemingly unshakeable confidence was admittedly rattled this time a year ago when he was traded by the Milwaukee Bucks to the Orlando Magic. Harris was plenty excited about the chance for more playing time in Orlando, but he was also baffled by another team giving up on him. It opened his eyes to the realities of professional basketball and his need to make big strides in Orlando.
“Now, I feed off my own energy. That comes from being in Milwaukee, not playing and getting traded,’’ Harris said of the transaction last Feb. 21. “It showed me that the NBA can go by so fast. Each and every game, I never take it for granted. I approach every game the same way. The night before the game and during the game, I approach it the same way. It just comes from learning the game.’’
With the one-year anniversary of Harris’ trade to Orlando quickly approaching, it’s only fitting that the Magic (16-38) are in Milwaukee tonight to face the Bucks (9-43). Harris, Doron Lamb and Beno Udrih were acquired by the Magic just minutes prior to the trade deadline last February in exchange for J.J. Redick, Gustavo Ayon and Ish Smith. Harris said on Tuesday that he hopes the Magic can come out and play well tonight and set a tone for the second half of the season.
“Tonight is a big game for us coming off the all-star break because you can find out a lot about teams this time of year,’’ Harris said. “My mindset is for us to go out here and excel and come out with the win. For the last 28 games, my mindset is to see how many we can win. Let’s make a push and go as far as we can and grow.’’
Harris was buried on the bench and not playing in Milwaukee at the time of the trade. And the 6-foot-9, 235-pound forward made the most of his time in Orlando following the trade, averaging 17.5 points and 9.3 rebounds on an injury ravaged Magic team where he was the featured player.
But Harris admitted on Tuesday that hearing the initial news that he had been traded was shocking to the senses for him. Luckily for him, he had a former NBA standout and a fellow University of Tennessee product to give him a good piece of advice.
“It was eye-opening for me as a player to realize that the NBA is a business and it showed me that this league is a lot about confidence,’’ Harris said. “When I got traded from here, to begin with I was at first discouraged because I was here in Milwaukee. One of the first persons who called me was Dale Ellis, who played here. He was just telling me, `Don’t ever think that just because they traded you, that doesn’t mean they don’t think that you can play. You can play in this league for a long time and when you get to Orlando you need to have that type of confidence.’
“That just pushed me to get better and grow,’’ Harris added. “It’s a trade that sparked me as a basketball player and my career. I’m truly blessed to be in this position.’’
Early in the season, Harris had to overcome a serious ankle injury that knocked him out of action for seven weeks. He’s since had to adjust his game to playing alongside of leading scorer Arron Afflalo, guards Jameer Nelson and Victor Oladipo and center Nikola Vucevic.
Harris came into Tuesday’s game against his former team averaging 13.7 points and 7.5 rebounds a game. He’s impressed Magic coach Jacque Vaughn with his serious approach to the game and his willingness to put in the work to improve his skills.
“Overall, he loves playing the game of basketball. He loves being around the game and competing,’’ Vaughn said. “Those are qualities that you want in guys in your locker room.’’
Harris has impressed upon his teammates his seriousness about basketball and his wiliness to work to improve his game. That approach earned him the nickname of “All Business’’ early in life and it has endeared him with his Magic coaches. Harris, 21, takes serious the notion that if he can improve in the days, weeks and months ahead that it will greatly help the Orlando Magic make tremendous strides.
“My father instilled that in me since I was a kid,’’ Harris said of his advanced maturity. “Going through high school, college and the NBA, he always said if I wanted something to go out and get it and that’s how I looked at it. As a player, this is my job. People get up and go to work from 9-to-5. Well, this is what I call my 9-to-9 because that’s how I approach it. I give 100 percent focus to the game and what I have to do to help my team. I want us to be a great team and I know my role is important here.’’
Harris is Orlando’s second-best rebounder behind Vucevic, one of its go-to scorers late in games and late in the shot clock and arguably its best hustler when it comes to running the fastbreak. The area where he needs improvement, however, is shot selection and sharing the ball better with his team. Vaughn said he’s talked to Harris about how becoming a more efficient player will be the next step of progression for him. He’s hoping that Harris can learn from Afflalo, who is posting career-best numbers across the board this season.
“He’s still growing (in the efficiency area),’’ Vaughn said. “Arron is a little older and it took him a few years to realize how efficiency can help your game. Tobias is getting there. And with time and the more he’s around us, the more he’ll learn about it.’’
Harris said he’s willing to do whatever it takes to improve his game. His trade from Milwaukee a year ago was an eye-opener, and he said he wants to become the type of player who will be in Orlando for years to come and never have to deal with getting traded again.
“Being a part of this young core – just my name being affiliated with that – it’s special, really,’’ he said. “I’d love to be in Orlando as long as I can be. I love it here (in Orlando), I love the city and I love the fans. And I love playing (in Orlando). I’m a player who loves basketball, so to be in a good situation with a young team and a great organization is a big key for me.’’