Maurice Harkless goes FIBA

Anyone searching for basketball right now can only look to the end of August and salivate. No matter how many Twitter memes and puns we come up with, it does not replace basketball — even Summer League basketball. We are starting to lament the loss of playground basketball, for crying out loud.

The teams prepping for the World Cup at the end of August are making the rounds around the world for their exhibition games to get ready.

Just Thursday, Andrew Nicholson scored 10 points in Canada’s 92-80 loss to Slovenia to open up Canada’s European tour.

As I noted earlier this week, however, we were expecting Maurice Harkless to play for Puerto Rico as well. At this point, it is not clear whether Harkless will join Puerto Rico in Spain for the World Cup. There are still details to follow up on that Puerto Rico is working on.

Back in January, Harkless had met with Puerto Rico coach Paco Olmos and seemed excited about the opportunity. He said he anticipated heading over to train with the team after Summer League. By all reports, that has not occurred. Harkless is still in the states.

“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun just being in a different environment, playing basketball and being in other countries playing basketball,” Harkless said then. “Also seeing other countries. I’ve never really been outside the country except Mexico and Toronto. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.

“We’ve talked a little bit. I’m going to be one of the main guys on that team. I don’t know yet, we’ll see.”

That would obviously be something that would attract a player like Harkless — and something that would really interest Magic fans and staff as well.

Photo by Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Maurice Harkless has spent most of his two years as a supporting player. Puerto Rico could give him a chance to step forward. Photo by Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Harkless, in his two years in Orlando, has a usage rate of 15.3 percent. He is mostly viewed on offense as a 3-and-D guy. He will cut and slash to the rim, but he will rarely create for himself. He struggled much of his second year in the league trying to create for himself offensively consistently. His jumper and 3-pointer improved greatly however.

The average distance of his field goal attempts extended by three feet according to Basketball-Reference to about 11 feet and 56.4 percent of his 2-point field goals were assisted, down from 62.3 percent his rookie year.

Harkless did improve and was trending upward toward the end of the season. Especially considering that start.

There is certainly a bit of a lineup crunch now for the Magic and Harkless is going to have to find his way. He could very well be in the shooting guard rotation, but his natural position of small forward is much fuller than it was in April. Tobias Harris could play there. So could Evan Fournier. And then there is fourth-overall pick Aaron Gordon.

Competitive pressure breeds improvement, but now is the time for Harkless to prove where he belongs in the league and — even at 21 — make his way. It is time for Harkless to define himself as a player for the long term.

That is certainly something the Magic are going to be looking at throughout the season.

His play for Puerto Rico could very well be a confidence builder for the upcoming season. If Harkless did get a more central role in the offense — that might be tough with Carlos Arroyo and J.J. Barea potentially dominating the ball in the favored pick and roll offense — it would be a great opportunity to refine his skills.

Harkless did that in Summer League last season. He was aggressive and looked to create for himself. It did not translate fully to the season, but Harkless had the confidence to try new things. That is the value of these tournaments. And obviously playing a bigger role in stiffer competition of the World Cup would be a big step for Harkless.

His career and place could very well be on the table this upcoming season. He is not guaranteed anything in this cluttered, potentially talented rotation.

We will see if he decides to take this opportunity or whether we will have to wait for training camp to see what he has added to his game.

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily