Since coming out of Kentucky, Andrew Harrison has felt like an afterthought. He was drafted 44th overall by the Phoenix Suns before being sent to the Grizzlies in exchange for Jon Leuer. He spent the entirety of the 2015-16 season in Iowa before joining the Grizzlies’ Las Vegas Summer League team last year.
That all changed a game into the Summer League season. Harrison signed a multi-year deal with the team on July 12, and when Jordan Adams was waived to make room for Troy Williams, it all but guaranteed that the battle for the backup point guard position would come down to Harrison and 2016 first round pick Wade Baldwin IV.
Early on, it looked like Baldwin would win the battle outright, but the young guard out of Vanderbilt proved to be too inconsistent. Baldwin was soon relegated to playing most of the season with the Energy, while the honor of backing up Mike Conley was awarded to the former Kentucky Wildcat.
In spite of earning the trust of Fizdale, Harrison found himself in the unenviable position of Default Whipping Boy for a good portion of the fanbase. Harrison’s length allowed him to be a solid defender, but his offensive deficiencies and proclivity for inopportune fouls (a la JaMychal Green) made him an easy target for angry fans who demanded he be cut on the spot.
Over the course of the season, Harrison wound up exceeding expectations, though. Even through ups and downs, Fizdale stuck with his young point guard most of the season. And while Harrison fell out of favor briefly for Toney Douglas, when Douglas came back to earth in his post-ten-day contract stint with the team, Harrison found his way back into the rotation for good.
With Harrison’s contract guaranteed for next season, the hope is that he improves over the offseason and can eventually develop into a solid back-up for Conley, who has solidified his spot as one of the game’s best point guards.
There’s no denying what Harrison’s best moment was. In overtime of Game 4 of the playoffs, Harrison came up with the play that completely turned the game around. His block of Patty Mills in overtime led directly to a Marc Gasol and-1, putting the Grizzlies on top. And without a miraculous three-point shot by Kawhi Leonard, his free-throws likely would have gone down as the game winners.
The greatest chase down block of all-time and also the time LeBron got a block in the finals pic.twitter.com/b4NI1WKjxY— Ross Jarrar (@asaprockytop) April 24, 2017
Harrison’s best solo performance, on the other hand, came in a loss in Toronto. Without Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, Vince Carter, and James Ennis, Harrison put together his best scoring night (21 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including 4-of-5 from three) to go along with 2 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals.
It turned out not to be enough, as the shorthanded Grizzlies lost by 15, but the team was close in the fourth quarter in a game they expected to be blown out in, on the road against one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams.
Way to Improve:
Harrison’s overall 3-point shooting percentages may not show it (he shot 27.6% for the season), but after a bad start to the season, Harrison shot 33% or better from beyond the arc in January through March. He also shot 36.5% from three with the Energy, and was a 36.7% shooter from deep in college. If there’s any part of Harrison’s game that shouldn’t be of concern, it’s three-point shooting.
But even ignoring the outside shooting on Harrison’s shot chart, there’s still a lot of red. Harrison isn’t quick-footed, meaning it’s unlikely that he’ll ever consistently beat opponents off the dribble, and therefore won’t be likely to create open mid-range shots for himself.
That’s not a huge issue, but it means that Harrison really needs to clean up his shooting around the rim. Too many times this season, Harrison was able to get to the basket but, whether because he didn’t get a call (Harrison was able to draw fouls near the basket at the D-League level, but NBA officials gave him far less respect), or because he just couldn’t finish through contact, came up empty. If Harrison wants to really stick in the league, whether with the Grizzlies or elsewhere, he’ll need to finish more consistently at the rim.
There’s also the issue of fouling. Harrison is, for the most part, a decent defender. He’s long, and does an OK job of using his length to bother perimeter players. You’ll never mistake him for Tony Allen on the wing, but he forces his fair share of turnovers, and can block shots when he needs to (see: Game 4 vs. Spurs).
With that said, Harrison’s foot speed (or lack thereof) can put him in a bind against quicker ball handlers, and when that happens, Harrison has the tendency to commit dumb fouls. Moving forward, he’ll need to play smarter, even if sometimes that means just admitting that he’s beat on a play.
2016-2017 Overall Grade
Players can’t be graded on the same scale. Expectations must be taken into account. You can’t grade Harrison on the same scale that you would grade, say, Mike Conley on.
Malcolm Brogdon’s performance this year notwithstanding, most rookie point guards are bad. And while Harrison had his fair share of struggles, he also flashed the sort of play that most never expected to see. And in Mike Conley’s absence, he at least managed to play well enough to keep the ship from going under (playing with All-NBA level Marc Gasol helps, but still).
The real question for Harrison will come next year. If he’s able to build on his experiences from this year and continue to learn under Fizdale, he’s shown the potential to stick in the league as a rotation player. And given how abysmal expectations were coming into this season, that achievement shouldn’t be discounted.