Andrew Harrison is probably the most polarizing player that Kentucky has ever seen under John Calipari. No one player took more criticism – mostly unnecessary – while also being placed under the largest microscope in Lexington. Every move, dribble, shot, pregame snack was judged as if he were a politician. Harrison led Kentucky to back-to-back Final Fours, and there is no doubt in my mind that Kentucky doesn’t get there without him. Despite his many accolades, he’ll be remembered for what he didn’t do, which was win a National Championship.
Harrison’s career in the NBA got off to a less-than-ideal beginning. He spent his first season in the D-League after being drafted 44th overall by the Phoenix Suns (imagine the Suns’ backcourt with another former Kentucky guard). His expectations in the league were much more limited than they were when he came into college. You’d have a hard time finding someone who was surprised that Andrew was in the D-League while his twin brother Aaron was playing for the Charlotte Hornets. Fast forward one year later and the twins have swapped places (which I guess is actually possible if they wanted to pull a Parent Trap-type escapade).
Aaron is now struggling to make the jump from the G-League to the NBA while Andrew is having the most efficient and effective stretch of not only his NBA career, but this stretch is better than any he had during his two years at Kentucky. The Memphis Grizzlies signed Harrison (Andrew, that is) to a three-year deal in 2016 with the expectation that he could be the backup to All-Star guard Mike Conley while the Grizzlies try to string together a few more years of playoff contention before their best player, Marc Gasol, begins to play like his age.
Things haven’t exactly gone as planned for the Grizz, who currently sit at an abysmal 18-36 on the season, miles away from the playoffs and with Conley being sidelined for the remainder of the season due to injury. The Grizzlies also blundered the trade deadline, deciding to not trade guard Tyreke Evans (a Calipari product from his time at Memphis) despite purposefully benching him before the deadline in order to ship him off for other assets (they were offered multiple picks for him, but simply refused for reasons no one understands). There was talk early in the season that Gasol might be traded after he butted heads with former head coach David Fizdale before he was ultimately fired. The Grizzlies season has gone in the complete opposite direction that the front office envisioned, but there are a few bright spots and one of them is Andrew Harrison.
Harrison’s stats have never stuck out as an NBA player. He averages 6.9 points and 2.8 assists for his career, but something has energized him ever since the new year popped it’s head out. Since Jan. 1, Harrison has started all 15 games he’s played for the Grizzlies. His averages of 11.0 points and 3.7 assists per game on shooting splits of 46.5/37.8/91.7 (FG%/3PT%/FT%) are nothing short of impressive. Compare that to his splits of 38.1/30.9/76.3 on averages of 7.3 points and 2.4 assists in 2017 of this season and it’s easy to see the revelation in his game.
Conley hasn’t played a game since the middle of November, so it’s not as if his absence created an obvious opening for Harrison (it technically did, but it didn’t show in his game or on the stat sheet). The writing was on the wall when he was at Kentucky that he had the tools to turn into a capable NBA starter. He had previous runs that tested this theory in college and he’s found a situation in Memphis that has allowed him to prove it right, this time without the immense pressure of leading a collegiate powerhouse (Imagine having less pressure to perform in the NBA than at Kentucky).
Everything Harrison has worked for led him to the best performance of his career on Feb. 7 against the Utah Jazz. He recorded a career-high 23 points on 9-15 shooting (2-5 from deep) to go along with four assists in 31 minutes. Despite losing 88-92, Harrison showed out against an elite defensive team and excellent defender Ricky Rubio.
Standing at 6-foot-6 and over 200 pounds, Harrison has always been an oversized guard. In today’s, positionless NBA, that’s a great thing to be. Harrison uses his strength and size to power through smaller defenders such as Rubio, despite them being able to stay in front of him. This is also the quickest Harrison has ever been on the court. Normally he would have to rely on pure strength to get him to the rim, now he can slice around bigger defenders and cut to the basket with enough energy to get a shot up even against contact.
This version of Andrew Harrison has confidence skyrocketing through the roof. It shows in his jump shot. He hesitates far-less often when deciding whether or not to take a perimeter shot, mainly because he knows he can hit it (also because there isn’t anyone who can steal his minutes if he were to miss). Over the last 15 games, Harrison has taken the second-most pull-up jump shots for the Grizzlies with 3.3 attempts per game. His effective field goal percentage of 48.9 percent is higher than Tyreke Evans’ 41.8 percent, who has attempted the most shots per game in that category for the Grizz.
Even on catch-and-shoot opportunities, Harrison continues to fire at an efficient rate. His 58.3 effective field goal percentage on catch-and-shoots is higher than Evans and Marc Gasol.
Andrew Harrison has found a fit that works for him in Memphis. He’s elevated his game so much this season that his scoring, passing, and defense have all taken significant strides towards becoming a legitimate threat night in and night out in the NBA. If you’re looking for an under-the-radar Kentucky player ready to take “the leap”, Harrison may be the next likeliest candidate.