Mar 28, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic forward Maurice Harkless (21) and Charlotte Bobcats forward Josh McRoberts (11) reach for the ball in the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando Magic: Will Maurice Harkless Step Up?

A lot has been made of the acquisitions of the Orlando Magic this summer. Most agree that general manager Rob Hennigan was smart to bring in the likes of Channing Frye and Evan Fournier.

Ben Gordon joining the team as well? OK, so maybe that one was a bit of a puzzling one, but all in all people seem happy.

Could it be though, that Orlando’s best player next year, or most improved depending on what way you look at it, is already on the roster and being heavily overlooked?

The competitive, up tempo game Maurice Harkless plays doesn’t always show up in the box score. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Maurice Harkless is 21 years of age. He was born in what was once the center of the basketball universe, New York.

You ask any Magic fan, and most of them will tell you they’re happy with Harkless and want to see him stick around. You press them further on why exactly that is, and a lot struggle to come up with a concrete answer.

There is a lot of talk of the word upside though.

Here’s the thing–Harkless will be entering his third season in the league this year. To watch him is to see a guy steadily getting to grips with what is a man’s league.

Already he is a solid rotation player, good for about 25 minutes a night of hard work on the court. Then you see that his numbers drop across most categories last season after a promising rookie campaign, and you do have to at least question why that happened and if he’s improving at the rate people believe.

We’ll start with the logical reasoning for a decline in numbers from year one to year two. Harkless played more games last season (80 compared to 76 his rookie year).

However, he started far more in year one, being on the court for tip off 59 times compared to 41 last year. Playing a minute and a half less (26 down to 24.4) also isn’t going to help the cause.

But is this reason enough to excuse him from a decline in productivity? More worrying still, what does it mean going forward?

Last season, Harkless averaged 7.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and one assist with a PER rating of 11.8. The year before, his first in the league, he averaged 8.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 0.7 assists with a PER rating of 12.5.

He attempted and converted more 2-point shots in year one as well.

However, on the positive side, last season saw an increase in his 3-pointers made (.383 compared to a fairly poor .274 his rookie year). His assist numbers also jumped up a tad as well.

Nothing is in trend more than the 3-point shot these days, so getting better at this is what every team wants. As a small forward, it doesn’t exactly spread the floor, and in many ways shooting the 3 should be a requirement of his anyway.

But still seeing such an improvement in this area is promising.

As for the rest of the numbers though, well what’s the deal exactly? Again, this comes up because so many feel he is a promising piece for this team, one they would love to see stick around for years to come.

It’s hard to gauge the intangibles of a player in most sports, especially one where so many, including the players themselves, are so obsessed with the numbers. But on the court Harkless appears a hard worker, and more than that a smart player.

So that has to count for something, doesn’t it?

He’s still so young, and yet this season will be one of the longest serving players on the team. This will require him to step up his game the way many expect him to.

But what if he doesn’t? Honestly, it’s entirely possible to see him being upstaged by Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic. Hell, even Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton have a bit of buzz about them right now.

So Harkless could very well fade into the background.

Well, not exactly. With the spotlight on others in the team and his numbers relatively low, surely the only way is up for this guy. as we’ve seen, he’s a smart player who is a decent team orientated defender with a developing 3-point game.

Players with those abilities have an impact on growing teams in this league.

Harkless will be just fine next year, and he will step up in his own way. He’s not going to be your 17 and seven guy on a nightly basis, but he doesn’t need to be, either.

All that is required is an improvement in some areas, and his hard working attitude will help him push on. A lot of fans believe in this guy, and this year the hope is that he will prove them right and have a breakout season of sorts.

He’s got the talent, he just needs more of a chance to show what he can do.

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