Both Andrew Harrison and his brother Aaron were highly recruited out of high school. Eventually, the brothers committed to the University of Kentucky, where they helped the team to consecutive Final Four appearances.
However, when the twins forewent their final two years of eligibility at Kentucky, they found the NBA market for them tepid. The Grizzlies managed to acquire the rights to Andrew on draft night, but assigned him to Iowa, where many expected him to languish for the foreseeable future.
Instead, a strong campaign with the Energy, coupled with a hot start in Vegas, led to his signing with the Grizzlies. So, now that he’s on the roster, what should Grizzlies fans expect from the point guard out of Kentucky?
2015-16 Season Overview
Harrison was originally selected at the 44th overall pick in last year's draft by the Phoenix Suns, who promptly swapped out the Kentucky product for Jon Leuer. After a stint with the Grizzlies during Orlando Summer League, the Grizzlies gave Harrison the D-League assignment and sent him to Iowa to join the Energy.
During his time in Iowa, Harrison played in 46 games, averaging 18.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists, and 1.5 steals. That performance, coupled with a decent showing early in Las Vegas Summer League with the Grizzlies this offseason, led to Harrison signing a three year deal with Memphis on July 12. The contract is fairly low, with a third year that’s non-guaranteed, offering the Grizzlies some insurance in case Harrison doesn’t pan out in the NBA.
Outside of Mike Conley, the Grizzlies have a grand total of zero experience at the point guard position, which means that a lot of the burden of running the second unit will fall on first round pick Wade Baldwin IV and Harrison. If Tony Wroten makes the roster, he could factor into the equation some, and Parsons' handling ability could allow him to take on a role as a primary creator with second units once he's healthy, assuming Fizdale staggers his minutes with Conley.
Still, that leaves a lot of the load left to fall on the shoulders of Baldwin and Harrison. Baldwin, a better shooter and scorer, figures to be asked to do more on offense, but Harrison should have opportunities to run the offense at times, even if he doesn't play major minutes.
Harrison's size should allow him to be a factor defensively. At 6'6" and weighing 210 pounds, he's easily bigger than most point guards, and that length should allow him to defend both guard positions. I asked Chris Reichert about Harrison's defense in Iowa, and he seemed generally impressed with his development and agility. So even if he struggles to run the offense, Harrison should be able to contribute in a limited role on the defensive end.
Best Case Scenario
If everything goes right for Harrison, it's possible that he could develop into a competent rotation player, a trustworthy option to run the offense when you want to get Conley and Parsons a breather and Baldwin isn't available, and a non-liability on the defensive end.
For that to happen, Fizdale will have his work cut out for him. Harrison has displayed an ability to get into the lane at will against lesser competition (Developmental and Summer Leagues), but he'll need to show that he can do that at the pro level, which isn't a given. He'll also need to make smarter decisions once he's in the lane. Harrison has had a habit in the past to leap without knowing what he's going to do with the ball, and he'll need to curtail that to succeed at the next level. Furthermore, he'll need to adjust his game to NBA officiating. Harrison's success in the D-League came by drawing foul calls that he won't necessarily be able to draw in the NBA.
That's obviously a lot to ask, but the Grizzlies saw something early in Las Vegas that they liked and that they think they can work with, and if Fizz can work his magic with Harrison, it's reasonable to think that he can become a rotation player and a complement to the other point guards, Conley and Baldwin.
Worst Case Scenario
Harrison's ceiling isn't particularly high, but his floor makes up for it by being extremely low, too. If the worst happens, and Fizdale and staff are unable to develop Harrison's abilities, he could wind up being a huge liability on the offensive end.
Harrison shot 36.5% from three in Iowa last season, which is respectable. Where Harrison could struggle is at the rim. He was dreadful this summer, and as mentioned before, he's been reliant on foul calls to bail him out. If he can't adjust his game to the NBA, and his decision making in the lane isn't shrewd, it's not going to be pretty.
Harrison's size and athleticism at least offer him some defensive ability to fall back on. Even if he's a liability with the ball and unable to initiate the offense, he should at least be able to keep from being a disaster at the other end of the floor.
Harrison showed flashes early in Las Vegas, and his development in Iowa last year was noticeable. He appears to be a player committed to improving, a trait that should help him thrive under Fizdale.
However, Harrison isn’t a player with a lot of upside. It feels like his best possible outcome is being a contributing rotation player who can manage the offense and be a positive defender on both guard positions. Anything outside of that is gravy.
It’s likely Baldwin will be asked to shoulder more of the load at the point, and hopefully he’s up to it, allowing Harrison to be more of a complimentary player. Otherwise, asking Harrison to shoulder too much of the load from an offensive creation standpoint could end poorly for the Grizzlies.