After a full offseason working on shooting and ball handling, Harkless will be taking on a large number of minutes at shooting guard this year. The move is undoubtedly a surprise, but Orlando is in a great position to develop its young players however it sees fit.
Sticking one of the young foundational players in an unfamiliar spot will not come without its bumps in the road, but it stands to benefit the entire roster in a number of ways.
It Coincides With Their Handling of Other Young Stars
Not to burst any bubbles, but Orlando will not be competing for the NBA title this season.
That being said, what better time to experiment with its bevy of young talent? Instead of locking players in a box, Orlando is giving guys like Harkless the freedom to develop however nature decides.
The Harkless situation is similar to that of Paul George in Indiana a few seasons back.
George was selected as a shooting guard around the same as Harkless. Both were drafted mostly on potential and athletic ability.
If the Pacers had simply locked George into the shooting guard position because they already had Danny Granger at small forward, we might not have ever seen the player who went toe-to-toe with LeBron James in this past year's Eastern Conference Finals. He has quickly become one of the best players in the league after coming into his own.
A big reason why George thrived is because his skill set developed into that of a small forward. Yes, he worked on aspects of his game. But he also grew coming into the league and developed into a superstar small forward.
Orlando has a win-win situation with Harkless. If he does not thrive at shooting guard, he can simply regress to being a small forward while still maintaining the improved jump shot and ball handling that he has worked on. The work he has put in to play shooting guard will help him as an overall basketball player, not just as a guard.
Harkless capable of playing two positions fits right alongside the two other young wing threats on the Magic, Tobias Harris and Victor Oladipo.
Harris bulked up to 240 pounds this season so he can guard power forwards. He is also just 21 years old with a bit of an uncertain future in terms of positioning. What a versatile Harkless does alongside Harris and fellow young forward Andrew Nicholson is create the ability to mix and match on both ends of the floor. On any given night, each could be playing one position on one end and guarding a different position on the other.
If Oladipo is able to grasp the point guard role, he and Harkless could form one seriously gigantic and athletic backcourt. We saw Oladipo have his ups and downs with the position in summer league, but it is still very unfamiliar to him. Even if he can play limited minutes there alongside Harkless, it gives coach Jacque Vaughn a tantalizing backcourt option.
Orlando is setting their young guys up so that they don't find a position, but the position finds them. Locking them inside a box will stunt their growth. Since they aren't likely to rack up the wins anyway, letting the youngsters develop freely will benefit them greatly in the long run once they establish their identities alongside one another.
Are Arron Afflalo's Days Numbered?
Drafting Oladipo No. 2 overall hardly surprised anyone. Despite Afflalo's presence at shooting guard, Oladipo was deemed the most NBA-ready prospect, and it would have been preposterous to let him slip past that spot.
News of Harkless eating up minutes at shooting guard means this is now a trend. If Oladipo and Harkless both see huge chunks of time at the 2, what does that mean for Afflalo?
When he came over prior to last year in the Dwight Howard deal, Afflalo was immediately pegged as a solid player to build upon moving forward. Now, his spot with this franchise is much less secure.
Afflalo's talent is unquestioned, but it doesn't benefit Orlando to have him starting over Oladipo or Harkless for too long. Could we see him shipped out around the trade deadline a la J.J. Redick?
As it currently stands, Orlando's best chance to win right now is with Afflalo at shooting guard. It is hard to believe his minutes won't take a hit, especially with the injuries he suffered last season, but how long can he hold off the youngsters?
At a certain point, Orlando would be sacrificing the future of its young stars for the glory of a few added insignificant wins. The best bet would be that Afflalo shows Oladipo and Harkless the ropes for about half the season before being shipped out.
Orlando isn't necessarily tanking, but it certainly isn't in "win now" mode. If the Magic are out of the playoff race like they possibly will be around the trade deadline, they would be much better off letting Oladipo and Harkless flourish while securing a better draft pick.
They are still at least one good piece away from competing. Unfortunately for Afflalo, there is a much greater chance that someone in the 2014 draft is that piece.
Three And D
It is no secret that outside shooting and overall defense were Orlando's weakest areas of expertise last season.
The presence of Harkless as a potential shooting guard would improve both of these aspects. At 6'9", he would dwarf anyone who had the displeasure of going up against him. Harkless also averaged 1.2 steals last season, a number likely to increase if he is defending players with the ball in their hands more often due to his long arms and athletic build.
As mentioned before, Harkless has worked tirelessly on his jump shot. His 27 percent shooting from downtown last season is sure to increase this year after an offseason of hard work and repetition. After growing another inch, it will just add to the disparity between him and other shooting guards. He should have no trouble getting his shot up over anybody.
Harkless being able to guard two positions gives the rest of the roster a boost since many of them have the same ability. Vaughn will be able to mix and match more if he has so many interchangeable parts at his disposal.
The versatility also allows Orlando to put all its best players on the floor at any given time. The Magic can play big or small and matchup with any lineup they'll face.
Harkless playing shooting guard allows him more court time alongside Harris. Oladipo and Nicholson will find their ways into the lineup as well for heavy minutes, giving them plenty of time to learn how to grow together as a cohesive unit.
If Harkless grasps this role quickly, it makes Orlando's best defensive weapon even better while also allowing Vaughn to hide some of his less equipped defensive players. Only time will tell, but on paper it is a strong move that will elevate the play of everyone around him.
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