DALLAS – Last season, Aaron Harrison experienced the ebb and flow which accompanies life as an NBA rookie.
Harrison, 21, made the Charlotte Hornets roster as an undrafted free agent after opting to forego his final two seasons at Kentucky and played 21 games as a rookie for the Hornets.
The Texas native also played in the NBA Development League last season, averaging 17.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.1 steals per game over 13 games split between Oklahoma City and Erie.
He played for both the Blue and the Bayhawks because the Hornets didn’t have their own D-League team, which meant they had no control over how much playing time their players would receive–if any–when they went to one of those teams, something which is not the case.
Even with moving around last season, Harrison views his rookie campaign as invaluable because of the numerous lessons he took away from his first year as a pro.
“[I gained] just experience, coming into training camp [this year] knowing what to expect, just what coach expects out of me, so definitely, experience was the biggest thing I got out of last year,” Harrison said.
Like most rookies, his first year in the Association was all about the “a” word: acclimation. Whether it was adjusting to playing an 82-game regular season, a new city, new teammates and a new way of life, learning to take better care of his body and so forth, he took it all in and made the adjustments he had to make.
So much so that he now feels like a completely different player heading into year two.
“Now I’m definitely more comfortable, just more confident on the floor, so I think last year really helped with those two [things],” Harrison said.
Charlotte now owns its own D-League affiliate, the Swarm, who will begin play in Greensboro, about 90 miles from Charlotte in November–an arrangement Hornets head coach Steve Clifford feels will pay big dividends in year one and well into the future.
“I think most teams will try to [have their own D-League team in the future],” Clifford said prior to Monday’s preseason game in Dallas. “We have guys, not just our D-League guys, but we have a couple younger guys who if they get into stretches where they’re not playing, they could literally practice in Charlotte and play the next day in Greensboro, and that’s what we’re looking for.”
And now that the Hornets can send their players to the Swarm, that will eliminate a situation like Harrison was in last season when he was sent to two D-League teams that were only loosely affiliated with Charlotte, an experience which can best be characterized as a crap shoot as to how many minutes that player will play, if he does at all and if he will be put in a position to succeed and allowed to develop.
“Well, I think, to be honest, he just needed more [games in the D-League last year]. This is our first year that we have our own D-League team and Aaron did a great job last year in practice with us, but the reality was when you don’t have your own team, two things happen,” Clifford said.
“One, we didn’t have the flexibility to have him down a lot like we will now. When they go down you can’t be involved in their plans. Other teams were great about helping out, but the bottom line is he went to OKC, he doesn’t know what’s going on. They’re not obviously as concerned about his development, so he didn’t play a lot; nobody’s fault. Then he went to Erie late in the year and I think he played seven games which is good, but he didn’t play nearly enough games so that it helped him.”
Harrison might already have one year in the Association under his belt, but that doesn’t mean he has started treating the game like a job.
In fact, his approach to the game remains the exact opposite.
“No, it hasn’t hit me yet. Playing basketball is what I love to do. Getting paid for it is just a plus. It doesn’t feel like a job to me,” Harrison said.
In Monday’s 95-88 preseason loss to the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center, he played 9:32 and scored two points with one rebound and one steal.
And it remains to be seen just how much time he will spend in the D-League this season, but with a much more favorable arrangement in place thanks to having its own affiliate in close proximity, if he does play for the Swarm, it’s an opportunity Harrison will again welcome.
“Yeah, I think any guy that we have on the team that’s going to play in Greensboro, that will help them a ton,” Harrison said. “Of course, we’re running the same things and they’re concerned about our development as players, so that helps.”
But at least on Monday, he was savoring being back in his home state of Texas, even if his trip back was rather short.
“Yeah, it’s always great to be back in Texas. I saw a couple of friends and family members, so it’s great to be back and come out here and play a game,” Harrison said.