By Jordan Rodewald of BleacherReport – Despite playing in only 27 games as a member of the Orlando Magic, Tobias Harris holds the key to the future of the franchise.
Acquired from the Milwaukee Bucks at last season’s trade deadline, he immediately provided the Magic with a spark. Averaging 17.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists on 45.3 percent shooting, he quickly helped fans overcome the loss of J.J. Redick.
Now, heading into his first full season with the team, he’s an essential piece to solving the puzzle that general manager Rob Hennigan has begun working on.
Not only does his role dictate the roster’s current state, but it will impact how things look in the future.
His ability to play either forward position well is a benefit, yet it is troublesome because it influences the development of other young talent. That, in turn, forces management into making difficult decisions in regard to current, veteran players.
Taking a deeper look provides more insight.
Small Forward or Power Forward: Which One Is It?
After trotting 28 different starting lineups onto the court in 2012-13, it’s clear that head coach Jacque Vaughn is a fan of trial and error.
What’s still unclear—based on coaching decisions—is whether Harris is a small forward or power forward.
That’s something that should cause a little bit of concern.
While Harris was used most often at power forward, he started two games at small forward and even one at center. Additionally, it’s likely that he bounced around between the 3 and 4 during games due to substitution.
Was Vaughn using the latter portion of last season to get a feel for his new-look team? Absolutely.
Still, the inability to find a sticking spot for Harris can negatively influence the development of the other youngsters on Orlando’s roster.
If Harris is a 3, where does that leave Maurice Harkless? If he’s is a 4, where does that leave Andrew Nicholson?
Those are just two questions that arise due to the indecisiveness of where to play Harris.
Eventually a decision needs to be made, and ultimately it should result in him becoming the team’s small forward of the future.
With a solid 6’8″, 226-pound frame, Harris could play the vast majority of his minutes at power forward. This would be especially true if he was able to average the rebounding numbers he put up with the Magic last season.
But without a consistent enough post game, it’s hard to justify him as a legitimate power forward.
The above video demonstrates why he is a much more effective player at small forward. His explosive first step, mid-range jump shot and ability to create off the dribble are all definite strengths.
Not only that, but he moves well without the ball and usually is creative and quick with his cuts into the lane or to the hoop. Playing small forward would better allow him to capitalize on those abilities.
Solidifying himself at the 3 will also be beneficial for the other young players on Orlando’s roster.
Not Finding a Position Is Detrimental to the Franchise
More important than the success and development of Harris is that of the franchise, and the two are highly correlated.
Continually shuffling Harris around the lineup makes it much more difficult for his young teammates to find their long-term positions.
In turn, that complicates the way management moves forward with trades, draft picks and free-agent signings.
As briefly touched on earlier, the indecisiveness of where to play Harris directly impacts the likes of Harkless and Nicholson. When he’s bouncing around the lineup, so are they.
Playing Harris at power forward creates a logjam there, with Nicholson and Glen Davis slotted in at the position as well.
Three players—two of whom are youngsters—battling for minutes doesn’t exactly sound like good competition. In fact, it will take away Nicholson’s minutes and will hamper the progress he made last year.
If Harris plays small forward, it moves Harkless elsewhere—like to shooting guard.
That’d be great if Arron Afflalo and Victor Oladipo weren’t occupying that position. Where will Harkless get his minutes? And when he does, which other player will suffer?
See the problem?
Tinkering with lineups is something that coaches do, but Vaughn will need to find one and stick to it this season.
Management’s best option is to trade Davis and Afflalo in order to free up minutes for the Magic’s other youngsters. That is assuming those guys are part of long-term plans.
The Magic figure to compete for the league’s worst record in 2013-14 and will likely have a pick near the top of the draft. Where Harris cements himself in the lineup will have some bearing on what position the team decides to focus on come draft night as well.
Ultimately, Harris is the key element in not only the state of Orlando’s current roster but where the organization goes in the future.
And really, it all boils down to what Vaughn feels works best.
That decision will have long-term ramification