Like his predecessor Nicolas Batum, Maurice Harkless has made the starting small forward position a polarizing point in Portland. Batum often showed All Star glimpses but never excelled to that point. On paper, Harkless has all the tools to be the player the Trail Blazers need at the three. Will he show it, though?
For a six-week stretch during the 2017-18 season, offered proof of that. Earlier in the season, he had slumped into a disengaged mood to the point where he was banished to the end of the bench. Come February, he flicked the switch and began to deliver. We now know Harkless’ change was prompted by an epiphany, eventually acknowledging and apologizing to teammates for his mercurial behavior.
The 25-year-old came to Portland in exchange for a top 55 protected second-round pick - a pittance for a starting wing on a playoff team. But the Blazers need more than a “just OK” bargain player.
Harkless has the skill and the physical attributes to be better. His engagement, energy and enthusiasm will make the difference between average and a crucial glue man who can literally do everything on the court.
A fit and engaged Harkless is a necessity, primarily because he helps defend the opposing team’s best smaller players. He can run the floor, he can move without the ball, he can pass, he can drive, he can shoot - as Neil Olshey remind us, Harkless shot 55 per cent from three during his resurgence.
If Harkless is fit and achieves his potential—meaning he’s battling for the designation of Portland’s third-best player—the Blazers become a team fighting for a spot in a Western Conference Finals series. If Harkless reverts to his negative persona, they might have trouble fighting for a playoff spot.