In this try anything season for the Orlando Magic, one puzzling omission from the starting lineup for some time now has been second-year forward Maurice Harkless. Given that the lottery is where this team is headed and trying out new things is positively encouraged, the lack of playing time for Harkless is a little puzzling. His rookie campaign last year showed some very promising signs indeed, but this year has seen both his minutes and effectiveness scale back quite dramatically. Injuries to the roster, though, may just have given Harkless hope of cracking the starting five once more and have a bigger part in the rotation like he did at the beginning of the season.
First though a brief word on those aforementioned injuries. The concussion to Nikola Vucevic was scary to watch and was probably the final nail in his faint hopes of making the Eastern Conference All-Star team this year. Perhaps more worrying going forward, though, is the fact that the young and talented center seems to constantly have little niggling injuries that are hampering his productivity on the floor. Losing Jameer Nelson to a sprained right finger against the Denver Nuggets isn’t a massive loss, but seeing Arron Afflalo sit out a couple of contests with a strained right foot is much more concerning. His near 21 points a game a big loss and it has showed in recent losses too. With these three going down, however brief their absence may be, it makes winning games even more difficult than it has already proved for the Magic. But what this does do is allow Harkless to potentially play a much bigger role going forward.
The mini-revival actually started as far back as last Monday, when the Magic were blown out badly in The Staples Center by a Los Angeles Clippers team that never even got out of second gear. When Harkless checked into the game though, with the team down a demoralizing 35 points, he willed his team to play hard and try and at least cut the deficit, something he helped to make happen. Although Orlando ultimately lost by 20, Harkless created a buzz when introduced to the game that his teammates fed off of. It was a spark not unlike that which Victor Oladipo can bring on any given night with his athleticism, but it was done in a different way by Harkless who, by the way, is a year younger than the Magic’s promising rookie out of Indiana. No, Harkless used pure will power and hard work to get the Magic going, something this team badly needs going forward.
While the Los Angeles game was great for Harkless personally, the other side of his game was evident in that loss to the Denver Nuggets that saw Nelson go down. Making his first start since Nov. 24, Harkless connected on a 3-point attempt early on to seemingly justify his inclusion in the startling lineup. That was as good as it got, as for the next 19 minutes he was on the floor, Harkless was non-existent offensively doing nothing else as the game passed him by. Yes, he has seen his minutes fluctuate a lot, which cannot have helped him establish any sort of rhythm, but other players would have taken this chance with both hands to lay down a marker that they should be starting every game for the team. Therein lies the enigma that Maurice Harkless has become this season. A spark plug at times off the bench who can get a team going, but for the most part, not much of a contributor so far this campaign. As a player that the Magic were hoping to build around going forward, this is a concern.
It’s hardly make-or-break time for the player who can’t even legally buy alcohol in most states in America, but there is a reason Maurice Harkless hasn’t seen much playing time so far this year. If he was good enough he’d surely play, for it is a largely pressure free time for the players at the club who know that they are not expected to win many games. What probably hurts more for Magic fans is the fact that Harkless showed a lot of potential late last season. It hasn’t carried over to this year yet and in many ways that’s alright, there is still plenty of time for it all to be figured out. But over the last few games, we have seen both sides to Harkless’ game. Against the Clippers he willed his team back from the brink and against the Nuggets he went missing in action completely. With the injury bug continuing to affect this team, you’ve got to think we’ll see more of this kid out of necessity soon enough. Question is though, will he be ready to truly step out of the shadows then?