(Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
The 2011 NBA Draft came and went without the Orlando Magic making a major trade, but they nonetheless managed to add Richmond forward Justin Harper (via a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers) and Kentucky swingman DeAndre Liggins (via the 53rd overall pick). With a good showing in training camp, the two players can work their respective ways onto the Magic's roster, which currently stands at 10 players.
As it turns out, both players theoretically have skills that make them worth taking a closer look at in training camp and the preseason. And, with second-round picks, most teams just want a closer look at players that interested them. Because second-round picks don't have guaranteed contracts--as opposed to first-round picks, whose salaries are guaranteed for two years, with team options for the third and fourth years--there's no financial penalty for drafting a bum. My opinion is that if the Magic, or any team, finds a solid 11th man in the second round, it has succeeded.
Of the two, Harper is the most interesting, both for what he can offer as well as what Orlando gave up to get him. The Magic sent second-round picks from 2013 and 2014, according to Otis Smith, the team's President of Basketball Operations, to the Cavaliers for Harper's draft rights. Smith said Harper ranked in the mid-20s on his draft board and he was surprised to see him available at no. 32.
It's easy to see why Orlando was so high on Harper. He can play both forward positions, for one, which is a trait Smith and coach Stan Van Gundy admire. But he is, in particular, a prolific three-point shooter, shooting 44.8 percent on 4.6 threes per game as a senior. In the Van Gundy era, Orlando has attempted 601 more threes than any other team in the league, so its taste for ranged shooters is no secret. The fact that Harper's jump shots are almost exclusively threes--only 20.9 percent of his jumpers were two-point attempts, according to Synergy Sports Technology--also bodes well for him, as the Magic in general prefer to take threes to two-point jumpers.
But Harper is more than simply a stand-still shooter. Synergy data show he's effective posting up, cutting to the basket, and in transition. Essentially, he proved adept at every scoring task Richmond asked of him, which his elite standing as a scorer reflects: he scored 1.138 points per possession as a senior, which puts him in the 97th percentile of all collegians. Further, he scored on more than half of his plays.
He's not a perfect player: indeed, at the NBA level, it may be more accurate to say he can't play either forward position, as he lacks the athleticism to check most threes and the strength to defend most fours. But for what he has the potential to do at the offensive end, he's worth checking out anyway.
|Pick Grade: B+|
Liggins might be less conventional than even Harper, and perhaps more compelling, depending on your preferences. Smith said he selected Liggins because he was the best player available when Orlando was on the clock, and in the 53rd-pick range, he believes teams should simply choose the highest player on their draft boards.
Liggins does Harper one better, insofar as he can play three positions. A point guard coming out of high school, the 6-foot-6 Liggins didn't quite develop the playmaking game he needed to play point guard full time at Kentucky. He then transitioned from a purely offensive role--point guard is inherently an offensive position--to a defensive one, as Billy Gillispie and John Calipari deployed him as a go-to perimeter defender, often tasked with defending the opposing team's best wing scorer.
Defense, particularly on the wing, is something Orlando lacks. So too is athleticism. Harper's stock-in-trade aligns with the Magic's weaknesses, so there are certainly worse players they could have selected here. And though he's a middling offensive player overall, averaging only 8.6 points in 31.6 minutes on 42.4 percent shooting last season, he's at least proven to be a reliable three-point shooter off the catch. Liggins shot 34-of-78 (43.6 percent) on catch-and-shoot treys last season.
Smith mentioned Liggins' defense and situational three-point marksmanship as reasons he liked him, but also mentioned Liggins' intangibles, noting he played well when called upon in key situations last season. He also praised Liggins' toughness, specifically referencing Liggins' upbringing in Chicago. Liggins, when addressing the media by telephone, agreed with Smith's assessment and compared himself to Tony Allen, another Chicago native who's earned his keep as a nightmarish defender despite dubious offensive skill.
I believe Liggins projects as a better prospect than Stanley Robinson, Orlando's second-round pick last year, simply because he can hit from the outside off the catch (something Robinson, a woeful shooter, couldn't do) and because he can check point guards as well as both wing positions. The Magic could use that sort of situational versatility, and with enough work he could carve out a career not unlike Quinton Ross', only with the benefit of a three-point shot. Ross has played for five teams in seven seasons, but he's lasted this long despite having few offensive skills and never having been drafted.
Perhaps David Lighty or Scotty Hopson, more offensively inclined shooting guards who were still on the board, have more upside than Liggins. But one has to be impressed with Liggins' defense, or at least intrigued by what he can do at the NBA level, so I don't take issue with passing on either playerr.
|Pick Grade: B|
On the whole, Harper has far more potential than Liggins, and Orlando's willingness to spend two future second-rounders on him attests to its genuine interest in his skill-set. The important thing here is that both players can address some of the Magic's weaknesses, and Orlando didn't have to "reach" for either. Smith's draft record in Orlando is spotty--with the selection of Courtney Lee in 2009 a notable exception--but he appears to have done well for his team this year.
|Overall Draft Grade: B+|