Who Is?: Justin Harper


Many Magic fans were watching the war room on OrlandoMagic.com intently. Even with no volume, every movement Otis Smith made seem to be analyzed. If you didn’t, I definitely admire you. There was not much going on as the Magic waited patiently for No. 53 to come up. Then it appeared their man fell out of the first round and into their lap.

A quick call to the Cavaliers generated some activity and some celebration indicated something went well for the Magic. It was not the blockbuster move many fans had hoped for. But might have been the kind of tweak or asset Otis Smith really wanted to add.

I mean, what other team would want to amass another 6-foot-10, sweet-shooting power forward? That just had Magic written all over it.

Smith said the team had Justin Harper rated in the 20s on its draft board and were surprised to see him slip into the second round. The Cavaliers made him the second pick of the second round and sent him to the Magic for two future second round picks. If Orlando truly believes this is their guy, then they certainly did their best to pick him up. He definitely fits the typical profile for a Magic power forward.

Harper might also be signalling Ryan Anderson’s availability in a trade. Yeah, just because the Magic did not make a big deal Thursday night, it does not mean that a big trade is not coming up. And whether Harper can make Orlando’s roster and contribute is going to play a big role in that.

He definitely fits the definition as a stretch-4. He averaged 17.9 points per game while shooting 53.8 percent from the floor and 44.8 percent from beyond the arc in a breakthrough senior year. The guy can put the ball int he basket and is a great shooter. Those are things the Magic like to see in their power forwards. He is improving in other areas too.

Orlando will just have to wait and see if he has enough to make the roster whenever training camp is.

The Good: Harper is a stretch-4 in the Rashard Lewis/Ryan Anderson mold. He is going to spend a lot of time on the perimeter spreading the floor and his size will make it difficult for opponents to clog the lane around Dwight Howard. That is what the Magic have always looked for in power forwards. They want people who can spread the floor.

Harper shot a pretty solid 44.8 percent from long range and 38.2 percent for his career. His scoring is just efficient, reaching 61.7 percent effective field goal percentage thanks to his 3-point shooting and a 64.1 percent true shooting percentage thanks to a 25.2 percent free throw rate. He can get to the line when he gets to the basket. That likely will not be his role with the Magic. And that is not his strength.

Shooting definitely is his strength. And that is why the Magic traded up to get him.

Even against Kansas in Richmond’s final game of the NCAA Tournament at the Sweet Sixteen, he came up big for the Spiders. He scored 22 points on 9-for-18 shooting. He stepped up for his team and delivered. And that was against a Final Four team in Kentucky.


The Bad: His senior year was a big surprise when looking at his other seasons. He averaged 10.6 points per game as a junior in 25 minutes per game. His increas in scoring might have been a product of receiving more minutes than anything else. His field goal percentage has always been solid, but his 3-point shooting did not break out until his senior year.

Orlando seems to believe he is going to shoot like he did his senior year for the rest of his career. I am more likely to believe he will fall back to his mean. That should still be pretty good, but not like his senior year.

And, of course, the problem with stretch-4s is they do not rebound particularly well. Harper is no exception to that rule. He averaged 4.8 rebounds for his career. Increasing to his senior year where he averaged 6.9 boards per game with an 18.6 defensive rebound percentage. His role on the team was not to be the team’s rebounder (although he was Richmond’s leading rebounder last year).

I imagine that number will decrease against NBA competition.

That of course is not why the Magic brought him in. And that was something Lewis and Anderson struggled with at times. But, yes, this is duplication of some players the Magic already have.

Draft Sites Say:

Aran Smith, NBADraft.net: “Combo forward with excellent length, agility and shooting ability … His ability to knock down shots is his bread and butter … Has a fluid stroke with range out to NBA 3. Lacks a true position: Despite having excellent speed and agility, he’s a bit of a tweener lacking the bulk to defend post players and the lateral speed to defend quick 3s … Gets pushed off the block far too easily … Needs to bulk up and become a full time power forward.”

Joey Whelan, Draft Express: “The results have been staggering, as (Justin) Harper can make a legitimate claim to not only being the most improved player in the nation this season, but arguably the best shooter. After averaging 10.6 points and 5 rebounds in 25 minutes as a junior, he is leading the Spiders with a line of 18 points and 7 rebounds in 31 minutes, and is fresh off helping his team win the Atlantic 10 tournament championship this weekend. Richmond will play Vanderbilt in the NCAA tournament on Thursday in Denver.”

Josh Robbins, Orlando Sentinel: “All that hard work paid is paying dividends. The Magic envision the 6-foot-9 Harper as someone who can play either forward position and stretch the floor with his accurate long-range shooting. They compare him to former Orlando forward Rashard Lewis.”

Final Word: Harper definitely seems like he has the ability. He is a bit of a late bloomer and someone who had to learn the game as he goes. That suggests he is extremely coachable and Stan Van Gundy is going to be able to shape him how he wants.

There is no question that he could be a good 3-point shooter. And he will fit into his role as a stretch-4. If the Magic want to go that way, he will fill that role well.

But he is still learning the game and needs to improve some of his post skills. His rebounding skills will need improvement. Harper is someone who will fit in with the Magic. It may not be immediately, but it certainly could be. How quickly he can adjust to the NBA is another question he will have to answer quickly.

It is hard to project exactly what he can do. He might be the next Rashard Lewis or he might not. We will find out when he finally suits up for the team.

Photo via DayLife.com.