If you’ve been wowed by the athleticism of the likes of Pat Connaughton, Gerald Henderson and Damian Lillard, then you’re in for a treat with fourth year small forward Maurice Harkless.
Referred to as the most athletic player to put on a Blazers uniform by Portland Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey during media day, Maurice Harkless has his eyes set on bringing some explosive scoring to the table this season while refining his other skills with the help of minutes on the court. Hailing from New York City, New York, the 6′ 8″, 208-pound small forward often known as Moe Harkless was a high school basketball standout in the Big Apple. He had earned many honors in high school including all-metro honors from both the New York Daily News and New York Post during his sophomore and junior years at Forest Hills High School while also being named the New York Daily News Queens High School Player of the Year after averaging 16.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per game during his junior year. Harkless transferred to South Kent School for his senior year of high school. Notable NBA alum from South Kent include Boston Celtic point guard Isiah Thomas and former Portland Trail Blazers three point ace Dorell Wright. Harkless, already on the radar of many college scouts, put up huge numbers averaging 27.2 points, 13.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game for his final year of high school.
Harkless, who originally committed to play alongside Andre Drummond, Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier for the University of Connecticut, went back and committed to play basketball for his hometown St. John’s University. His one year playing for the St. John’s Red Storm was short-lived with no postseason, but it was a fruitful one for the Puerto Rican national team star. His 15.5 points and 8.6 rebounds per game averages earned him the Big East Rookie of the Year award and put him sixth in scoring and second in rebounding among freshmen across the nation. After a season that didn’t see much team success, but rather a lot of personal promise from Harkless, he decided to leave St. John’s to enter the 2012 NBA Draft.
Just months after being drafted 15th overall by the Philadelphia 76ers, Harkless was sent packing to join the Orlando Magic as a vital piece in the controversial trade that sent Dwight Howard to Los Angeles Lakers and Andrew Bynum to the Sixers. This trade proved a success for a Magic team that was focused on shipping Howard out of town as Harkless was ranked in the top-10 in nearly all stats among rookies seeing 26 minutes per game to prove his worth. However, his sophomore year in the NBA proved to be a huge setback for Harkless in terms of playing time. He was reduced to a smaller role behind Arron Afflalo, Victor Oladipo, and Tobias Harris. About halfway through the season Harkless was reinserted into the starting lineup, though his minutes per game were still lesser than what he constantly saw during his rookie year. By his third year on the Magic he was buried on the depth chart, seeing time on the court in only 45 games.
Harkless was a 19-year-old rookie when this happened.
Sorry Robin Lopez…
Portland offers Harkless a soft restart to a young career that started off very promising. His situation in Orlando was one that was somewhat of a disaster for any young player looking to prove his worth in the NBA. Though one could argue that the roster in Portland is somewhat crowded, it’s a competitive one that should be awarding minutes to those who earn them. Harkless will have no problem earning some time on the hardwood. A common theme among a large majority of the youngsters on this rejuvenated Trail Blazers roster is that they have yet to see promising playing time in the NBA. This especially holds true for Harkless who had an impressive first year only to fall down the Orlando bench.
The acquisition of Harkless was somewhat of a quiet one that went unnoticed by many Blazer fans. In a way, that’s not such a bad thing. Portland practically got Harkless for free, trading away a 2020 second round draft pick that is protected from pick 31-55, meaning that the Trail Blazers will get to keep the pick unless it falls to the final five picks in the draft. Though he’s had a seemingly quiet NBA career so far, Harkless was drafted on terms of potential. The 22-year-old finds himself on a young Portland team that will give him all the opportunities needed to prove that he’s got what it takes. One thing he’ll immediately bring to the table is an elite level of athleticism, something Olshey is clearly rebuilding around.
To expect big things from Harkless is reasonable, as it is with nearly every member of this revamped Trail Blazers roster. Will we see Harkless on the hardwood consistently early on this season? Training camp and preseason will decide that. This may very well be the most competitive training camp Portland has ever seen. All members of this Trail Blazers roster, aside from the point guards behind Damian Lillard, Tim Frazier and Phil Pressey, have a realistic chance at winning a starting position come game one of the 2015-2016 NBA season. With that said, any of these same players could be cut come the end of training camp. Where do I expect Harkless to fall on a crowded, youthful roster? Barring some kind of explosive preseason showing, which is definitely possible, I see Harkless as an off the bench role player with a chip on his shoulder. However, the playing time is his for the takings as he’ll be competing with Al-Farouq Aminu and Allen Crabbe for minutes at the small forward position.
Will Harkless prove his worth in Rip City? Could he eventually bring some much needed offense to the team while polishing the other aspects of his game? Add those to the everlasting list of questions we currently have in Portland. Maybe he’ll refine his game and go down as one of the best trades Portland has ever made. If nothing else, Harkless will be a surefire spark plug off the bench who’ll electrify the crowd with some jaw-dropping athletic highlights. Those kind guys tend to find their ways into the hearts of Trail Blazers fans. At the very least, expect that from Moe Harkless.
At the very least.