Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders estimates about 22 of the 60 players drafted each year since 2001 have what can be called careers in the NBA (getting the second contract and hanging around beyond their rookie deals). The 2011 draftees — like Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris — are starting to get their pay days.
What about 2012? Orlando has three of those players and Kyler has some thoughts to share:
Maurice Harkless (#15 – 2012 NBA Draft)
Harkless has shown flashes of brilliance, both as a defender and as an offensive player. This will be a big season for Harkless, especially considering the crowded roster at his position. Harkless has to separate himself this season in order for him to land that long-term deal. The good news for Mo is if Orlando doesn’t want him, several other teams would gladly take him off their hands. Harkless needs a strong season to cement his value, but his play to date likely locks him into another deal in the NBA.
Andrew Nicholson (#19 – 2012 NBA Draft)
Nicholson has been something of an enigma. He can really play, but struggles to play extended minutes and has worn down in his first two season in the NBA. Nicholson could very easily be out of the league in two years or sign a multi-year deal at a lower dollar. All sides of the Nicholson equation need him to have a defining season, both improving and cementing his place or falling backwards. Historically the 19th pick hasn’t produce a lot of longevity, it’s been very hit and miss and Nicholson could easily fall into either category. He needs to a strong season to cement his future.
Kyle O’Quinn (#49 – 2012 NBA Draft)
O’Quinn has beat the odds at every step, and while he’s put some quality minutes on tape, he still has more to do to cement a long-term career. Considering what similar skilled players like DeJuan Blair have gotten in free agency, O’Quinn needs a stand out this season to lock in the potential for a multi-year deal next summer. Considering the 49th pick has yielded roughly three players with long-term NBA careers, O’Quinn is facing stiff odds, but if he can improve on his play last season he could be one of the ones that gets a chance to make it.
Certainly all three of those paragraphs are fair analysis.
This is a humongous year for Maurice Harkless as the Magic likely want to see how far he has developed before making a long-term decision on his future with the team. He has a place in the NBA for sure. But at what price and which team is the question for Harkless.
O’Quinn has established himself as a hustle player who can provide good minutes off the bench. He is an extremely hard worker that has put himself in a strong position. He has to do it for a full season now to prove what his worth might be.
Nicholson has been the biggest enigma, as Kyler alludes to. He has had moments where he has looked like a great player, able to put up points off the bench. And moments where he has looked completely invisible. His shot has at times gone away and he has struggled to stay on the floor consistently.
To say the least, it is a big year for all three of these players as they become eligible for extensions next summer. The Magic are hoping this pressure will bring out good years from them and make their business decision that much harder.