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Maurice Harkless 2016-17 NBA Season in Review

Maurice Harkless ended last season with momentum and a spot in the starting lineup. Did he continue on that upward trajectory this year?

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers-Media Day Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

At the end of the 2015-16 season, Maurice Harkless joined the Blazers’ starting lineup and played some of the best basketball of his career, contributing to an 8-3 finish to the regular season. A restricted free agent over the summer, Harkless was expected to be re-signed, but when the team added Evan Turner and matched Allen Crabbe’s offer sheet from the Brooklyn Nets without word of an offer being extended his way, it appeared Harkless would be heading elsewhere.

However, nearly a month into free agency, Harkless signed a 4-year, $40-million deal to remain with the team and the question shifted from whether he would remain a Trail Blazer to whether he would/should retain his spot as Portland’s starting small forward after Turner and Crabbe received their large payouts.

After experimenting with various lineups early in the preseason, coach Terry Stotts quickly settled back on Harkless as the starting three, a position he would hold on to until back-to-back blowout losses to the Washington Wizards and Charlotte Hornets forced Stotts to shake up his rotations, relegating Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu to the bench in exchange for Evan Turner and Noah Vonleh.

Harkless would remain a reserve until Turner suffered a broken hand against the Dallas Mavericks on Feb. 7. From that point on, Harkless was back in the starting lineup. As the team was now seeing success with the addition of center Jusuf Nurkic, Stotts elected to maintain the status quo even after Turner recovered.

Following his breakout at the end of the 2016-17 season, many were looking to Harkless to take his game to another level. Already a player capable of impacting the game without having plays run for him, Harkless had committed himself to improving one of the only two real strikes against him: his poor 3-point shooting. While he did show dramatic improvement from distance this year—improving from 28 percent to 35 percent—there were still challenges with his consistency, the other knock on his game.

After a scoreless, single-rebound performance on opening night against the Utah Jazz, Harkless put up 23 points and eight rebounds in game No. 2 against the Los Angeles Clippers, followed by seven points and three rebounds against the Denver Nuggets. While his jump shot looked much better, the performance still wasn’t there night-in and night-out. Until, that is, mid-November, when Harkless went on a three-week run that saw him clearly emerge as Portland’s third best player, when he averaged 15 points and six rebounds, and looked like the only Blazer interested in playing any semblance of defense.

On Dec. 7, Harkless suffered a sprained ankle and, after missing a single game, returned to action. Unfortunately his numbers returned to Earth and he averaged fewer than nine points and four rebounds the rest of the way. While his shooting percentages were similar, he seemed less assertive on the court.

Off the court, Harkless made some waves at the end of December when, while the team was mired in a stretch of 11 losses in 13 games, he responded to CSNNW’s Jason Quick’s question about what was wrong with the team with “If the camera was off, I’d tell you.” The next day, Harkless tweeted that he had been joking with Quick.

Harkless also made news when it came to many people’s attention toward the end of the season that he was due a $500,000 bonus if he shot 35 percent or better from the 3-point line. Sitting at .351 with four games to go, Harkless declined to attempt a 3-pointer for the rest of the season—sitting out one of the four games for unrelated reasons—despite averaging 2.5 attempts per game on the season.

Once the bonus was ensured and the playoffs began, Harkless attempted three 3-pointers per game in Portland’s first-round sweep at the hands of the Golden State Warriors.

While he didn’t quite fulfill the promise he showed at the end of last season or from mid-November to early December, Harkless still had a respectable 2016-17 season, averaging a career-high 10 points per game. When he impacted the game, he did so on both ends of the court and is a do-the-little-things-type of player. A key rebound here, a run-extending block and steal there. These things add up, and every team needs a guy like that on their roster.