In our “What’s Next” series, Senior Staff Writer Zach Oliver will take a look at the Magic’s players individually, and what their future with the team may be or what the next step is for them in their development. This time we look at athletic win Maurice Harkless.
Coming into his sophomore season, many wondered if Maurice Harkless would take the next step in his development. While he had his struggles this season, he also shined for parts of it, giving Magic fans more hope that they might have their small forward for the future. The St. John’s product didn’t put up big, flashy numbers, but did the small things that really showed his improvement from year one to year two.
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While Harkless’ counting stats did not improve, many actually decreasing, he saw an increase in efficiency and a huge improvement in his shooting from deep. He showed off a new jumper, which he worked on developing last summer, and it really paid off for the 6’8” forward as the season wore on. Harkless also was able to show the same tenacity he did during his rookie season on the defensive end, as he made a larger impact defensively this season.
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Harkless was able to build off a strong month of January to finish off the season on a high note. During the second half of the season, Harkless showed off his all around game, stuffing the stat sheet almost on a nightly basis. The lanky Harkless also showed off an improvement with the ball in his hands, driving and finishing around the rim and through contract with much more ease and regularity.
Recently Harkless was asked how happy he was with where is game is now, to which he had this to say, “You know, I think I made strides this year. Definitely a lot more comfortable out there and I think I’ve improved, you know it’s something to build on just have to keep getting better.”
This summer will be a big one for the soon to be third year man. Harkless is slated to participate in the FIBA World Cup of Basketball for Puerto Rico, which could help him take the next step in his game. While the international game differs slightly from the NBA game, getting more time on court in a system that could be run mostly through him will undoubtedly be a good learning experience for the young Harkless.
The biggest step Harkless will need to take is becoming more assertive on the offensive end, something he hasn’t done much of his first two years in the league. He needs to be able to help take some of the pressure off of guys like Victor Oladipo, Arron Afflalo and Nikola Vucevic while still making an impact on the defensive end. He’ll also need to work on tightening up his handle, which could allow the team to run more offensive sets through him as well.
Orlando is poised to have two lottery picks in the upcoming draft, which could have a profound impact on Harkless moving forward. Regardless of what happens this summer, Harkless will need to continue putting in the work to cement himself as a rotational player in the league.