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One of the bright spots during a post-Dwight Howard rebuilding season, in which the Orlando Magic have lost 59 of their first 76 games, is the play of rookie small forward Maurice Harkless. He was one of the players brought over from Philadelphia in the three-team mega-trade that sent Dwight to Los Angeles, Andre Iguodala to Denver, Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia, and four different players to Orlando. Combined with the contributions of Nikola Vucevic and Arron Afflalo (before he got injured), that deal doesn’t seem so lopsided these days.
After coming out of St. John’s University as a teenager, Harkless suffered a sports hernia and missed all of training camp. It showed in the season’s first couple months, as Harkless had trouble adjusting to his new role after dominating the Big East in the first part of 2012.
But over the last two and a half months, he’s provided a nice blip of offensive potential for an Orlando Magic team that could feature him as their small forward of the future. The lanky 6-foot-8 Big East alum is shooting 31.4 percent on 3-pointers for the season and 47.4 percent overall. He’s sporting a modest .517 True Shooting percentage.
His opportunities have progressed since a foot injury knocked Glen Davis out of the lineup in late January, J.J. Redick was dealt to Milwaukee at the February deadline, and Afflalo partially tore his hamstring in late March. If you’ve been watching Harkless play lately, you’ll know that he’s been taking advantage of his increased role.
The Orlando Magic are banged up right now and they’re losing, but one of the benefits of a lost season is a chance for fans to see young talent. New Magic coach Jacque Vaughn probably thinks: why not get these youngsters some reps? Orlando GM, Rob Hennigan, would also add — privately, of course — that this strategy might mean an additional number of ping-pong balls in this summer’s draft lottery.
Part of a favorable future for Harkless in Orlando is the all-important rookie deal that has GM’s, like Hennigan, salivating at all the saved cap space. In a post-CBA world where salary cap strictures are even more pronounced with increasing luxury taxes, cheap talent is almost as much of a commodity as a certain all-world center who used to prowl Amway Center. Almost. There’s no better place to find cheap talent than with kids still on their rookie deal.
This is readily apparent with the uptick in minutes for Harkless since the All-Star break.