Harris Has Added More Strength This Offseason

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By John Denton
July 29, 2014

LAS VEGAS -- Finally fully beyond the ankle issues that dogged him much of last season and embracing his significantly stronger frame, Tobias Harris responded to the smaller DeMar DeRozan switching to him on defense and he aggressively went to work in the post.

Harris used his big right shoulder to keep center Mason Plumlee from swiping at the ball and then he drop-stepped his body into DeRozan to free himself for a spinning jumper that was a thing of beauty.

That sequence was just one of many from Tuesday that showed that Harris is using this experience playing with USA Basketball to test out his blossoming game and prepare himself for next season with the Orlando Magic.

Harris, who is a member of USA Basketball’s Select Team, played exceptionally well throughout the scrimmage portions of Tuesday’s practice at UNLV’s Mendenhall Center. He had powered through a layup as he was fouled by Kenneth Faried for a 3-point play, drove hard right at shot-blocker Andre Drummond for two more free throws and punished DeRozan on a pick-and-post play that resulted in another basket.

Harris is 235 pounds just as he was last season for the Magic, but he has worked throughout the offseason to become trimmer and add more muscle mass. The belief is that he will play more at power forward than small forward next season and Harris is testing out his new strength in the USA Basketball drills.

``It’s definitely going to help me a lot,’’ Harris said of the muscle that he’s added following a strenuous offseason workout regime of weight-lifting, track and boxing drills. ``Going into the offseason a focus was on being able to guard those stronger guys. I’ve put my time in the weight room and I can definitely feel it. It’s been paying off just testing myself against all of these guys in the post and defending them. I’ve definitely gotten stronger, but it’s still early in the offseason. I just have to keep progressing.’’

Harris and Magic teammate Victor Oladipo have progressed rather nicely this week while playing for USA Basketball’s Select Team in Las Vegas. The Select Team is made up of young and upcoming players and their primary responsibility is to ready the National Team for the World Cup in August. But Harris and Oladipo are using the four days of practice around some of the best players on the planet to enhance their own games.

Oladipo was downright dazzling in the final quarter of Tuesday’s scrimmage. He had a driving dunk down the lane, buried a jumper over Bradley Beal and he hit a 3-pointer with two seconds remaining in the quarter. Oladipo’s best moment of the day came when he crossed over Indiana star forward Paul George at the top of the key and contorted his body to avoid shot-blocker Anthony Davis for a layup as he was knocked to the floor.

``I’m just trying to prepare myself for the season,’’ Oladipo said. ``I’m learning how to score the ball in different ways and making myself a two-way player. I’m just out there competing at both ends and trying to get these guys better so they can represent our country at a high level. We were just playing hard and we did a good job of that today.’’

In addition to having to check star small forwards Kevin Durant and Paul George this week, Harris has also had to battle against bigger players such as Paul Millsap, Faried and Davis in the post. A fluid and versatile scorer who averaged 14.6 points and had 12 20-point games last season, Harris has the ability to both make jump shots from the perimeter against bigger players and post up small forwards.

Harris used those skills to score a career-best 31 points (with eight rebounds) last March against the Philadelphia 76ers and he recorded the first 20-point, 20-rebound game of his career in January when he battered the Los Angeles Lakers for 28 points and 20 rebounds. And his best highlight of the season came on Feb. 7 when he capped an 18-point, five-rebound night by dunking at the buzzer to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder.

On Tuesday, his full offensive arsenal was on display and it helped Harris standout for the Select squad.

``I got it going a little bit in the post and part of the reason was because my jumper was falling. So I was able to get to the rim and use all of the things in my game,’’ Harris said. ``It’s just about being here and learning from the coaches and players and taking the best of what I get. Then, I go back into the summer and say, `I have to work on this, I have to get better on that.’ Through this process, I evaluate my game while I’m playing here.’’

Faried, a power forward from the Denver Nuggets, has been impressed with the improvement that Harris has been able to make by getting stronger this offseason.
``I think he’s going to be really good next season because you can see him fully developing now and getting a lot stronger,’’ said Faried, whose inside presence has become more important for Team USA because of the absences of Kevin Love and Blake Griffin. ``Tobias isn’t afraid to attack. As long as he keeps his confidence up, he is a really good player.’’

Harris said on Tuesday that there are no lingering effects from the severe high ankle sprain from last October that wrecked much of his season. He missed the first two months and never fully recovered from the injury until the games stopped coming in April. With the ankle finally feeling better, Harris has been able to step up his workouts and lifting sessions to prepare himself for next season.

``God-willing, I’ll continue to stay healthy,’’ Harris said. ``For a lot of the year I was playing at about 75 percent. Something that I wanted to do was push through (the ankle injury) because I had to push through it. I was able to play for my team. But now that I’m 100 percent and I can look forward again.’’

Harris said the magnitude of playing for USA Basketball hit him hard on Tuesday morning when he picked up his practice gear and had flashbacks to his childhood of watching Team USA stars win the gold medal. Harris said that he wants to utilize his time with Team USA to better himself so that he can be a big-time difference maker next season for the Magic.

``The respect of being chosen here shows my hard work and professionalism is not taken for granted,’’ he said. ``For me as a basketball player, it’s about continuing to get better and continuing to grow. The biggest thing for me is winning and helping my (Magic) team to win.’’