It is hard to gauge Maurice Harkless these days.
Statistics do not quite do it. He has started 20 games, a streak that ended a few weeks ago, and is scoring only 3.8 points per game, shooting 46.5 percent from the floor. Again, those do not quite capture Harkless' play.
For the most part on offense, Harkless is asked to stand in the corner and wait for the ball or wait for an open lane to cut to the basket for an easy basket. The Magic are pretty much playing four on five with him out there on the floor. His value is more seen on the defensive end where his length and athleticism have turned him into a pretty strong defender.
That does not exactly appear on a stat sheet. And even Jacque Vaughn has said that his statistics do not always reveal how well he is playing.
"It’s interesting how you kind of look at a game," Jacque Vaughn said after the Magic's loss to the Hawks in mid-December. "If he makes the two threes in the corner and he puts back one of the layups that he missed, everyone would be saying how great a game he had. For me, it’s not about makes or misses and shots with Maurice. It’s about running the floor, rebounding the basketball, having energy every night those are things as a coach that I look at."
For the most part Harkless does these things. And again it is hard to quantify.
Back in late November when Harkless was just beginning to start for the Magic, J.J. Redick said he and Jameer Nelson talked with Harkless a number of times when first began entering the starting lineup. They told him there are things he can do as a 19-year-old rookie to be successful in the league even without having plays called for him.
These things are the hustle stats that young players are usually encouraged to go after as they integrate into a new team. These are things such as defending, going after rebounds and running the floor. Redick said his athleticism and talent will enable him to be successful even without the offense running through him.
And we have seen that this can work for him:
Harkless has taken most of his offense around the rim, with 66 of his 103 shots coming at the rim. Harkless is confident enough to shoot, it is just the opportunities are not quite there. And he seems content to stand in the corner with an occasional cut to the basket (where he gets most of his scoring).
Things changed though all of a sudden Harkless' playing time was almost completely cut off. Starting in Dec. 31's game against the Heat, Harkless was taken out of the starting lineup in favor of Dequan Jones. Vaughn said Jones had earned the time in practice, but it still served as a shock to Harkless. He expressed his frustration over the sudden end to his major role to Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel.
Harkless has since returned to the rotation, averaging six minutes per game in the last two games. He told Schmitz that Vaughn did not inform him he was about to be taken out of the rotation. Vaughn, for his part, said he took Harkless out of the rotation to give him a rest for the long haul of the season.
It was not hard to see that Harkless' playing time might have been preparing to decrease with Hedo Turkoglu coming back. A transition was coming for Harkless and his minutes were preparing to decrease anyway it seemed. Harkless, who did not do much with his time on the floor in an aggressive manner at least, was seeing his time cut. It could be a confidence-killing maneuver for a player the Magic have a lot of hope for the future in.
"Hopefully he will continue to develop," Vaughn said before the Magic's home matchup with the Raptors. "I hope [Turkoglu’s return] doesn’t stop him. That’s a goal of his is to get better every day. Every game that he gets in is more experience for him, new situations for him. He is growing as an individual and as a player. As a man, he is growing. Great opportunities for him to continue to grow."
Orlando is still very much figuring out what the team has in Harkless. He is perhaps not ready for a more full role in the NBA. This year might be about getting him a taste of the NBA game with more experience coming as the season goes on (particularly if the Magic fall out of the Playoff race).
The question then is whether Harkless can continue to take Redick and Nelson's advice from the beginning of the season and do the little hustle things that will continue getting him playing time in games and make him more involved in the offense.
"I would hope his motivation doesn’t change," Vaughn said. "It’s a great test for him for it not to change. Whether he is playing 42 minutes or two minutes, that he appreciates the job that he has and he has that approach every single night."