Justin Harper, the Next Stretch-4?


The Magic gave up two second round draft picks to select Justin Harper. He is everything the Magic look for in a power forward (or at least everything they have looked for recently).

Like Rashard Lewis and Ryan Anderson, he is 6-foot-10 and a proficient shooter. That is his skill and that is what Orlando likely drafted him to do. It is still far too early to tell exactly what Harper will be able to do. Right now all we can do is project. His numbers suggest that he will be able to provide a lot of the same skills that Anderson does.

What does that mean?

It might mean the Magic might be preparing themselves to move a guy like Ryan Anderson or Brandon Bass. If Orlando is serious about making a trade to improve their roster, these two might be among their most valuable assets, with Anderson having the most value. It is no secret the team is looking to improve the team in a pretty major way. And it feels like Anderson is going to be one of the guys moving out.

That puts pressure on Harper to be the next stretch-4 for Orlando. And that is asking a lot of a second round pick.

The Magic believe he can play both forward positions and see a lot of Rashard Lewis in him, as many did in college. But that might be a little unfair to put such loifty expectations on him already. The fact is even though it looks like Harper is a good player and someone who can eventually contribute to the lineup, we just don’t know what he is going to provide. The Magic did not interview or work him out and drafted him just on the strength of his college performance.

How immediately the Magic need him might only be important if Anderson or Bass are traded in the offseason. Again, it is hard to tell if Harper is ready.

Harper averaged 17.9 points per game last year, shooting 53.4 percent from the floor and 44.8 percent from 3-point range. More impressively, he was Richmond’s leading scorer and rebounder suggesting that he had a higher usage rate. He has more athleticism than Anderson and a more natural post game. But, like Anderson that is not where he naturally wants to be and his post moves are rudimentary at best. Harper is going to gravitate to the perimeter.

We know his rebounding needs to improve after leading the Spiders with 6.9 rebounds per game and an 18.6 defensive rebound percentage.

Anderson was a much more accomplished rebounder coming out of college, finishing third in the Pac-10 in rebounding with 9.9 per game as a sophomore and fourth in the conference with a 23.7 defensive rebound percentage. Of course, Anderson has not made himself a rebounder in the NBA as his time in Orlando has been spent on the perimeter. His defensive rebound percentage was at 18.1 percent and his total rebound rate was 14.5 percent last year for the Magic.

NCAA Basketball

Harper was a more proficient shooter in his final year in college than Anderson was and that might mean something or it might not. Harper did stay in school all four years while Anderson had a two-year stint at Cal and made a much faster and deeper impact for his college team.

Anderson averaged 21.1 points per game his sophomore year and 18.7 points per game for his two-year career, shooting a 55.4 percent effective field goal percentage for his career. Harper averaged 17.9 points per game last year after posting 10.6 per game his junior year. For his four-year career he averaged 10.6 points per game and posted a 56.4 percent effective field goal percentage for his career.

As you can see from the graph above the players are very similar in several key offensive categories (and I apologize for using blue for both players, StatSheet would not let me change the color for some reason… the darker blue is Anderson’s sophomore year and the lighter shade of blue is Harper’s senior year). The two players are very comparable. Harper has an edge in effective field goal percentage and in getting to the line, but coming out of college, Anderson produced more consistently and was a better rebounder.

The difference between the two — and perhaps the key to determining whether Harper can actually play for the Magic — is on the defensive end. That is a lot harder to quantify for Harper since he is coming out of the mid-major Atlantic 10 having played for Richmond.

Anderson’s defense can best be described as serviceable, although he is often the weak link in the post. The Magic posted a 101 defensive rating and Anderson had a 2.5 defensive win shares in 2011. Of course, as with any Magic player, you have to ask how much of that was Dwight Howard helping. It will be interesting to see what Harper can provide on this front.

Make no mistake though, Harper is very much next in line to become the team’s new stretch-4. It is not to say that Anderson or Bass is gone. But it will make it easier to part with one of them knowing you have a guy like Harper waiting in the wings — plus Earl Clark if the team chooses to resign him.

Of course, now it is up to Harper to prove he is up to the task on both ends of the floor.

Photos via DayLife.com.