Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images
When the wild, unwelcome dust from the Dwight Howard tornado-trades eventually settled in the summer of 2012, a cast of no-names found themselves standing in Orlando. No one knew exactly who among them would stand time’s test and fill out the Magic’s future constitution. Some are already memories (Josh McRoberts, Al Harrington). But some are still here and appear to be central to the future of the team.
One of those former no-names is Maurice Harkless. Anytime you read about the bright outlook for the Magic or the successful pieces GM Rob Hennigan has accumulated, you almost always hear the names of Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris, Victor Oladipo, and Harkless, with the recent inclusion of Kyle O’Quinn for some.
The first three are no-brainers in that regard; if they don’t pan out, the whole rebuilding plan will undoubtedly collapse.
But the inclusion of Harkless always gets me thinking. Is he truly that vital? How significantly would the rebuild be derailed if he suddenly retired in order to stop people from hearing what the Herald Angels are singing?
Truthfully, if you compare his statistics from his most recent sophomore season to his first, his numbers are down in almost every category across the board. Not significantly, but the point is that the trend isn’t on the up. He scored, rebounded, and blocked less than in his rookie year. These aren’t areas you want to see regression in from a building block player.
And then your eye fixes on one single stat that changes your entire outlook on Harkless: his 3-point percentage. What an improvement we find there. This past season he jumped over a hundred percentage points in made 3-pointers, from a painful 27.4 percent to a very healthy 38.3 percent.
To put that stat in perspective, it’s among the top 50 in the league and only .1 percent behind a guy named Kevin Durant, who’s pretty good. That’s no fluke. Harkless has clearly worked very hard to expand his shooting arsenal.
Couple that improved shooting with his already-known defensive capabilities and you begin to see why there is so much promise to be found in the guy. He could be exactly the type of role player a winning team needs: a defensive stopper who specializes in the knocking down the most valuable shot in the game. What more could you really ask for?
Harkless’ game somewhat reminds me of a former Magic player: Trevor Ariza. Ironic, given that he was traded away by the Magic for his inability to shoot 3s before he eventually developed into a sharpshooter. I think it’s fair to say that if Harkless’ career ends up following Ariza’s path, Magic fans can consider that a win.
Ariza is a player who now is consistently averaging 1.5 to 2.0 steals per game, but it took him five seasons to even get above 1.0 per game. Harkless has been at that level right from the start. Ariza barely attempted 3s during his first five years; this past season, he finished among the league leaders in 3-pointer percentage at 40.7 percent. Yet he’d never reached Harkless’ 38.3 percent before last year.
So it’s just possibly possible that Maurice Harkless is a Trevor Ariza type, a 3-and-D player with a lengthy wingspan, but on a faster and more extensive progression. Or it’s at least exciting to think that way.
The point: there is absolutely more room for growth, and he’s only played two seasons in the league. The Magic are desperate for shooters, and seeing more improvement from the current players, and Harkless, may go just as far as bringing in outside help.
Let’s keep putting Harkless in the “Magic cornerstones” category for now. It’ll be exciting to see where the young man elevates his game to next.