While Arron Afflalo was out with a calf bruise, Maurice Harkless got his chance to be a key contributor in the rotation for the Magic. Yes, he started 20 games at the beginning of the season, but as I have mentioned numerous times elsewhere, he clearly was not ready to take on much of a role and he was relegated to an energetic on-ball defender and a stand-in-the-corner-wait-for-an-open-lane-to-cut offensive player.
Harkless will not be joining teammates Nikola Vucevic and Andrew Nicholson in Houston for the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge tonight. Harkless' numbers have not been as consistent as the starter, Vucevic, or as the polished Nicholson. Harkless was a much rawer prospect after playing just one year at St. John's.
Even through his 5.0 points per game and 45.5 percent field goal shooting, Harkless has shown the talent that made him the 15th pick in the draft. With Arron Afflalo out of the lineup (among many other players), Harkless averaged 9.7 points per game in the last 10 games (since he was re-inserted into the starting lineup). His field goal percentage is up and down, but that is to be expected from a rookie like Harkless.
What is important to note though is that Harkless has been more willing to attack and score in different ways than before. He is more confident and comfortable with the ball in his hands, trying to attack the basket off the dribble and use his athleticism more than being just another body.
When you look at his shot distribution, most of it has come from the corners or at the rim.
More than 60 percent of his shots have come at the rim according to Basketball-Reference and 55 of his 81 makes at the rim have been assisted. This suggest that Harkless has been more of a stand-in waiting for his opportunity to cut into the paint. More than two-thirds of Harkless' field goals are assisted according to NBA.com.
And dramatically, Harkless' shots are at the rim. He has 140 field goal attempts in the restricted area according to NBA.com. The rest of his shots are pretty evenly distributed throughout the court. This was entering Tuesday's loss to the Bobcats where Harkless was aggressive and scored 15 points and grabbed six rebounds.
A look at his shot distribution reveals Harkless has spent most of his offensive time in the paint and in the restricted area. This is a good sign, but also a product of the role he has played for the Magic this year as a rookie. And according to Synergy, 46.3 percent of Harkless' shots come off of spot ups or cuts. There are not a lot of plays run for him.
Yet, recently, Harkless has found his own way to generate offense. When you look at Harkless now, he is more confident with the ball in his hands. He is no longer just a guy who passes the ball along on offense.
When you look at the number of assists leading to Harkless' baskets, you get a better look at how Harkless has changed.
Harkless had five shots at the rim last night against the Bobcats, three of them were assisted. In the last 10 games, Harkless has had 31 field goals at the rim with 19 of them being assisted. At the beginning of the season, Harkless rarely had a field goal make that was not assisted — 56 of his 84 shots at the rim this season have been assisted according to HoopData.
So few of his shots come from outside the paint or away from the rim that it is difficult to find any other measures that Harkless is playing with more confidence and doing more on offense than he was before. So you rely on the eye test.
Plays like the one above are more of what you will see from Harkless. He is more active around the basket and available to receive a pass — even a crazy one from Kyle O'Quinn off his back. There were other plays where Harkless made himself available and was aggressive with the ball in recent games.
The confidence and aggression Harkless has displayed in the last few weeks has been visible. It has waned some with Arron Afflalo back in the lineup and fewer plays run for Harkless recently. However, that has not appeared to stop Harkless much. He is finding ways to contribute.
That has led to his growth and development as a player. That is exactly what the Magic want to see.