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2016-17 Player Preview: Aaron Harrison

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Aaron Harrison is still trying to find his NBA role with the Charlotte Hornets.

NBA: Preseason-New York Knicks at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Key Stats: 21 GP, 4.4 MPG, 0.9 PPG, 0.7 RPG, 0.1 APG

Aaron Harrison spent most of last year doing about what anybody expected of an undrafted free agent signing. He sat at the end of the bench, played exclusively in garbage time, and spent the majority of his season developing in practice with the team, or playing in the D-League. It’s because of this that judging Harrison for how he played last year, or really at all so far in his short NBA career, has been very difficult. We could look at how he played in his D-League stints last year, but the teams Harrison played for were not Hornets affiliated teams, and the D-League itself is an entirely different beast from the NBA. Dell Curry even said during a broadcast last season that, after talking to Harrison post D-League, Harrison could only say “Man, none of those guys pass the ball” which just shows the type of environment he was in. Those that watched his D-League games can confirm that Harrison didn’t seem to get too much out of the D-League experience and mainly fired up quick bad shots.

As a result, most of the previous knowledge about Harrison will be taken from his most recent venture into Orlando Summer League. As the sole player on that team with an NBA contract, and a year of “NBA experience” under his belt it was very interesting to see how the Hornets played on using him. After his first game it became obvious, and Patrick Ewing confirmed this, that Harrison was not going to be playing point guard anymore. He spent the majority of his time at Orlando Summer League playing in an offball role on the wing. Of course, he looked most comfortable with the ball in his hands, but that’s not going to be what he’s able to do with the Hornets. Which he even admitted saying that he was trying to use his Summer League as a means to play the role he would be playing with the proper team in Charlotte.

So what were the results of this? Well, Harrison showed a relentless attack that he was known for in college, but he showed that he was much more willing to step out behind the 3-point arc, and spot up for the shot. He attempted many 3-pointers, and while he was certainly streaky it showed that he had been working on that part of his game ever since the season ended. His new role, and the one we should expect to see him from in the future, is a wing slasher that spots up in the corners. While he showed that he’s willing to put the ball in his hands that’s not how the Hornets want to use him, but the ability to do that will be a nice complimentary skill.

Now this is a situation where most people will say that the point guard “experiment” with Harrison was a failure. However, playing Harrison at point guard for a year was most likely not a plan to make him their future backup. If he had excelled at it they may have attempted that, but it’s much more likely that they did this so Harrison would learn to recognize defenses. Teams like to do this in order to give wing players a better understanding of where they need to be on offense without the ball, and how to best attack a defense from where they are. An example of this is how the Minnesota Timberwolves have spent playing Zach Lavine at point guard the last two seasons, or the Orlando Magic playing Victor Oladipo at point guard his rookie season.

Flash forward a few months, and the Hornets have unveiled the Greensboro Swarm. Charlotte finally has their own D-League affiliate, and now Harrison can develop in a system made for players like him. When he’s playing in the D-League he’ll be playing with coaches that want him to play how he would if he was going to be with Charlotte. It won’t be a case of him firing up bad shots, and trying to just get out as soon as possible, but an actual system of development.

So what should we expect from Harrison this year? Well, probably a lot more time spent in the D-League than last season, but at the moment he’s still the 15th man on the roster. He’s probably going to do some bouncing between teams, spending a few games in Greensboro and then heading back up to Charlotte for a home stand. When he’s in the D-League we’ll finally get a chance to see his actual development plan. Is he really going to become a 3-point shooting slasher like we’ve seen glimpses of, or do the Hornets have something else planned for him?