Friday, June 24, 2011

Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic didn’t work out or interview Justin Harper before Thursday night’s NBA Draft. The Magic, in fact, hadn’t even spoken to Harper.
But when the 21-year-old from Richmond surprisingly fell to the second round, the Magic – his secret admirer — felt Harper could be a steal that late in the draft. So they sent two second-round picks to Cleveland for Harper, a ‘tweener forward who drew comparisons to Rashard Lewis during his college career.
Harper described his skill-set as similar to Lewis’ Thursday night in a phone interview, saying they both can stretch the floor while playing the power forward position. Lewis thrived in Stan Van Gundy’s system for three seasons, including a trip to the NBA Finals, so the hope is that Harper will develop in the same way.
Like Lewis, Harper shoots the ball extremely well – one scout called him the best shooter in the draft – and he has nice handles for how tall he is. At 6-foot-9, he has the size to play inside but prefers to drift around the perimeter, at least offensively.
Also like Lewis, Harper doesn’t have a defined position. He’s stuck between the two forward spots, mostly because his lack of lateral quickness limits him at the three.
“I think I’m more of a power forward that can shoot, but I think I’ll be able to make more of a transition to the three,” Harper said Thursday night. “Given my size, that’s probably more realistic right now.”
Added Magic GM Otis Smith: “I think he can play both positions. I think he can play the four. I think he can also play the SF position just as well. It’s good for him to come into a system that allows someone to play both positions. “
His position isn’t an issue on offense, where he’ll be a spot-up shooter no matter what. The question mark comes on defense: He’s not quick or agile enough to defend small forwards, but he’s not physical enough to body up with power forwards. It’s a dilemma, to be sure. But it’s also an area he can work on.
Van Gundy is renowned for squeezing every last ounce of defense out of his players. Harper may not earn playing time at first – almost all first-year players struggle with Van Gundy’s defensive rotations, especially power forwards who are constantly helping on pick-and-rolls – but in time, the Magic are confident he’ll learn. Smith lauded Harper’s maturity and knowledge of the game Thursday night.
The Lewis comparisons really aren’t fair, however, because Lewis is a former all-star and dependable starter. Harper is just a second-round pick out of a small Atlantic 10 school. Lewis, you could say, represents the highest possible ceiling for Harper. Some people have emailed or Tweeted asking if Harper is similar to Ryan Anderson, which is perhaps a fairer comparison. Anderson is bigger and a better rebounder than Harper, but probably not as polished offensively outside of his jumper.
Overall, it appears the Magic got a nice value out of Harper. Neither Harper’s roster spot nor his salary is guaranteed because he’s a second-round pick, but given Harper’s skills and how much the Magic gave up for him, Harper will almost certainly make the team this season. He probably won’t play much – it’ll take some time – but he’s a guy who could contribute eventually, and that’s a positive out of a second-round selection.