Al Harrington Signing Should Be Sneaky Good Get for Washington Wizards

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistAugust 13, 2013

Mar 4, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA;  Orlando Magic forward Al Harrington (3) waits for play to resume against the New Orleans Hornets during the second half of the game.  The Magic won 105-102. Mandatory Credit: Tyler Kaufman-USA TODAY Sports
Tyler Kaufman-USA TODAY Sports

Al Harrington can make a difference for the Washington Wizards.

Fresh off a season in which he was limited to just 10 games, Harrington, who cleared waivers following his release from the Orlando Magic, has agreed to join the Wizards, according to a team announcement.

ESPN's Marc Stein was the first to report that the forward was "leaning" towards signing with the Wizards.

Free-agent acquisitions more than a month into the NBA's offseason usually don't mean much. All the big names have already signed and the market for those willing to accept a steep pay cut have dried up as well.

Harrington's arrival in Washington is an exception, one of the most underrated moves of the summer. 

People tend to forget how talented a scorer he can be, especially when he's coming off the bench. Merely two years ago, he was one of the league's top sixth men while with the Denver Nuggets.

In Washington, he can fulfill an identical purpose, acting as a proven veteran scorer who solidifies what is an otherwise mercurial bench attack on a playoff hopeful.

Way of Harrington

Big Al can score, and I mean really score.

Through 15 seasons, he's averaging 13.7 points per game on 44.5 percent shooting from the field. Prior to last year, when he appeared in just 10 games, he went 11 straight campaigns notching at least 10 points a night.

While not the most efficient of scorers, he is a strong stretch forward option. At 6'9", he can can score in the post and shoots the three ball without hesitation. For his career, he's connecting on over 35 percent of his treys and has jacked up at least three per game in each of the last seven seasons.

Presently, he's one of only six active players to be averaging at least 13 points and five rebounds while shooting 44.5 percent or better and 35 percent or better from the field and three-point line, respectively, for their career. The other five include Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, Kevin Love, Kevin Durant and Rashard Lewis.

Defensively, however, Harrington presents some concerns. Though he has the build to body up on the block and, previously, the lateral quickness to defend on the perimeter, he's never been as dedicated on that end of the floor.

Only once in his career has he posted a defensive rating below 102—which doesn't matter. Carmelo Anthony, a heralded superstar, has never tallied a defensive rating below 102.

Not that Harrington is 'Melo (he's not), but they're of the same mindset. Neither are the most talented or committed of defenders. Not even close. But they're valued for the difference they make on offense. 

Harrington has put himself in the company of stars like Dirk and Pierce, among others, because he provides instant offense. More importantly, his potency isn't predicated on where or when he plays. He's spent the majority of his professional career vacillating between a starter and reserve.

Of the 947 contests he's played in, he's started 445 times, or 47 percent. Consistently mapped out roles haven't been a luxury he's been afforded, because he doesn't have to operate under that type of certainty.

No matter the forum or his place in the lineup, he's going to score. And when he's healthy, he's going to score a lot.

Better still, Harrington is at a point in his career where he doesn't want to start, erasing any potential rotational conflicts before they even begin. He told Stein that his preference is to assume more of a super-sub role, like the one he had with the Nuggets.

Never underestimate the importance of a player, specifically a high-volume scorer, being amenable to coming off the pine. Those who score in excess aren't always willing to anchor in a bench attack. Regardless of how many minutes they wind up playing, they're not starting. 

That Harrington, who is just two years removed from averaging 14-plus points, isn't trying to catapult himself into a starting five on the coattails of his reputation is already a victory.

Fitting in with the Wizards

Washington's bench needs Harrington.

The Wizards' reserves ranked 10th in the league last year in points scored per game (36.3), and their front line is rather crowded, but still, they need him.

Right now, they don't have that go-to scorer for the second unit. Jordan Crawford served as their leading scorer off the pine before being traded to the Boston Celtics last season, leaving an offensive hole they have yet to fill.

Aside from Crawford, no one on the Wizards' bench eclipsed 10 points per bout. Absolutely no one. Success by committee can generate interesting results, but Washington found itself outside of the playoff picture yet again.

Proven scorers are invaluable outside the starting lineup. The Los Angeles Clippers (Jamal Crawford), New York Knicks (J.R. Smith) and San Antonio Spurs (Manu Ginobili), among others, can attest to that. Harrington provides a similar punch.

Not only will his capable three-point hands bolster the outside shooting attack, his ability to score inside is an offensive virtue Washington sorely lacks. The Wiz finished second to last in points scored in the paint (36.6) during the 2012-13 campaign. Oft-bruising post scorers and guys who can create for themselves, like Harrington, are assets they need.

As for that logjam we spoke of earlier, it's a nonissue. Harrington introduces a different dynamic, one the Wizards should exploit but aren't.

Next to the drive-and-kick stylings of John Wall (and even Bradley Beal), the presence of multiple towers can be counterproductive. Fielding Nene and Emeka Okafor can be effective depending on the matchup, but why not bring in a stretch forward to spread the defense and open up Wall's lanes even further?

Offensive versatility is a necessity for a Wizards team consisting of rim attackers like Wall, Beal and even Otto Porter. They're best suited alongside players who can stretch defenses and shoot the three, and just score from anywhere in general.

Players like Harrington.

Big Picture

At 33, Harrington isn't going to carry the Wizards toward title contention. Even with him, they're not going to become a part of the championship conversation.

Consistent production, like the kind Harrington provides, will, however, advance their playoff hopes. 

Washington's supporting cast is wildly inconsistent. Were you to make the case that Wall, Beal and Porter represent guaranteed production, you're still left with a slew of question marks.

Nene can put points on the board, not unlike Harrington, but he's an injury risk. Okafor isn't known for his offense and even his defense can be suspect at times. And you're fooling yourself if you think Martell Webster is a lock for anything. That $22 million contract ensures us of only one thing—he's going to get paid. Nothing else.

In some ways, Harrington poses queries of his own. His scoring prowess isn't doubted; his ability to remain healthy is.

He hasn't been particularly injury prone during his 15-year career, but any time a 30-something scorer has suffered a torn meniscus and subsequent staph infection, it's a potential red flag.

Still, this is one of those late-summer moves that can be huge. It's not as if the Wizards are investing serious cash in his aging physique. He's going to come at a fraction of the cost (likely the veteran's minimum) Webster did, or as we should properly put it—he's a steal.

Less than two years ago, Harrington was a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, someone who the Nuggets relied on to shoulder the second unit's scoring burden.

Harrington can still be that guy, assuming he's healthy. And assuming he'll be healthy isn't a cockamamie  concept

@AlexKennedyNBA I actually look GREAT!!! 😉

— al harrington (@cheddahcheese7) August 2, 2013

"I'm just excited about getting back out there on the court and showing everybody," he said. "For me, this year I'm going to have a chip on my shoulder, so if I play like that I'm going to be tough to deal with."

And the Wizards will be much better off.


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