Projected as a potential lottery pick, Moe Harkless stands to become first St. John's product since 2001 to be selected in NBA Draft. (Photo courtesy of Jason Schott via Brooklyn Fans)
Despite a 13-19 record to conclude a season filled with hope and promise after the program's first NCAA Tournament appearance in nine years, the optimism around St. John's University is still at the same fever pitch it had reached two years ago when Steve Lavin returned to the college ranks as the successor to previous coach Norm Roberts.
Lavin will be back on the Red Storm bench for his third season in Queens, but with a team that will have undergone significant changes since the final seconds of St. John's last game, a loss to Pittsburgh in the Big East Tournament last March. Gone is assistant coach Mike Dunlap after the brilliant basketball mind was hired yesterday as the new head coach of the Charlotte Bobcats, and forward Moe Harkless; who became just the second player in program history to win the Big East's Rookie of the Year award, declared for next week's NBA Draft after just one season on the corner of Union and Utopia.
For someone whose life is about to change drastically in just seven days, Harkless is definitely not playing the part of the young kid that is letting his vision get the best of him. Rather, the 19-year-old swingman is remaining grounded and living in the moment, not to mention already approaching what is about to become his life's work with a maturity far beyond his young age. "Ever since I declared, I watch a game differently than I used to," Harkless said; "because next year, I'll be matched up against some of these guys."
The versatile Harkless, compared during his lone season at St. John's to former Connecticut forward Rudy Gay by college basketball insider Jon Rothstein, has a wide range in his draft projections; but after an impressive showing at this month's scouting combine in Chicago, Harkless is seemingly a lock to hear his name announced by NBA commissioner David Stern as a first-round selection a week from tonight. Harkless could seemingly go anywhere from inside the first ten picks to somewhere toward the end of the first round, and just as we did for Iona point guard Scott Machado, we take a look at some of the realistic landing spots for a small forward that plays like a power forward while simultaneously improving his ever-developing game.
New Orleans Hornets (Selections: 1st and 10th overall) - Harkless going first overall would literally shock the world, but the Hornets are almost certainly using their grand prize from the draft lottery on Kentucky's Anthony Davis. However, now that New Orleans has just finalized a deal with the Wizards in which Trevor Ariza is headed to Washington, Harkless could be in play for Monty Williams and the Hornets in the No. 10 spot. Despite acquiring Rashard Lewis in the aforementioned Ariza trade, Harkless would complement a playoff contender in the Big Easy that will add Davis to a starting five that includes one of the best backcourts in the NBA with Greivis Vasquez and Eric Gordon, not to mention Al-Farouq Aminu (who New Orleans got with Gordon in the Chris Paul trade) and Jarrett Jack as well. Harkless' perimeter skill set would only add to the improving arsenal in New Orleans, and his ability to block shots would make him an X-factor alongside Davis if the Hornets were to take the bold gamble on the St. John's star.
Charlotte Bobcats (Selections: 2nd overall) - Mike Dunlap's arrival makes the Bobcats an intriguing option, but their best shot at Harkless would be to trade their second overall pick. A number of teams are interested in moving up, including the Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder, who were rumored to have offered guard James Harden in addition to the 28th overall selection. However, Harkless is a near-certainty to be off the board at 28, so Charlotte would be better served moving down into the middle of the first round if they were to draft Harkless as a de facto replacement to Gerald Henderson and insert him into a lineup that already includes Kemba Walker and D.J. Augustin in the backcourt.
Cleveland Cavaliers (Selections: 4th and 24th overall) - The Cavs just drafted Tristan Thompson in the No. 4 spot a year ago, but worked Harkless out this month and are said to be impressed by what they saw. Harkless would not be going fourth overall, but could be in play for Cleveland with their second pick if the Cavaliers go with either Bradley Beal or Andre Drummond to start off draft night rather than pursue North Carolina's Harrison Barnes, which would render a possible Harkless pick unnecessary. Harkless' skills on the wing could put him in contention for Rookie of the Year honors if reigning titleholder Kyrie Irving replicates his first season on the shores of Lake Erie.
Toronto Raptors (Selections: 8th overall) - Rumored to be heavily interested in Syracuse guard Dion Waiters, Harkless makes more sense for the Raptors based on his position and potential. Harkless has the tools and capability to finally give Toronto their long-awaited replacements to former franchise players Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Chris Bosh, all in one player. Harkless at small forward would slide DeMar DeRozan into the backcourt, where his productivity at shooting guard would increase with Jose Calderon handing him the ball. Harkless also will alleviate some of the pressure for former No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani while creating a frontcourt matchup nightmare for any team facing the Raptors.
Orlando Magic (Selections: 19th overall) - Harkless has already worked out for the Magic, and with Dwight Howard having made no secret of his desire to leave Orlando, the Magic will need to upgrade their frontcourt. A power forward such as Kentucky's Terrence Jones or Jared Sullinger of Ohio State could also be in play here, but Orlando gains a lot with Harkless coming on board. Should Jameer Nelson exercise his option, he and Jason Richardson return to the backcourt. Hedo Turkoglu has a player option for the 2013-14 season, which makes him a possibility to come off the books next season after he serves as a prospective mentor for Harkless. Moe's arrival would also enable Glen "Big Baby" Davis to entrench himself as the full-time power forward assuming Howard is ready to go for the start of next season if he does not get traded somewhere else this summer.
Boston Celtics (Selections: 21st and 22nd overall) - The Celtics' aging core and back-to-back selections make Beantown the most logical and enticing spot for a player of Harkless' caliber. Who better for Moe to learn from at the small forward position than Paul Pierce, one of the greatest clutch players in NBA history? Harkless can also get valuable lessons inside the paint from Kevin Garnett, while also getting to study the brilliant outside game of the great Ray Allen. Not only that, but Doc Rivers would use Harkless immediately in impact minutes next season off the bench should Boston be fortunate enough to draft him in either of their two spots.
Atlanta Hawks (Selections: 23rd overall) - The Hawks do not necessarily need Harkless with Josh Smith and Marvin Williams both capable of playing the small forward position, and would probably be better off drafting a big man (if North Carolina's Tyler Zeller falls to the Hawks at 23, he would most certainly be the choice) to play alongside Al Horford. However, Harkless would benefit Atlanta most at the power forward position despite his wingman size, and would bring experience at that position from having had to play bigger than he should have during his one year at St. John's. Harkless in between Smith and Horford on the Hawks' front line would put Atlanta in the hole from a size perspective, but the increase in athleticism would allow for greater productivity from each of the three.
Stay tuned to A Daly Dose Of Hoops over the next week for further draft analysis, including our annual mock draft on Wednesday night.