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VOL. 132 | NO. 244 | Monday, December 11, 2017

Grizzlies' Andrew Harrison Again Contributing

By Don Wade

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There is really no replacing starting point guard Mike Conley. That much is obvious for a Grizzlies team on a three-game losing streak and that has lost 14 of its last 15 games.

While Tyreke Evans has made a pretty good transition from off-the-bench scoring machine to starting and often running the team, another guard also has seen a change in duties.

Memphis Grizzlies guard Andrew Harrison (5) drives against Oklahoma City Thunder guard Alex Abrines (8) in the second half of an NBA  game Saturday, Dec. 9, in Memphis. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

Second-year player Andrew Harrison had four DNPs during the first seven games of the recent 11-game losing streak. Those, however, came under former coach David Fizdale. Under interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff, Harrison has played in seven straight games.

He had a season-high 12 points in a loss at Cleveland on Dec. 2, playing off the bench. Now, he has started two straight games and he had a season-best seven assists with no turnovers in last Friday’s 116-107 loss to Toronto, a game the Grizzlies led by 17 points in the first half.

The next night he had a key block of a Russell Westbrook shot, but it didn’t stop the Thunder from ultimately winning 102-101 in overtime, overcoming a 20-point deficit.

Harrison, 23, wasn’t even supposed to be here this season. Speculation in the summer was that Mario Chalmers’ return meant the backup point guard job was taken. Further speculation had the Grizzlies keeping former first-round pick Wade Baldwin, because he was perceived to have more upside, even though last season Harrison outplayed Baldwin and earned substantially more playing time.

Instead, the Grizzlies cut ties with Baldwin and Harrison returned. Now, he’s back in the rotation and of late has clearly outplayed the veteran Chalmers.

“My teammates encourage me so much,” he said. “I just try to take what the defense gives me even though I’m still making some mistakes. My teammates have faith in me.”

In the 116-111 loss at Cleveland – a LeBron James thing mainly – Harrison knocked down 4 of 6 shots from the floor and hit both 3-pointers he attempted.

“Marc (Gasol) gave me some good passes and I got some open shots,” Harrison said of that game.

He’s still far from an offensive force or a consistent shooter. He scored three points with four assists and three turnovers, making just 1 of 8 shots from the floor vs OKC. But he dug in and played defense. Although Westbrook ultimately got his numbers with yet another triple-double he had a tough shooting night.

Heading into Monday night’s home game vs. Miami, Harrison is averaging 5.5 points per game, 2.0 assists, shooting 36.6 percent from the field and only 26.8 percent from long distance.

But he also has no illusions about his role.

“Offense is whatever they give,” Harrison said of opponents.  “They got a lot of eyes on Marc and Tyreke. We just gotta make plays when they give it to us. On the defensive end, I just try to be the best defender on the court. Try to stop their best perimeter player and just work hard.”

Bickerstaff has shown more trust in Harrison than Fizdale did and that has coincided with more regular minutes and a little more consistent performance.

“It’s amazing what guys can do when they have confidence in themselves and their teammates are picking them up,” Bickerstaff said. “He’s been given an opportunity and he’s taking advantage of that opportunity. You’ve got to respect a guy like that.

“He was in the doghouse for a while, given DNPs … but he did all the things he needed to do to prepare. He kept working and this is the fruits of it.”

Said Harrison: “I know I belong at this level. I’m just trying to get better every day, be one of the best defenders in the NBA, learn from Mike, learn from Marc.

“At this level when you’re not a star on the team, you gotta find a way to get on the court. Learning from Tony Allen, one of the best defenders of all-time, he taught me a lot of things. I was grateful to just be around him and soak up some of the knowledge he has on the defensive end.”

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