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Memphis Grizzlies 2017-18 Player Previews: Andrew Harrison

Andrew Harrison impressed as a rookie on a playoff team. Can he beat back more competition to become the full-time backup point guard?

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

2016-2017 Season Overview:

Per Game: 5.9 PTS, 2.8 AST, 0.7 STL 1.2 TOV

Per-36 minutes: 10.4 PTS, 4.8 AST, 1.3 STL, 2.1 TOV

Advanced: 8.7 PER, .477 TS%, 20.0 AST%, 16.0 TOV%

Despite being drafted in 2015, last year was Andrew Harrison’s rookie year. Necessity forced him into heavy minutes, and even starting 18 games. His play was more of a 3rd-string point guard, rather than an occasional starter. But his physical tools and flashes of athleticism showed that he could contribute to this Memphis Grizzlies team. Wade Baldwin IV was the only other PG on the roster and he was even more raw than Harrison.

Andrew Harrison played the majority of his minutes at point guard, but also played about a third of the time (according to basketball-reference.com) at shooting guard next to Mike Conley, as his playmaking abilities weren’t always up to par. But Harrison’s size and athleticism showed he could defend bigger point guards and other shooting guards. He was also able to handle the ball in spurts, to theoretically allow Mike Conley to play off the ball. It was fine on-and-off, but it never lasted too long; Mike Conley needed to handle the ball for the Grizzlies to be successful. Andrew Harrison was not good enough in that regard last year.

The most encouraging part of his season was his postseason play. He was good for 20 minutes a game in a playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs and made winning plays. That’s a rare accomplishment for a rookie.

Projected Role:

Andrew Harrison will likely be the 3rd initiator of offense, now that Tyreke Evans is on the roster. Tyreke is a fantastic ball-handler and passer as a forward and could be the exact player that could allow Mike Conley to play off-the-ball as previously mentioned. Conley was really good in that situation last year, so it is an important role to fill for David Fizdale.

Harrison will likely have a diminished role and with that, less pressure on him to handle point guard duties. However, if the coaching staff feels Wade Baldwin has made a leap from Year 1 to Year 2, he may leapfrog Harrison into the backup point guard slot. Andrew may experience some fluctuation between the 2nd and 3rd-string. Coach Fizdale has already expressed the desire for competition for this role, and Harrison will be knee-deep in on it despite a 1st-round pick used on Wade Baldwin IV.

Best Case Scenario:

Andrew Harrison proves he is still more NBA-capable and competent than Wade Baldwin and cements himself in the 2nd-string behind Mike Conley. Harrison cuts back on his turnovers and is able to hit 3-pointers on at least a league-average level (~35%). The emergence of a truly competent backup point guard relieves pressure on Mike Conley and leaves him more energized for the playoffs.

Harrison’s size and length gives him some potential on defense. This would be a great year to make a leap defensively which would surely keep him on the court more, especially with Tony Allen gone. If his 3-point shooting improves and he can become even better on defense, Andrew Harrison may be the starting shooting guard come playoff time.

Worst Case Scenario:

Andrew Harrison remains stagnant while Wade Baldwin passes him by. Andrew played a lot out of necessity in 2016-17, but if the Grizzlies have Baldwin and Tyreke Evans as far and away better playmakers then Andrew Harrison may find himself stapled to the bench or perhaps not even on the roster. If Harrison becomes a non-factor for this time, he might find himself spending more time in Southaven running the G-League’s squad.

He was a 22 year old rookie who spent an entire year in the then D-League in 2015-16. The margin of error is going to start shrinking the more and more players that are on the roster with overlapping skill sets. If Andrew Harrison doesn’t stand out, it could spell trouble for his playing time and role. His contract is only guaranteed for $100,000, according to basketball-reference.com. If Mario Chalmers and Wade Baldwin IV outplay him, he may go from key playoff contributor to off the team in a five-month stretch.

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Overall Expectations for 2017-18:

I expect Andrew Harrison to live up to the challenge of being the full-time backup point guard. Everyone wants Wade Baldwin to be successful. He was our 2016 1st round pick and still super young. But he was genuinely awful as a point guard which is what gave Harrison the opportunity in the first place. I expect another year to improve the both of them, but Harrison’s versatility will give him a lot more playing time than the Vanderbilt product.

They’re both going to be compared to one another for quite some time, being 2nd-year point guards on the same team, and it’s unfair to both of them. But the two will be in direct competition for playing time in the same exact role. And I expect Harrison to win the battle.

I expect his play to become a bit less sloppy as his natural progression occurs as an NBA player. He might not ever be near Mike Conley as a playmaker, but he can cut down on turnovers and become better at shooting. With how low his shooting percentages were in 2016-17, it’ll be hard not to improve. With that, Andrew Harrison can become the backup point and/or shooting guard. His versatility will keep him in the fold, and an improved skill set can make him an integral bench player for the Memphis Grizzlies in 2017-18.

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