He recently voiced his displeasure with his decreased playing time, telling the Orlando Sentinel, "I'm obviously not happy about it. I want to play. I can't control that."
Acquired from the Philadelphia 76ers in the Dwight Howard exchange, Harkless impressed in his first NBA season, averaging 8.2 points per game and providing good defense. Harkless, a raw talent, has struggled to develop his offensive game since then.
Or maybe he just isn't getting the chance to show it—at least, that's the deduction one can make from listening to Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn.
"The first thing I talked about to these guys at the beginning of the year is that this year is different," Vaughn said in the Sentinel report. "Because you played last year, doesn't at all mean you're going to play this year. Because you started, because you had minutes ..."
Is it simply a small part in an 82-game season? Chances are that Harkless will see an uptick in minutes at some point in the season, but him being seated behind more and more players is not an accident.
With Arron Afflalo taking the leap to a top-five shooting guard, Tobias Harris being moved to small forward and Victor Oladipo being given the keys to the Gran Torino, fewer minutes are available on the wing. Considering the other options are better on offense, Harkless’ size and defense are redundant of the others while they are also an improvement on offense.
Harkless began the season starting alongside Afflalo and Jameer Nelson. When Oladipo was inserted into the starting lineup, Vaughn opted to play combinations of Nelson, Oladipo, Afflalo and Harris on the wing.
As a result of the backlogged situation, Harkless' minutes have decreased from 26 as a rookie to 21.2 per game in his sophomore year. More representative of where he stands today, his minutes have dropped to 13.8 per game since Dec. 13 (when the full Magic roster returned healthy).
It isn't as if Harkless is a bad player or that he's even regressed. He just doesn't have as much value for Orlando as he did just a year ago.
Because the Magic view Oladipo, a developing offensive player in his own right, as the future, they want to give him his playing time. Oladipo and Harkless are similar raw talents who are both good on defense but raw as scorers.
As a friend pointed out to me, Vaughn prefers playing Afflalo as an undersized 3 with Oladipo because "a VO-Moe combo is quite poor offensively."
If the Magic drafted, say, Trey Burke, maybe Harkless could get some playing time. But because putting Oladipo and Harkless on the floor at the same time is spacing suicide, Harkless has been demoted to coming off the bench.
It is important to note here that Harkless' three-point percentages are up after he reportedly worked on the shot. Though, it is a small sample size at about 1.5 attempts per game.
Orlando does not have a true sixth man or an instant-offense guy like, say, Nate Robinson. Could the Magic trade Harkless, who may carry more value than he is worth to the Magic, to a team needing a wing defender?
The Magic's second unit is piss-poor offensively. A bench including E'Twaun Moore, Harkless, Jason Maxiell, Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O'Quinn isn't scoring at a league average.
Not even close.
The Magic bench averages 97.2 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com statistics. That is ranked 24th in the NBA. To illustrate the difference between the Magic starters and bench even more, the first unit averages 1.062 points per possession. When the second unit comes on, the team average drops to 0.856 points per possession, according to NBA.com statistics.
As an idea, the Magic and Cleveland Cavaliers could work out a deal centered around Harkless, Nicholson (who has also seen decreased minutes) and Dion Waiters.
Luckily for Orlando, general manager Rob Hennigan has accumulated plenty of young assets. Still, the Magic are in the talent-accumulation process and not the talent-dissemination process.
The Magic have depth at a position, something that is considered a good problem.
Even if it isn't good for Harkless.