As a 20-year-old on a rebuilding team, it is hard to really gauge just how good forward Maurice Harkless can be. As a member of the extremely youthful Orlando Magic team that won 23 games this year, he played his part both in all of the positive things the that happened, as well as the negative. Still, though, his play at times was enough to get Magic fans excited about what he could one day potentially could become. If you weren’t aware already, potential is the buzzword around Orlando these days, but next season there must be an improvement in this team’s fortunes. That includes getting more out of Harkless, but for now let us take a look back at how he did this season.
Statistics are vital when looking at what a player does for his team when on and off the basketball court (although on a personal level, I find there to be an over reliance put on the numbers, sometimes a player can do things for a team that go beyond the box score or advanced stats). In this respect, Harkless had a less successful year than his rookie campaign last year, with his numbers dipping right across the board. There is an obvious reason for this though, one that goes beyond the fact his minutes were reduced slightly this year (24.4 this year compared to 26 his rookie campaign). When Harkless joined the team, the Magic were a mess of a franchise that was playing the part of the jilted lover after the departure of franchise player Dwight Howard. The season that followed was more about trying to get over the breakup than making any sort of progress on the court. Last year, however, with the arrival of Victor Oladipo and the stepping up of Arron Afflalo, the team began to forge a new identity for itself. It was an identity that saw Harkless play a little less and take more of a backseat on an all-around level. It’s not that the organization doesn’t believe he has a future with the team, far from it, it’s just that this year was about trying to establish itself, and Harkless was a little underdeveloped to really help in a big way with that.
The word raw would be used to describe a lot of young players on this Magic team, and Harkless is no exception. Intriguing is another, for this guy looks like he has the potential to be one of those do-it-all kind of players on the court. His 7.4 points last year weren’t much, and with this team struggling to score (25th in the league during the regular season) better offensive play from him would most certainly be welcomed. But the point that a lot of people are missing, is just what a great third option he could be on this team. Right now there are too many “what ifs” surrounding this team and good it can become, and Harkless is certainly one of them. But with Victor Oladipo and the more complete Tobias Harris already on the team, and Arron Afflalo if he sticks around, Harkless has the time, space and not a lot of pressure to be able to grow as a player and become one of the key guys for this team, perhaps off the bench.
Speaking of bench play, Harkless played in 80 games this year, starting 41 of them. Clearly the Magic are unsure yet which category he falls into, starter or bench player, although injuries to other guys forced their hand in terms of him starting quite so many games. At the moment, his future would seem to be that of a bench player, if only because of his age and unpolished game. A hard-working summer could absolutely turn this guy into a starter next year, he could be that good. Other positives include a defensive game that is on the rise and could become a very useful tool for this team to have in the future. Lock-down defenders may not always get what their worth because they are not perceived to be glamorous players, but every team certainly needs at least one. On top of that, Harkless is developing a nice little 3-point shot as well. His rookie season, he averaged .274 from beyond the 3-point line. This year that number swelled to .383. He’s hardly Kyle Korver, but that sort of jump in numbers is worth mentioning. Also he would have done this without a ton of open looks; the lack of a superstar on this Orlando Magic team means the opposition is able to zone in on whoever is feeling it for this team on the night. That improved defending and on the rise 3-point game make for a dangerous combo that make Harkless worth having around.
As far as this year went for Maurice Harkless, is was pretty standard stuff. His stats suffered, while his defending and 3-point game improved. Right now he is plying under the radar, but is showing the kind of growth that the top brass in Orlando will be happy to see. Yes, he didn’t set the world on fire this year, but neither did the Magic. For his age and development he is right where he should be, and that is why despite what the numbers say, we can see that Harkless had a pretty good year for this team. Continued improvement needs to be seen going forward though, making next season a key one for this young player.