After a weekend of rest and more tape watching, we continue the 2012 draft profile series with a look at the productive young freshman from St John’s University, Moe Harkless. Harkless was part of a highly touted recruiting class that has sort of fizzled out, partly due to the illness of his charismatic college coach, Steve Lavin.
Harkless almost comes from central casting as an NBA perfect specimen wing man for the modern era,checking in at 6’8, and a slender but solid 208lbs. He clearly has the build to add weight as he continues to get older, so I would expect him to eventually play much heavier than his current listing. Having just turned 19 years old last month, Harkless has plenty of time to grow and fill out his body. With a wingspan of 7’2, Harkless has all of the physical attributes you would ever want in a player you’d look to draft. But does he have the game and potential? Those are the questions that must be answered….but he must hit the weights and develop his body, no doubt...and that will take time.
Let’s start with the defensive end first, which is where I believe Harkless has the most potential to someday be an NBA difference maker.
In contrast to Arnett Moultrie, a big man who I felt really struggled to know where the ball was defensively (and therefore hurts his team’s overall defense), Harkless is going to be a very nice asset from day one away from the ball defensively. He has extremely active eyes, and almost always gets himself in position to make really good defensive plays off the ball. He does a really nice job of playing “up the line” which along with always having his head on a swivel and being energetic puts him in position to make plays. He can come off his man to steal poor passes, block shots, or take the occasional charge. He seems to relish playing defense and really understand what he is doing.
On the ball on the perimeter, he has a lot of potential just in terms of how his body moves and how active and energetic he is. He plays with high hands, traces the ball well and generally is hard to play against outside. He projects to be a nightmare to play against defensively someday for smaller players, as his length should allow him to play off a step and still be able to really harass shooters. I really like how he slides his feet with balance, and how energetic he is. He seems to LIKE playing defense on the perimeter, and it shows.
At St John’s and for most of his life he has had to guard bigger players inside. When doing this, he lacks the strength and technique to be able to really do this currently at the NBA level. He lacks the leverage, balance, strength, and quite frankly the attention spa nto keep players from posting him up in deep position. Up to now, I imagine his superior athletic ability has bailed him out most of the time, but at the NBA level that won’t often be the case. To me, he will be a 3 defensively in the NBA, mostly guarding non post up threats, but he still will need to get stronger and play with better leverage in the painted area.
What I like best about Harkless from a pure basketball point of view his ability to hit the glass.
Harkless was extremely productive on the glass in the rugged Big East, averaging almost 9 rebounds per game (8.6 rpg to be exact). While this is somewhat inflated due to the up tempo pace favored by St John’s and the fact that he played extended minutes, keep in mind that Harkless did this at 208lbs and at 18 years old, which to me is a very impressive accomplishment.
As always with rebounding as a scout, you have to look past the raw numbers. So what impresses me more than anything with Harkless is his relentlessness to chase rebounds down, and his ability to rebound outside his area. Most guys can rebound the ball if it is near them. But in Harkless I saw a man who got balls out of the air away from him that most people simply lack the ability to get. Harkless has a tremendously quick twitch, and is almost always the first guy to jump and react. And in situations where there are multiple chances to get rebounds, Harkless has an innate ability to get in the air twice and even three times, and was willing to put forth the effort to go after the ball.
The word that comes to me in regard to him rebounding is “enthusiastic”,and as a perimeter player projecting forward I hope he keeps that trait .Playing against bigger guys in high school and college, Harkless has always been counted on by his teammates to rebound in big numbers near the basket, and because he has had to guard bigger guys he has been in position to rebound well.
I hope and believe that he will still retain that quality and tenacity as a perimeter defender on the next level, and I am positive he will be a major plus on your offensive glass as a 3 man for you given enough time to develop.
Harkless somehow manages to score the ball at this point, mainly due to I think his overall athleticism and will, but he really doesn’thave much offensive game at this point. It is his inexperience and rawness that makes it somewhat possible however that he will be in our draft range. But make no mistake, though productive in college right now, that Harkless has a lot of progress to make offensively.
But what he can do right now, besides being a potential elite offensive rebounder for his position, is to play right around the elbow/high post area. From here, he can do damage, and it is where I think his game fits the best. He lacks strength to hold ground at the low block, but from the elbow area in a “horns” type post or “pinch post” area, where he can face up his man and attack off the bounce with one dribble to the rim, he can score. He is nifty, and can go by you, over you, or around you from this particular area, which is something I think the Pacers lack in their current players and scheme.
Harkless is better when he can catch the ball on the move, and he does move well from the foul line on down. If you scheme it right, he can score with his back to the basket in the painted area, but he can’t hold ground for very long, so there has to be away from the ball action/movement to get him free. He can score with either hand inside and has good enough balance and strength that will only get better with time.
