When the Magic acquired Maurice Harkless from Philadelphia, no one quite knew what the team had.
Here was a 19-year-old player who played more of the combo power forward in college and had a lot of raw athleticism but lacked refinement. His jumper needed work. He was skinny. But he could fly and he had the length and athleticism to make it as a defender at this level.
Two years later, and look at the Harkless the Magic have.
“It’s my second year and it’s mind blowing sometimes when I sit down and think about it I’m still 20 years old,” Maurice Harkless said. “I just finished my second year and I have so much more years ahead of me god willing. I have so much more room for improvement. Just got to keep working.”
He is a guy that is confident shooting 3-pointers improving from 27.4 percent last year to 38.3 percent this year. Here is a guy who was more comfortable putting the ball on the floor and attacking the basket. Here was a guy who was more confident defensively.
Harkless is far from a finished project, but he really began to blossom and show what kind of player he might one day be as the season progressed. He is still a work in progress, but he got better and better as the season went on. He began to show some more assertiveness in stretches and a lot more confidence.
Take a look at how his stats improved by month this season:
|Month||PPG||3FG%||eFG%||Points in Paint/Game||FGA/Game||RPG|
You can see Harkless had his ups and downs throughout the season. His aggression came and went. But he was on a serious upswing as the season came to an end. He slowly put things together and became a stronger and better player.
Is he a finished product? No one is ready to say that.
“I think the goal for him is to really just continue to grow all aspects of his game at both ends of the floor,” Jacque Vaughn said. “If you take one part of it, his ability to shoot the three better than he did last year, I think that comes from just working on it. That’s going to be the thrust of his game — working on every aspect, handling the basketball, being able to rebound the basketball, being able to guard different positions for us. He’s definitely taken some steps in the right direction and we’ll continue to push him.”
If that was part of the goal this season, then Harkless certainly seemed to take a step in that direction.
By even looking at the amount of times he sought to attack the basket showed a willingness to be aggressive. It did not happen for all 82 games or for every minute he was in the game. He famously took only one field goal attempt in nearly 46 minutes of game action against the Bulls in a triple overtime game.
There was some assertiveness to be desired. Vaughn always characterized Harkless’ season as going through pockets of strong productivity and then pockets through times of some struggle. What was important for Vaughn, he continually said, was that Harkless remain active, especially on defense, and find other ways to make an impact aside from his offensive game.
Vaughn said it takes a certain kind of toughness from a young player to continue to grind when his shots and minutes are somewhat inconsistent. Harkless though did a pretty good job of finding a way to make himself valuable even as his shot was somewhat inconsistent and his contributions offensively came and went.
This was a year of growth for Harkless. And a big one for his growing confidence.
“I think he has really grown,” Vaughn said. “I think there is a comfort level on the offensive end of the floor that he didn’t have at the beginning of the year and didn’t have last year. I think he would admit that. The great thing is there is still some room for growth. We want to be able to put the ball in his hands and be able to handle the basketball, bust out get a rebound and initiate our offense and be able to post up like he did tonight, to be able to use his length to get offensive rebounds. There are a lot of areas where he is going to get better at. The challenge of their career right now is to accept and get better and appreciate every day. He’s going to do that.”
One wonders what the future holds.