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Believe in Andrew Harrison

As he sees his role declining, his potential is clearer than ever before...if you know where to look.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Orlando Magic Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Admitting you’re wrong is not an easy thing to do.

Although, in today’s microwave world, usually if you just pretend like it never happened and scream about something else loud enough, people won’t even remember that you’re almost always wrong because it’s entertaining. Sometimes, they’ll even pay you six-and-a-half times JaMychal Green’s salary to do exactly that (what up, Skip Bayless).

But I’m here to admit that my evaluation of Andrew Harrison was wrong.

Like any good writer, though, I gave myself an out.

I’ve changed my thinking on Harrison. I now believe that he has a chance to stick in the NBA for a long time.

Scouting prospects is an inexact science. Scouts miss on just as many, if not more, guys than they hit on. Missing on Harrison isn’t huge since the second round is mostly a crap-shoot, but it’s a miss nonetheless.

To his credit and to the credit of the Grizzlies, Harrison made great strides in his development during his first season out of college with the Iowa Energy.

Harrison averaged 18.5 points, 4.9 assists 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals in 35.3 minutes per game last season in 46 games with the Energy. He shot 36.5 percent from three on 4.5 attempts per game and 78.3 percent from the line on seven attempts per game. He shot only 43.7 percent overall from the field last season, but that was actually a significant increase from his 37.2 field goal percentage during his two seasons at Kentucky.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

He ranked fifth in the D-League in defensive win shares, showing his defensive potential that he has already displayed this season with the Grizzlies.

By all accounts, it was a successful stint for Harrison with the Energy — enough so that the Grizzlies felt comfortable giving him a contract and a roster spot for the 2016-17 season.

It’s been an up-and-down season with the Grizzlies for Harrison. He’s appeared in 40 of the team’s 43 games while making 14 starts. He’s scored in double figures 12 times, had at least five assists 12 times, had multiple steals nine times and had one or no turnovers in 21 of his 40 appearances — 17 of those times he played at least 16 minutes.

But he’s also only hit multiple threes in a game four times, and he’s failed to hit a three 21 times, there have been 12 appearances where he didn’t attempt a free throw - getting to the line regularly is one of his best attributes - and he’s had a net zero or negative plus/minus in 22 of his 40 appearances.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Sacramento Kings Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

He’s recently fallen out of the rotation, but that’s mostly a product of him not hitting shots consistently and the fact that the roster is as healthy as it’s been all year. I don’t read Harrison’s being dropped from the rotation as a sign the Grizzlies are giving up on him. The fact is, Harrison wasn’t supposed to be in the rotation this season anyways. He’s not ready to be a full-time NBA back-up point guard, so the fact that he’s mostly faired well up to this point is very encouraging.

I know what you’re thinking, “Yeah, but he can’t shoot. FedExForum has been close to booing him like they did Nick Calathes because they’re tired of him hoisting threes.”

And you’re correct. Harrison has been nothing short of abysmal shooting this season — 30.6 percent from the field and 23.8 percent from three. But I’m going to make the reverse of an argument I once made about former Virginia Cavalier and current Dallas Maverick Justin Anderson.

Once upon a time, Justin Anderson was a 6-7 freak athlete coming out in the 2015 NBA Draft. He had the reputation as a lockdown defender who could develop into one of the most coveted role players in the NBA: a three-and-D wing.

During his time at Virginia, Anderson shot 30.3, 29.4 and 45.2 percent from three as a freshman, sophomore and junior, respectively. He had weird shot mechanics, which is not something typically said about a lefty, who often have some of the prettiest jump shots in basketball.

It was up to scouts to decide if they were going to believe in a 16-point spike in three-point percentage or write if off as a statistical outlier. I chose to remain skeptical and operate under the assumption that Anderson was going to be a below-average three-point shooter, which was fine because he had so many other tools that he’d likely stick in the league for a long time.

During his first two seasons in the NBA, Anderson has shot 26.5 and 30.4 percent from three.

