Rookie forward Maurice Harkless is a key part of the Orlando Magic's future, but the role he'll play in the present, like most of the things surrounding the 2012/13 season, is cloudy. The team doesn't have a star player, it does have a new head coach and an overhauled front office, and it's clearly in rebuilding mode--even if nobody on the team or within the organization is willing to say so.
Orlando made sure to acquire Harkless, the 15th overall selection in the 2012 NBA Draft, from the Philadelphia 76ers in the Dwight Howard trade because it likes the potential he showed in his lone season at St. John's: Harkless stuffed the stat sheet with 15.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and three combined steals and blocks. Though listed as a guard, the 6-foot-8 Harkless defended every position from shooting guard to center. With more polish at the collegiate level, he may have become a lottery pick in 2013 or later.
As I've written before, the Magic desperately need help on the wings--its incumbent small forwards are Hedo Türkoğlu and Quentin Richardson, who have proven very limited at their respective ages--and Harkless may be able to provide some stability and youth. The problem is his health: he aggravated a sports-hernia injury playing for the Sixers in the Orlando Pro Summer League, playing just 32 minutes over two games. He'll miss all of training camp and won't return until mid-November at the earliest.
Even if Orlando's doctors clear him to return, say, in time for the Magic's game against the Detroit Pistons on the 16th, he'll doubtless need some time to get back into game shape. And as a rookie, he'll face an uphill battle for playing time.
Harkless' situation reminds me of the one in which J.J. Redick found himself during his rookie year. Redick suffered a soft-tissue injury in his foot during training camp and needed time to get up to speed, so to speak. He made his season début on November 25th, but didn't join the regular playing rotation until early February; in the intervening games, he played spot minutes or racked up Did Not Play-Coach's Decisions.
There are obvious differences in the two situations: Redick was a 22-year-old who had played four years collegiately and was drafted in the lottery, whereas Harkless is a 19-year-old coming off one collegiate season and was selected outside the lottery. And though I'm not a doctor, I do at least recognize that a foot injury is not at all the same as a sports hernia.
The point I'm trying to make is that Harkless' rookie season is going to be a bit rocky. He'll need time to recover and time to learn the game. And if he's to become a regular part of coach Jacque Vaughn's rotation, he'll need to be productive in a hurry. In particular, he's going to have to bust his tail defensively and stay ahead of the ball in transition.
Most folks who've watched Harkless play extensively say it is within him to be a great NBA player one day, perhaps even an All-Star. It's just not going to happen overnight, especially not given the circumstances of his present situation.
What do you expect of Harkless in his rookie year?