Although it wasn’t the type of trade that was rumored or Magic fans hoped for, the Magic pulled off a pretty good deal Thursday night. They sent their next two second round picks to the Cleveland Cavaliers for the second pick of the second round (32nd) overall for the rights to Richmond forward Justin Harper.
Harper wasn’t a well-known name for the majority of his college career. Harper burst on to the scene during the end of his senior season when he led Richmond to an Atlantic-10 Tournament Championship, earning his team a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Richmond continued to surprise, first knocking out Vanderbilt and Morehead State, before losing to an absolutely loaded Kansas team (they had three players drafted Thursday) in the Sweet 16.
As my partner Brian Serra pointed out, Harper averaged 20.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in an underrated Atlantic-10 conference. The league sent three teams to the Big Dance, with Temple and tournament staple Xavier being the other two.
Still, the Atlantic-10 is not one of the elite confrences.
After the jump, we’ll take a look at Harper’s numbers from his senior season, then see how he played against better competition.
Clearly, Harper is a gifted offensive player, but let’s see what he did against top notch competition.
Early in the year, Richmond played the 8th ranked Purdue Boilermakers. Richmond gave Purdue it’s first loss of the season on November 27. Harper had 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds in the game. Harper had 20 points and 13 rebounds against Wake Forest. Wake has been down recently, but they’re still in the ACC.
In conference play, Harper had 20 points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks and shot 70.0% from the field in a January loss to Xavier. In another conference loss, this time to Temple, Harper had a forgettable game, going 6-of-17 from the field and finishing with just 14 points. He made up for in the Atlantic-10 tournament semi-finals, scoring 18 points and grabbing nine boards in a victory over Temple. Harper then had 18 points and seven rebounds in the championship game, a victory over Dayton.
Harper then averaged 16.7 points per game in the NCAA tournament.
The first thing that sticks out to you about Harper’s overall numbers is his three-point percentage. 44.8% is extremely impressive, even if the college line is significantly shorter. Harper has proved his range throughout his career. Harper is listed at 6’9 and is often compared to former Magic forward Rashard Lewis, so it’s easy to tell why the Magic like him.
Harper has been knocked a little bit because people have a misconception about bigs who can shoot a la Ryan Anderson. They get pegged as one trick ponies, when in reality, they can do other things. Ryan Anderson, for instance, is an excellent rebounder. The same cannot be said about Harper, but Harper excels scoring in just about every other way as pointed out by Evan Dunlap of Orlando Pinstriped Post.
Harper really improved his free throw percentage during his senior season and did a pretty good job of getting to the line.
Harper isn’t a very good rebounder and to improve in that area, he has to bulk up. Harper can play both forward positions but based on his skill-set, I think he’d be better suited bulking up and becoming a full-time power forward for the Magic. If he doesn’t bulk up, he’s going to be dominated by opposing fours in the paint.
I don’t want to diminish Harper’s overall ability – he’s pretty quick and has done a good job of creating off the dribble – but it will be difficult for him to beat NBA three’s off of the dribble.
Of course, in Orlando, Harper can focus a little more on becoming a better rebounder because he won’t be asked to carry the scoring-load like he was at Richmond.
Overall, this was an excellent second round pick. Harper was viewed as a first round pick by many draft experts and seems to be a lock to make the team. You can’t usually say that about second round picks.
(Andrew Melnick is Howard the Dunk’s lead blogger, ESPN 1080′s Magic Insider (http://espn1080.com) and is the co-host of the ESPN1080.com Insiders Show Sunday mornings at 10:00 am EST. Subscribe to his RSS feed, add him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter to follow him daily. You can download the HTD app here).