Anderson was always a roughly 30-percent three-point shooter who happened to have a really great season before entering the draft. Another example is former Memphis Tigers point guard Joe Jackson. Here are his three-point percentages during his four years at Memphis: 31.1, 30.2, 44.7 and 27.4. One of those is an outlier.

So, how does this relate to Harrison? He shot 35.1 and 38.3 percent from three during his two years at Kentucky and 36.5 percent last season with the Energy. He’s shooting 23.8 this season. I choose to believe that one of those is an outlier.

The NBA league average three-point percentage is 35.9 as of Martin Luther King Day. If you combine Harrison’s college and D-League three point numbers, he’s a 36.6-percent shooter from three — slightly better than league average. And that’s all Harrison will ever need to be from three if he wants to stick — league average.

One of the major knocks on Harrison coming out of college was his general lack of athleticism and burst. While those remain true today, two things that were noted but in some way overlooked are his ability to quickly accelerate and decelerate and his lateral quickness.

The ability to change speeds so quickly and fluidly make up for Harrison’s lack of explosiveness, especially on the offensive end.

Watch the GIF below, Harrison hesitates right at the beginning, getting Kris Dunn on his back hip, and then gets to the bucket and uses his strength and size to finish the and-1.

Another example of Harrison changing speeds: The Grizzlies use a flex set to free Harrison at the top. He slowly works his way to the foul line, keeping his defender on his back hip, and then as soon as the big motions towards the three-point line, he darts to the rim for an easy finish. This is a great example of Harrison’s patience. He puts a big on an island and forces him to choose between stopping him or recovering to his man.

One last example is out of a pick-and-roll with Marc Gasol. Once Harrison is around the screen, he pauses, putting Omer Asik in an awkward situation of deciding whether to recover to Gasol or continue with Harrison. Once Asik takes a step towards Gasol, Harrison goes to the rim, using his length to finish over an out of position Asik.

Harrison showed at Kentucky the ability to split pick and rolls. He made a living getting into the paint and made bigs pay for over-hedging.

He did the against the Magic in what was one of his best highlights of the season. Notice below that initially Elfrid Payton sets up to go under the screen. Harrison waits and Payton then jumps the screen. Harrison takes two dribbles left, pulling Nikola Vucevic away from the basket, and then he spins back to the middle, splitting the defenders for an easy layup.

Harrison’s elite size and length (standing 6-6, 213 with a 6-9 wingspan) affords him the opportunity to see over the defense and finishes over bigger defenders and contact.

Below, you’ll see Harrison in a pick and roll with Marc Gasol. Once Harrison is around the screen, you’ll see Gasol’s man, Karl-Anthony Towns, pause and put his hand on Gasol’s hip so Harrison can’t split. Without hesitation, Harrison continues around Towns and uses his body to shield Towns for a layup.

There were two other instances in this same game against Minnesota where Harrison’s passing ability was on display.

In the first one, Harrison is in a pick and roll with JaMychal Green. Green’s defender, Gorgui Dieng, drops back, or ices, the screen. Harrison, keeping his head where he can see the whole court, waits for Green to roll to the rim and lobs a perfect pass that Green finishes for an and-1.

Finally, Harrison receives a swing pass from Vince Carter. He pump fakes a swing pass into the corner, causing his defender to stumble, and is able to get a paint touch. The defense collapses on Harrison, and he finds a wide-open Zach Randolph for a corner three.

Harrison has shown tons of improvement since his time at Kentucky. He’ll never be the kind of athlete you often see from a point guard, but his size and strength, along with his lateral quickness, make up for what he lacks athletically. He’s poised and confident beyond his years, and he shown enough to suggest he’ll be able to stick in the league as a rotation player, assuming his shooting progresses to the means.

If I were advising the Grizzlies, I’d tell them to lock Harrison in a room every day and make him watch clips of post-30 Andre Miller.

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