Imagine what the fast five months have been like for Justin Harper. Your dream was finally realized and you were drafted into the NBA to play alongside one of the league's best players.
The lockout sapped away Harper's offseason chance to work with the coaching staff and play in summer league to get used to the NBA speed of play. The lockout took that away from just about every rookie in the league. The time away from the league was not completely lost for Harper.
Harper was the lone Magic player to play overseas during the lockout, signing a deal with Strasbourg in France. He got a taste of professional basketball and performed well. Harper averaged 13.0 points per game and 6.6 rebounds per game in nine games. He shot 45.8 percent from the floor and 38.6 percent from beyond the arc, posting a 54.7 percent effective field goal percentage.
Interestingly, Harper scored in double digits in eight of the nine games. He shot better than 50 percent in five of the nine games he played. That is a good sign for Orlando as Harper makes his way back to the U.S.
With two-a-day practices behind him with his European team, and some game experience Harper might be a little bit ahead of his peers -- like fellow second round pick DeAndre Liggins and virtual rookie Daniel Orton.
"I like the fact that he continued to play," Magic General Manager Otis Smith told the Orlando Sentinel on Dec. 3. "I like his numbers coming out of France. I think playing in France has done him some good to get out of one system [in college] and go into another system [in the pros] and realize that you can play pro basketball regardless of the level. I think that's what's important for him. But I'll be happy to get him back and to get all of our guys back on the floor as soon as we possibly can."
Harper is a little bit ahead of his peers because of his experience actually playing. He and Liggins officially became members of the Magic on Friday after signing one-year deals. Harper's deal is guaranteed for the entire year.
So far, Harper, Orton and Liggins have had the typical ups and downs of a rookie. Brian Serra of Magic Basketball Online reported that the trio of new players struggled a bit in their second day of practice Saturday after picking up things relatively quickly the day before. Daniel Orton was happy to report too that he is feeling as good as he has since college, and while he was around the team a bunch last year actually getting on the court and running the plays is different.
Van Gundy specifically pointed out Liggins' tenacity early on in practice. It appears if the Magic are going to be rebuilding, it seems they have some nice role players to start off with in these three players.
Of course, they are not centerpieces (as far as we know) and have a lot to learn. They are already learning a lot about the nature of the NBA in just two days of practice.
Even before this whole Dwight Howard mess began, it was clear how important hitting on these draft picks would be. The Magic needed to add talent and cheap talent to have any hope of making this thing work. Even without Dwight Howard in its future plans, Harper, Liggins and Orton could prove valuable pieces to develop and to add depth moving forward. The Magic, if they are indeed trying to rebuild, need to treasure young players like these three.
We have not seen them play yet. But from all reports, there is a chance each can contribute this year. And that will be important. Orlando is going to have some depth issues as it sorts its way through the Dwight Howard mess. Likely Hedo Turkoglu is going wherever Howard goes. Maybe other players get moved too.
The crash course these guys are getting in the NBA certainly will help them develop. Not knowing what typeof team the Magic will have or their roles won't. Stan Van Gundy has some tricky managing to do to make sure everyone is ready to step in and play when the time comes.
I would expect though that Harper, Orton and Liggins are all key parts of the very immediate plan post-Howard. They are probably not long-term solutions. But the immediate success or failure likely depends on what these guys can provide -- and maybe what trade value they could have or how expendable they can make guys ahead of them.