Trying to make sense of decision to draft Harkless
Confused? You’re not alone.
Let’s go step by step here. Maybe it will help us make some sense out of what happened with Thursday evening’s NBA draft. Perhaps it will help us understand why the Sixers did what they did. Because, at the moment, it’s difficult to fathom. The organization had a lot of questions heading into the off-season – and now it has another.
It was around 9 p.m. when the Sixers decided which name to pass along to David Stern. There were some good ones available, especially if you thought the Sixers needed a big man. The team was seventh in the NBA in overall rebounding last season but only 22nd on the offensive boards. If you watched them in the playoffs or even during the regular season, you know that the Sixers weren’t the most physical team (Elton Brand excepted). Tyler Zeller, the 7-foot UNC center – a traditional post player who rebounds and clogs the lane and likes to put a body on people defensively – would have looked good in a Sixers uniform. Instead he’ll look good in a different uniform. (Rod Thorn said that Zeller is a lot like Nikola Vucevic, and they like Vucevic.)
So the Sixers didn’t go with Zeller. Or anyone you probably expected. They selected Maurice “Moe” Harkless, a 6-8 small forward from St. John’s (see story)
If you’re wondering why the Sixers, a team that already has a few tweeners in the 6-6 to 6-9 height range (among them Andre Iguodala, Thad Young and Evan Turner), you aren’t alone. Unless, that is, you have a cushy national TV gig, at which point you evidently loved the pick. When the selection was made, one of the ESPN talking heads said the Sixers needed to “get better inside” and “they did that tonight.”
Harkless made them better inside? Harkless – who played one year at St. John’s – is listed at 208 pounds, which is lighter than Young by 12 pounds. Or, to put it another way, Harkless is an inch shorter and almost 50 pounds lighter than Brand.
The Sixers seem to be OK with that. Thorn noted that “everyone agreed” on Harkless, then added “he was our No. 1 choice, by the way.”
“Our feeling,” Thorn said, “with his potential, with his athletic ability, it was too good a player to pass up.”
Thorn said Harkless will initially play small forward, but they expect him to eventually transition to power forward because “Elton doesn’t have a lot of time left in his career.” According to Thorn, Harkless’ “growth plates” are still open. He mentioned growth plates a lot. So there’s that. It will surely comfort you during the off-season – the idea of Harkless and his growth plates getting bigger, Hulk style, as he sleeps.
If the “athletic ability” and “he can still grow” bits sound familiar – if they make you think about some of the players the Sixers already have under contract – you have company on that front. When Thorn was asked how that makes Harkless different from Young – another “athletic” swingman who still needs to add weight and muscle – he said that the newest Sixer shoots the ball better. That was an interesting statement. In his only year at St. John’s, Harkless made just 17 of the 84 three pointers he attempted. That’s 20.2 percent for the math fans at home.
But don’t worry. Thorn said Harkless’ “shot is fine” and they think he’ll be a “very good shooter.” Why? Because he hit 37 of 50 three pointers when the Sixers worked him out. In a gym. With no one guarding him.
The Sixers have made a lot of perplexing picks in the past. This one is puzzling, too. Harkless is essentially the same size as Turner, Iguodala and Young, and, like those three, he doesn’t have a defined position. How will that work? Maybe there’s a bigger plan here, one that hasn’t been disclosed, one we don’t yet fully understand. Maybe the team will ship someone out of town and move pieces around and then it will all make sense. Maybe they simply want to give Harkless time to develop. Or maybe this team will have even more interchangeable parts than it did a year ago.
Later in the evening, the Sixers traded the 45th pick and a future first-rounder for Arnett Moultrie, a 6-10, 233-pound power forward from Mississippi State (see story)
. For a team that needed a paint presence, Moultrie made sense. But even with Moultrie in their pocket, Harkless remains tougher to understand. How will Harkless fit here and how will they use him? It's difficult to grasp – not that the Sixers are too concerned with explaining it to any of us.
When asked how the organization planned to sell Harkless to the fan base, Thorn didn’t bother with spin.
“It’s not a matter of trying to sell the pick,” Thorn said.
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