This article examines Moe Harkless' game and if the Trail Blazers made a wise decision in giving him $40 million over the next 4 seasons.
On July 26th, 2016, the Trail Blazers inked restricted free agent Maurice “Moe” Harkless to a 4 year and $40 million contract.
Harkless is just 23 years old despite already having 4 years of NBA experience and is a month younger than Frank Kaminsky, a player who just finished his rookie season for the Charlotte Hornets. Below is a highlight video from last season to give you a small glimpse into what Harkless can do.
Let us examine take a deep dive into Moe Harkless’ on-court game to see what he provides to the Trail Blazers.
Offensive Skills and Production
Maurice Harkless only played 18.7 minutes per game last season, his first playing for the Blazers, but still averaged 0.5 3 pointers, 1.3 offensive rebounds, 0.9 assists, and 6.4 points. His 1.3 offensive rebounds tied for 7th in the NBA among Small Forwards with 4 other players. All the players ahead of Harkless played at least 31 minutes per game.
The rest of the numbers do not jump off the page as outstanding, though. Let us take a look at his shot chart to examine his offensive game further.
As you can see, Harkless struggles shooting the ball.
He was below league average from every spot on the floor with the exception of in the restricted area. He, also, managed a career high 62.2% from the free throw line last season, a number you do not want to see from a Small Forward. His shooting is currently very ineffective, but he is just 23 years old and he would not be the first player to improve his shooting beyond age 23.
Moe Harkless’ offensive game is a work in progress, but he is a 6’9 and 215-pound man who can get to rim and finish. He shot 62.3% last season in the restricted area, 2 full percent above league average, and if he can continue to improve from 3 point range (30.0% for his career) he could get a tough match-up. With the changing tide in the NBA, he can be an effective small ball four with his ability to offensive rebound and attack the cup against a larger slower defender. There is still hope for Harkless to improve his offensive game and solidify himself as an above average NBA player on offense.
Defensive Skills and Production
Harkless put up 2.3 defensive rebounds, 0.6 steals, and 0.4 blocks in only those 18.7 minutes per game last season. If you look at Per 36 minutes numbers Harkless would have averaged 4.4 boards on the defensive glass, 1.2 steals, and 0.9 blocks. That is a tremendous stat line for a Small Forward and shows great defensive versatility. Let us take a further look at Moe’s defensive game by examining the defensive shot chart below.
As you can see, Harkless held opponents to a below average percentage on 4 of the 6 spots in the chart. Examining further, look at the number of shots taken from each spot, all the numbers seem to be low even for a man only playing 18.7 minutes per game. This is a tall athletic forward with a long wingspan who seems to be a player the opponents is not excited to attack. His numbers look especially strong inside the 3 point line where he held the opponents to almost 5 percent below average or more in all 3 areas.
In this observer’s opinion, Harkless’ defensive numbers show a strong defender with the ability to get stats and defend on the ball. This looks like a player any team would love to have as their Small Forward on the defensive end.
Let us take a look at some advanced metrics to see how Harkless rates in those categories. If you look at box score plus/minus, Harkless earned negative 0.4 on offense last season and positive 0.2 on defense. His value over replacement player (VORP) last season was positive 0.7. He has also had a positive VORP in 3 of his 4 NBA seasons and the only season he did not achieve that he was negative 0.1 in only 15 minutes per game for 46 games.
If you prefer to view win shares, Harkless earned 1.6 offensive win shares last season and 1.3 defensive win shares. Surprisingly, win shares rated Harkless as a better offensive player than defensive. His win shares per 48 were .096 (.100 is league average). All advanced metrics courtesy of Basketball-Reference. He rated as a slightly below average player for his age and should be able to grow and improve on last season’s numbers.
Moe Harkless has played more than 76 games in 3 of his 4 NBA seasons. He played a career-low 45 games in 2014-2015, but it was performance and rotation based not injuries to Harkless himself. Fox Sports’ injury reports have him with a sore knee in January 2014 and that is the only injury of his NBA career.
Four NBA seasons of great health and no reason to think that won’t change, so this looks like a dependable player who will suit up every night, a valuable commodity in any professional sport.
A Change in the Playoffs?
The Portland Trail Blazers made the NBA Playoffs last seasons and decided to change things up. After starting only 14 games all season, Harkless was thrust into the starting line-up at Small Forward for all 11 playoff games. Here is a highlight video from Game 5 of the first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers.
In the playoffs, he averaged 5.1 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.3 blocks, 1.4 3 pointers, and 11 points per game on 42.7% from the field and 48.0% from the line. Not an outstanding line and a small sample to glean any useful information, but it shows the confidence they had in Harkless that when it came to the team's most important games he was starting and playing 24.7 minutes per game instead of 18.7.
The defense ratchets up in the playoffs and the Portland Trail Blazers trusted Harkless to start and play almost 25 minutes per game at age 22. I view this as a good sign going forward and hopefully it gave Moe a confidence boost and motivates him to improve his game and solidify himself as an above average NBA player.
Let us review, Moe Harkless is 6’9 Small Forward with an offensive game that lacks shooting. The talent and ability are there for him to improve his shooting and his defensive game looks strong with the ability to both get stats and guard his man. The advanced metrics rate him as a slightly below average NBA player. He has had no injuries and his team started him and gave him a minutes boost in their 11 most important games last season.
So is Maurice Harkless worth 4 years and $40 million?
I think the answer is a definitive, yes.
This is a player who is young with 4 years of NBA experience, but he is still growing and improving. I believe he will develop into an above average NBA player in the next few seasons and valuable assets to any team. Throw in the fact that he will make an average annual value (AAV) of $10 million and the salary cap will range from $94.1 million to a projected $109 million in the final year of the contract according to this USA Today Article.
Harkless is worth 10% of your cap and could be quite the bargain if he blossoms on offense and becomes an above average Small Forward in the final 2 or 3 seasons of the deal.