If you played super small ball and played him as a “4” man(which some teams likely will, just not Indiana and probably I wouldn’t either)I think in time he can potentially be someone who can take you off the dribble .But for now, he is a well below average ballhandler for a traditional small forward at the NBA level. He is not a guy now nor will he likely ever be someone who you clearout for, as he can’t get his own shot against NBA level defense at this time. My hope for him is that he does work hard on his handle though, and at least become someone who can beat back up level players off the bounce, and who is a guy who when “hard closed out” on that can fake a jumper and drive at that point. But for now, that part of his game doesn’t really exist. He really lacks any “shiftiness”, and basically his best dribble move is an “in and out” dribble, keeping the ball in his right hand. He lacks a really good crossover dribble going either way, as he tends to get too upright when dribbling more than once or twice.
Lots of wings in the NBA don’t handle the ball however, so can Harkless be a catch and shoot guy, or a man who can at least spot up? At this point, the answer is no….but you have to draft him on potential, not the finished product.
Right now, his shooting mechanics and form are all off. His shooting elbow is way too loose and low, and he misses both short and wide on any shot outside of about 12-15 feet. Basically, he is a wing with no jumper right now. He leans on his shot to try and self correct his elbow position, and that just makes the problem worse. He made 24% of his 3 point shots last season according to the numbers, and watching his shot quite frankly I am surprised he made that many. However, this doesn’t really bother me much at this point, as likely he has been so strong and athletic that he has yet to be forced to shoot very well to score….at lower levels, he likely got to the rim whenever he wanted.
I’ve thought a lot about how I’d try and fix his shot if I were in charge of him. I see lots of potential in him and I think he can get there. I think I’d move his release point out further from his body, which in turn would give his shooting elbow more room to get under the ball as he heldit. Then I’d really emphasize hard for him to get his elbow above his eye on release. I thought for a night before writing this about maybe suggesting that he hold the ball to the side a lot more and change his “viewing window”, but for an athlete who is as explosive and talented as he is I don’t think he needs that radical of a change. I’d stick with moving his release point an reallystretching that elbow to get higher on release.
No matter the fix, Harkless needs major time and reps to groove his shot. Right now, he seems like a very coachable kid who tinkers with his shot a lot, and who never has anything grooved, therefore his mechanics change constantly. He needs coaching stability and to learn and commit to one way of doing it, and then stick with it.
While there is absolutely no evidence to back this up to this point, I believe that Harkless will eventually be a really good NBA 3 point shooter, with his feet set and aimed at the goal. I don’t see him coming off staggered double screens or taking a ton of pullup long jumpers, but as a spot up, wide open set 3 point shooter, I think he eventually makes that his major weapon offensively.
So, what do we have in Moe Harkless?
I think we have a charismatic, energetic, athletic 3 man who is currently a tweener without a true position, but who will in a few years be one of the top 10 players taken in this draft as a defensive minded, high enthusiasm 3 man. I think that he can be an NBA starter on a good team or even championship level team, as long as he is their 4th or 5thbest player. His rebounding can be elite, and I think he can grow into a high level wing defender.
But, he isn’t at all ready to contribute now. Harkless really cost himself a lot of money by coming out now,he really should have stayed in college one more year at least and improved on some of his weaknesses. Instead, he will have to have the discipline and work ethic to get better sitting on the pine at the NBA level for a couple of years, as he lacks the basic skills to be able to contribute immediately I believe. I think Harkless is a 2-3 year project, so it may end up being on the second contract that Harkless really helps someone, not on his first. So, if you take him now, you have to be a patient team willing to develop him for a couple of seasons down the road, maybe in his second or 3rd year he can be really ready to play. But the upside is definitely there if you are patient, in my judgment.
Picking #26, Indiana is in a position to draft for talent,not need, if they so choose to do so. If you are thinking way ahead of our current situation, Harkless could be a very nice replacement for Danny Granger after his contract runs out in 2 more years, if he develops the way I think he will…..which is no guarantee of course. Potentially, a defensive wing combination of Harkless and Paul George could be frightening for opponents in the middle part of this decade. On the other hand, Offensively they don’t complement each other really, and it is a “win now” league. Harkless is definitely a pick for 2014 and beyond, not a pick that will help us next year.
I myself really like Harkless and his game, and think he will be good value at #26 if available. BUT, I think long term I want someone who compliments Paul George’s game a little better offensively, and when you factor in our current situation of wanting to compete right away, I think I might go with someone who helps me today rather than 2/3years from now. But, I’d have to see who is out there when we pick….at #26 you can’t be sure. I can say this, I am pretty certain that Harkless would be the best player available if he is still there for us, and normally you can’t go wrong picking the best player, no matter if you need him right away or not.
Probably, it won’t matter what I or anyone on this board thinks of Harkless, because I suspect he will be gone before us, perhaps way ahead of us in fact.
I see Harkless as possibilities for the Trailblazers at #11,Rockets at #16, Mavericks @ 17, or Magic at @19.
But I actually see when the draft is over a few weeks from now that Harkless somehow belongs to the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors pick #7, and I think they would like to trade back a few notches and still pick Harkless. But failing that, I believe that Golden State will pull the trigger on Harkless wherever they are, as I am guessing that Jerry West will love his potential, athleticism, and personality.
How is THAT for my first wild prediction of this draft season? Time will tell if I have called that one right. I have no inside sources there, just a hunch.
Current NBA comparable: a more slender Stephen Jackson
Former NBA comparable: a young James Posey
As always, the above is just my opinion