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Growing Up Andrew Harrison

A month into the season, the player that many expected to be a training camp casualty has turned into a contributor. So, how did this happen?

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Harrison, former second round pick of the Memphis Grizzlies, spent last year in D-League purgatory before receiving a guaranteed contract one game in to Summer League action. The fan reaction to that contract? A large amount of criticism, snarky remarks, and general disdain.

Harrison was routinely the target of fan angst, particularly on Twitter. When it came time for roster cuts, there were calls for him, rather than Jordan Adams, to get the ax to make room for Troy Williams, or Mario Chalmers, or whatever player fans wanted. Those calls remained early into the season as Harrison and Baldwin battled it out for the role of Mike Conley’s chief backup.

That battle appears to be done. Baldwin saw his playing time steadily decreased before being sent briefly to Iowa. Harrison has entrenched himself as the team’s backup point guard.

So, how did we get here?

Even after a year in Iowa, Harrison had plenty of issues: he pounded the ball into the ground; he tended to ISO too much; he couldn’t get into the flow of the offense; too much of his offensive game was predicated on driving to the hoop and drawing fouls, a skill that wouldn’t necessarily transfer to the NBA.

In spite of all those shortcomings, Fizdale saw something. When everyone else saw a dead-end, Fizdale saw a player he could develop. Starting with game one, Fizdale gave Harrison playing time, and his trust has been rewarded. Harrison appears to have taken to coaching, and over the course of the young season, he’s steadily improved on the offensive end, developing a skill set to complement the competent defense he’s played so far.

Comparing Harrison vs. Baldwin

A couple of weeks ago, Peter Edmiston of the Commercial Appeal put together a comparison of Baldwin and Harrison, looking at the effective field goal percentage of teammates when one or the other was on the floor. Using NBA Wowy, I’ve updated the effective field goal numbers through the start of this week, and added a few other categories (true shooting, points per possession, percent of shots assisted) for comparison.

As you can see, outside of the percent of shots assisted, teammates are better in every category with Harrison on the floor and Baldwin off.

Obviously, this data comes with the standard “small sample size” caveat, particularly where Baldwin is concerned. Harrison was given more playing time, so there’s more data to work with for him. Even with that said, it’s the only data available, and based on that, it’s clear the Grizzlies are better with Harrison on the floor than they are with Baldwin, at least right now.

What’s Improved, What Still Needs Work

Harrison’s game has shown improvement from game one, and it’s steadily gotten better.

Barely two weeks ago, Harrison was in the top ten in the percentage of his possessions that ended up as ISOs.

Now, he’s not even in the top 30. It’s also worth noting that Harrison’s isolations are producing 0.80 points per possession, which is better than even superstars John Wall (0.63) and James Harden (0.74).

Right now, the best thing that Harrison does is defense. While Harrison can get caught ball watching off the ball, he’s a tenacious defender on-ball, and he plays with dogged effort. His chase-down block of State Farm salesman Chris Paul will never get old.

I’m going to get that block tattooed on the inside of my eyelids.

In addition to his defense, Harrison has also shown improvement on his drives. Rather than attacking the hoop looking for contact, Harrison has shown more willingness to look for his teammates, trying to find the open man rather than just “Derrick Rose-ing” it (i.e. driving just looking for his own shot).

Even with these improvements, there’s still plenty that Harrison needs to work on to get his game to the next level. For one thing, he needs to cut out the stupid fouls. There are times, out on the perimeter or otherwise, when Harrison gets overly aggressive and fouls when he doesn’t need to. That’s a minor issue, and hopefully one that will rectify itself with time.

The bigger issue right now is Harrison’s shooting. His shot chart for the season looks like it spent too much time in the sun. Outside of the corner threes, Harrison is worse than the league average everywhere that he’s taken a shot.

The shooting, along with steadily building his ability to run the Grizzlies offense without Conley on the floor, must still improve if Harrison wants to take his game to the next level. Right now, Harrison has shown flashes of being a competent rotation player, even if his ceiling isn’t starting caliber.

It’s important to remember that, even with his year spent in the D-League, Harrison is still an NBA rookie, and he’s going to have moments where he looks the part. But on the bright side, less than 20 games into his career, there’s already been improvement. The player who many wanted to write off even before they’d seen him in a regular season game has developed into a valuable player.

That fact is a credit to Fizdale, and it’s a credit to Harrison, who’s been willing to take coaching and polish the rough edges of his game. Harrison still hasn’t realized his full potential, but it’s safe to say that his potential is greater than many expected even just a month ago.