Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Frankel’s 2013-14 projections
Maurice Harkless is potential incarnate. At 6-foot-9 with near-elite athletic ability, broad shoulders and hands that brush his knees, his is the physical model from which all modern day forwards should be constructed. But as anyone who watched the energetic 20 year-old ebb and flow through his rookie season will tell you, there’s far more to his game than “could be” and “what if?”
Fortunately for Harkless and the Orlando Magic, he has one side of the ball — that with which young players most often struggle, in fact — down pat. Harkless is already an effective, if flawed, defender, owing much of his early success to that ideal blend of physical attributes. He was one of just 11 players in the NBA to average at least 1.5 steals and 1.0 block per 36 minutes last season.
Harkless has much to learn from a scheme and discipline standpoint defensively, is an underwhelming rebounder, and needs to get stronger, too. All that should come with experience and time, though. Once it does, it’s easy to imagine Harkless developing into one of the league’s premier defenders. Players that can capably and seamlessly guard multiple positions are few and far between, and Harkless’ consistent motor is another attribute in his favor on this end, too.
But if he’s on the tracks to becoming great on defense, Harkless’ offensive train hasn’t even left the station. That’s not surprising — he played out of position his lone year at St. John’s and got most of his points via hustle and athleticism.
Transitioning to a mostly perimeter-oriented role was bound to be an adjustment for Harkless, and that assumption proved true in more ways than one: he shot a dismal 22.2 percent on 2-pointers outside the restricted area and compiled far more turnovers (69) than assists (50) last season. That poor shooting mark extends beyond 2-point jumpers, as Harkless shot 57 percent from the free throw line and 27.4 percent from beyond the arc while compiling a .504 True Shooting percentage.
But it’s not all gloom and doom for Harkless offensively. He’s already prolific and efficient at the basket and on the break, and he shot an awesome 39.7 percent on 3-pointers in March while taking a season-high 3.0 attempts per game. Harkless will no doubt improve offensively, but there are still no signs of him becoming the type of force he might eventually be on defense.
That doesn’t mean he won’t be an extremely useful player. Two-way basketball is more en vogue than ever now, and Harkless has enough defensive chops that he’ll always have a place in the league. The biggest question facing his career is what type of role will he have on offense?
Should he continue honing his shot from 3-point range and advance his off-dribble game, Harkless will be an impact performer. If his offensive development mostly stalls, he’ll settle into a niche a la Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Though the former arc is obviously optimal, the latter one is hardly disappointing. Point being, the Magic have a player here — they just don’t know what kind yet.