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Trail Blazers Shoud Keep Forward Maurice Harkless on Second Unit

The veteran forward playing off the bench helps Portland’s attack and balance.

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

Maurice Harkless has found his home with the Portland Trail Blazers bench unit and I hope he stays there. This isn’t meant to be in any way construed as a negative. He just fits too good there for the Blazers to move him back into the starting lineup.

Playing off the bench, Harkless doesn’t have to worry about when and where to take shots. He moves up the pecking order and doesn’t have to wonder if he’s stepping on someone’s toes offensively- able to take a three in rhythm or make a back cut when he sees an opening.

Going back to last season, Harkless wasn’t exactly thrilled with his role and it showed outwardly. In a piece by Joe Freeman of The Oregonian, Harkless revealed that his role with the team had him down early in the season, to the point where he was ultimately benched.

“That probably was the most frustrated I’d been all season,” Harkless said Thursday. “If you look at the film of that game, I was really bad on the bench. I looked at it and I kind of took a look in the mirror after that. I was like, no matter what’s going on, I can’t be a bad teammate. These are still my guys.”

Now it may seem counterproductive to place Harkless back on the same bench that may have been a contributing factor to his sulking last season, but if Harkless is willing to accept coming off the bench (and that’s still an if) once his minutes restriction is lifted, it could be a boon for the Blazers.

With the current bench unit of Seth Curry, Nik Stauskas, Evan Turner, Maurice Harkless and Zach Collins, Portland fields three plus defenders (with two negative defenders) - it allows for switching across most pick and rolls and dribble hand-offs. While it’s far from an optimal defensive unit, Harkless is the key here in that he can be the help defender in multiple places- digging in on the weak side, cheating into passing lanes, able to switch-help-and-recover all without really breaking at sweat.

Now it’s true that Harkless hasn’t really had any sort of breakout game yet and Jake Layman hasn’t done anything of note, but the balance of both units just FEELS right for the first time in a long time. There’s got to be something to said for that, right? The overall results of the bench HAVE to speak to that.

Currently the Blazers bench is absolutely crushing it in nearly every counting category:

  • 4th in overall scoring per game (44 PPG)
  • 1st in field goal percentage (53.1 percent)
  • 4th in 3-pointers made (5.3)
  • 3rd in 3-point percentage (45.7 percent)
  • 3rd in rebounding (20.8 RPG)
  • 3rd in assists (11.5 APG)
  • 1st in blocks (4 BPG)
  • 2nd in plus-minus (+5.3)

I have no idea if this is in any way sustainable through the course of the season, but at this point it’s just not worth messing with. Keep Harkless with the bench unless things start to fall apart for Layman with the starters- even then, they’d have to get really bad -and let Harkless continue to pick his spots on both sides of the floor and optimize the Blazer’s efficiency in both lineup groups.