For as bad as Andrew Harrison has looked this year, I dare you to challenge me on two claims: 1) he’s the team’s second best ball handler - ok Marc Gasol probably is better but he’s not a primary ball handler, so I’ll amend the statement to “Andrew Harrison is the team’s second best primary ball handler,” which is an important role - and also 2) he has definitely gotten better since the beginning of the season.
As he’s accumulated more and more minutes, the former University of Kentucky guard has looked more steady at the point guard position. Granted, he still makes mistakes, turns the ball over, and fouls too often in addition to being positively dreadful at creating offense for himself.
But that’s ok. The kid’s only a rookie. We knew it wouldn’t be pretty - why do you think former coaches Lionel Hollins and Dave Joerger never played inexperienced players? But many fans were ready to watch poor play just so they could see ANY player development from the youngins, and now here we are.
So this is what we’ve seen so far from Harrison: 7.7 points, 3.7 assists, 2.5 rebounds, and about a steal per contest on - hold your family close and tell them you love them - 28.2 percent shooting from the field and 21.5 percent from deep.
By pretty much all standards that is not good, really not even close to good. So let’s just pretend for a minute like that doesn’t exist so we can focus on what has potential to be good, such as his aggressive driving to the rim.
According to NBAsavant, Harrison has attempted and made the most driving layup attempts of any player on the team - yes, more even than Mike Conley - hitting 20 of 40 such attempts. Of those 40 shots, all but one were taken within the restricted area. Other than jump shots, which make up about half of Harrison’s shot selection, driving layups are the next most prominent shot type at 18.1 percent, followed by regular layups at 7.7 percent.
A lot of these driving layups are the result of broken plays in which Harrison finds himself with the ball and little time left on the shot clock. That would somewhat explain why he’s shooting only 50 percent, about ten percent lower than the average for the 115 players who’ve attempted 15 or more driving layups this season. But there are other times when he tries to do too much, attacking much bigger defenders in the hopes of drawing a foul, then throwing up a wild prayer without getting the call or the bucket.
But Harrison has begun to get calls on drives to the rim; in fact he has by far the highest free throw attempt rate of any player on the team, averaging a free throw every other shot. That’s the 15th best rate in the entire league for players who’ve played 150 or more minutes. He’s improved at absorbing and selling contact which has allowed him to get to the line three and a half times per game.
But when he has time and space, Harrison has shown that he has a surprisingly deep bag of tricks he can dip into when he senses he can get to the rim. He’s shown an impressively quick spin move, a freezing hesitation dribble, and a decent in-and-out dribble when entering the second level of the defense. However, these moves have been one-offs, appearing with little or no frequency since.
What Harrison has shown more of lately has been an effective - and sexy - eurostep. He first showcased the move against eurostep expert James Harden and the Houston Rockets:
He sees space as he comes down the floor in transition, makes Eric Gordon commit to cutting him off to the left, then exploits the negative space between Gordon and Ryan Anderson (who found himself preoccupied with picking up Zach Randolph) for the easy and flashy two.
Then two nights ago he busted out the move twice more against the Celtics in Boston.
First of all: wow, Amir Johnson. Get baked!
Secondly, JaMychal Green sets a great flip screen - faking a screen to the top of the key before setting the pick for a drive baseline - on Jae Crowder. Harrison utilizes the screen, then operates another left-to-right euro-move.
In the second instance against the C’s, Harrison again attacks in transition, incorporating a fake pass into the eurostep, convincing Kelly Olynyk to cut off the passing lane to an open Marc Gasol, before bringing the ball back to his left and finishing at the rack.
Harrison is too deep in the paint for Gerald Green to be able to help effectively (and if you look closely, Green actually fouls Harrison with his right arm), granting Harrison “the scoop and the score!” as charged up Grizzlies play by play man Pete Pranica describes it.
Harrison has found an effective way to get to the rim both in transition and in the half court pick and roll. It will be worth watching to see if he increasingly goes back to the euro as a potential killer go-to move, or if the eurostep is simply one of a few average maneuvers he can pick from when attacking the paint. He clearly has a long way to go in terms of offensive effectiveness. But you can’t say, watching those eurosteps, that there’s no merit in playing him. The talent is beginning to manifest itself. It’s just going to take a little bit of time before it does so consistently.