Lakers Free Agency: Tobias Harris may be the Lakers’ best option

Today Lakers Outsiders is proud to present a guest post from John Lloyd, friend of Gary Kester and avid Orlando Magic fan. 

As we all know, free agency is underway in the NBA’s dreadful yet exciting offseason. The Lakers have a lot of cap space this year, can they get a top-tier free agent like LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard or Goran Dragic? That’s tough to say; they have often landed big free agents in the past. However, they should eye someone in a lower bracket, Orlando Magic combo forward, Tobias Harris. Harris is a 22-year-old forward that can play both the 3 and 4 on offense and on defense, which is an extremely versatile trait to have in such a small-ball oriented league. We saw what the Warriors did in the NBA Finals, so how can the Lakers compete with that lineup?

Well, they drafted D’Angelo Russel with the 2nd pick in this year’s draft, teaming him up with Jordan Clarkson and that guy named Kobe Bryant for the 2015-2016 season. However, the frontcourt looks a little thin and weak, to say the least. Harris can help the frontcourt and help the backcourt, one of his many strengths to a young Orlando Magic team. At 22, you’re going to base his contract on utter potential and hope he grows into a legitimate wing scorer.

Harris is an up-and-coming small ball power forward and traditional small forward that can ultimately receive a $60 million dollar pay check from a lot of teams. But, he’s a restricted free agent and the Magic have a decent amount of cap space that can be used to their advantage when it comes to their young roster and mainly this season’s big free agent, Harris. However, Orlando’s coach hiring, draft pick, and youth allow them to be flexible with Harris, which could make things intriguing for a team like the Lakers.

It’ll be completely bonkers if Orlando doesn’t sign Harris to a five-year, $60 million dollar deal, but it could happen. He has his strengths. He has his weaknesses. Can he grow out of them and live up to a lucrative deal in the wake of free agency?

STRENGTHS: Harris is an extremely versatile wing that can play the 3 or the 4 in an offense and likewise on defense. He knows how to use his body so well for a 22-year-old it’s hard to match what he can do to smaller 3s and slower 4s in the league. Going against smaller 3’s, Harris will post-up, bully and weight-room-check his defenders. Against traditional power forwards, he can use his elite athleticism and quickness to beat his defenders on the dribble.  Last season, he improved his jumper so much he did not even look like the same guy where you would cringe every time he took a somewhat contested three-pointer. Now, it’s a lot different, he can hit corner, wing and elbow 3’s at an impressive 36%. However, he doesn’t shoot a whole lot from out there, only attempting three per game. He needs to improve his shot selection and confidence, because he’s a 51eFG% guy, which is rare for a guy that is 6’8” 230 pounds. He’s been in the league since being drafted 19th overall in 2011 to Charlotte, who then traded him to Milwaukee and he’s only 22! His last underrated value is creating his own shot, he can pull up off the dribble, finish at the rim, post-up and fade or run off screens and catch and shoot.

He’s a great athlete and rebounder with a strong lower half and a rising post-up and midrange game. Can he keep improving his shot so he can be a great spacer on the floor? That’s the $60 million question. If he can know his strengths when he’s playing, like posting up smaller players and blowing by bigger ones, he has a chance to be a solid NBA player. As a guy that can contribute 17 points per game, he can be extremely useful as sixth man on a championship-caliber team or a starter on a rebuilding/reloading young team.

WEAKNESSES: In all honesty, there are not a whole lot of weaknesses in Harris’ physical game. However, the mental aspect of his game can be extremely frustrating at times. There are some nights where you just shake your head at him defensively and other nights where he looks like he can guard Lebron James or Kevin Durant. His consistency on the defensive end is troublesome as he does not possess great lateral quickness and often suffers from what looks like a lack of concentration on the guy he’s guarding. He’s a great help-side defender and rebounder, but his defense can put you, as a fan, in a constant state of “what is he doing?”

What if he never reaches his potential and just remains the same player? Well, at $12 million a year, that is not ideal, but at a bargain deal, it’s worth it. When he’s healthy, he averages around 17 points per game, taking about 14 shots. Take out his 2013-2014 season where he averaged just 14 points per game, only started in 36 due to a bad high ankle sprain and played mostly power forward. Look at his first year in Orlando and his last, where he was mostly used as a small forward, his better position.

Harris needs to be in an offense that will use him more, in Orlando, he was used on 22% of their possessions because of guys like Nik Vucevic and Victor Oladipo taking the reins of their offense. He needs to be based on his potential, and with the rising salary cap coming next year, this could make him a major steal at a contract that gets him paid this offseason.

So in recap, he needs to able to improve his defense, jump shot, lateral quickness and consistency/focus to become the player that he should be in three years.

Ultimately, what it comes down to is “can Harris reach his potential in the next two years?” If you think yes, then you have to jump on it, but be careful to give him a full max contract this offseason, give him a little less than Brandon Knight is reportedly receiving from Phoenix, which is 5 years $70 million.

If some team, like the Lakers for example, want to pry Harris away from Orlando, they will have to give him the same money as Jimmy Butler, which would not be wise, because he is not on that level just yet. The Magic can match pretty much match any offer they want for Harris, but with new head coach Scott Skiles running the team, he might not be as valuable to their team that will take their pride in defense. However, they need a go-to-scorer, which Harris can be soon. I think some team will offer him $52 million over four years and Orlando will match it.

He’s an extremely valuable piece in today’s NBA and it is hard to get a guy with his potential, who is still so young and already has four NBA seasons under his belt. In his three seasons with the Magic he’s averaged 16 points, seven rebounds, and shot 49.8eFG%.

The Lakers will need to use him at the small forward or “3” position because they have a true, young power forward in Julius Randle and they could mesh pretty well when playing together. Plus, it would reduce the burden of offense on Kobe, and the young guards in Clarkson and Russell. If Bryant only has to play around 30 minutes per game because they can move a guy like Harris into the starting lineup, it will help his health immensely. Look for the Lakers to be targeting young, athletic and high-upside wing players in free agency. There aren’t many out there, and Harris looks to be one of the better small forwards that is potentially available to the highest bidder, which isn’t a problem for the Lakers.

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