More than winning games, the Magic’s top priority again in this stage of their rebuild is player development.
What can we expect out of the kids this season? How much improvement? Can Maurice Harkless, Nik Vucevic, Andrew Nicholson, Kyle O’Quinn and Tobias Harris take significant steps? What can Victor Oladipo give the Magic in his rookie season?
Let me take roll call.
TODAY: PF Tobias Harris, 6-8 226.
Sometimes when you are trading a player who is heading into free agency – even a solid role player – you come hat in hand. You aren’t dealing from a position of strength as you try to move a rental. You hope to at least receive a player with a salary-cap friendly expiring contract.
At first blush, the Magic’s return on the J.J. Redick deal didn't look as if it would move the needle. And then Harris got the ball in his hands regularly.
Harris had an immediate impact as a starter at power forward. In 27 games he played after arriving from the Milwaukee Bucks in a multi-player trade featuring Redick, he averaged 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds in a whopping 36 minutes per game. His rebounding was a pleasant surprise, although his shot selection was sometimes suspect, especially from 3-point land (31 percent).
Harris fell out of favor on a veteran Bucks team as a rookie, starting fast but then receiving little run (11.4 minutes per game) in just 42 outings. His second year didn’t look any more promising, and he was moved.
You see this sometimes in the NBA: A player languishing on somebody else’s bench flourishing with playing time in another city.
It was a sample size, of course. The evaluation of Harris for a full season in Orlando, barring injury, will continue.
His development will answer the question as to whether the Magic unearthed a gem from the Redick deal – or a gun-for-hire.
The Charlotte Bobcats drafted Harris as the 19th pick in the first round of the 2011 draft and immediately shipped him to Milwaukee. But obviously the Bucks didn’t believe in his future.
Milwaukee sacrificed him in order to take a gamble that they could re-sign Redick -- and lost, with J.J. ultimately leaving for the Clippers.
The Bucks were tantalized by Harris’ offensive versatility, but were turned off by his defense and other facets of his game. He also is a Man Without A Position, a ‘tweener – lacking the size required at power forward and defensive quickness at small forward.
One-trick pony offensive players earn reputations, and can face NBA life as career journeymen.
Harris likely will begin the season as the starter at power forward, but will face a challenge when veteran Glen Davis – the team’s best interior defender – returns from a lingering foot injury. While Harris likely doesn’t contemplate the Magic’s draft hopes, the 2013 edition includes three forwards with star potential who will take somebody’s job: Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle.
Harris is only 21 and perhaps maturity will make him into a better all-around player.
It’s up to Harris to prove that the Bucks were wrong.
2013-14 Projection: Harris should still put up impressive numbers with Davis on the mend and playing ahead of veteran Jason Maxiell, although his 17.3 scoring average likely will dip. Small forward Maurice Harkless and center Nik Vucevic should receive more shot attempts, with Vucevic becoming the Magic’s clear No. 1 option. There were more shots for Harris because the lottery-bound Magic played the last 10 games of the 2012-13 season without Jameer Nelson; the last 13 without Arron Afflalo; and the last 37 without Davis, three veteran starters. Harris will need to improve his 3-point shooting or leave that club in the bag. The Magic will be interested to see if Harris can maintain his 8.5 rebounding average or close to it. Most importantly, he will have to hold his ground defensively near the basket or the team will turn to the rugged Maxiell in certain matchups or late in games.
Brian Schmitz is the Magic Insider for the Orlando Sentinel. You can reach him at email@example.com. And you can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@magicinsider.