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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Curious Case of Justin Harper

Last year, Justin Harper was an afterthought. He put up very average numbers on a mid-major team. If you watched him play, you could see some potential - he had a great stroke from outside and moved well - but his numbers didn't match. I remember noticing his play in a game against Wake Forest last year as I was looking at Al-Farouq Aminu. He had ten points that game before fouling out in 22 minutes, but I was intrigued enough to look up his numbers online. After seeing his pedestrian numbers, I quickly dismissed him as a serious prospect to consider. Looking back now, it is hard to blame me or the rest of the draft community who did the same.

After all, Harper was a stretch four who could shoot but not much else. He wasn't even that good at his craft - shooting 34% from three and a mediocre 68% from the line. Now this brings up two questions that have to be answered. Can a guy that failed to distinguish himself in a non-BCS conference until his senior year really be that great of a player? And even more importantly, is he really THAT great of a shooter?

To answer the first question, I decided to make a list of all non-BCS prospect that have had any bit of success over the past four years. I eliminated guys who left before their junior year because it is reasonable to believe that they may have only had one good college season. That got rid of guys like Jordan Crawford, Gordon Hayward, and Luke Babbitt who all left after their sophomore season last year. Transfers like Darington Hobson also were not included for obvious reasons. By doing that, I came up with these 18 players.

Larry Sanders - CAA Defensive Player of the Year his sophomore year
Armon Johnson - 1st Team All-WAC his sophomore year
Steph Curry - 2nd Team All-American his sophomore year
Eric Maynor - CAA player of the year his junior year
Jermaine Taylor - All-Conference USA second team his junior year (POY his senior season)
Derrick Brown - 2nd Team All-A10 his junior year
Robert Vaden - 1st Team All-Conference USA his junior year
Lester Hudson - OVC Player of the year his junior year
Jason Thompson - 1st Team All-MAAC his junior year
Courtney Lee - 1st Team All-Sun Belt his sophomore year
George Hill - 1st Team All-Summit Conference his sophomore year
JR Giddens - MWC Co-POY his senior year
Joey Dorsey - 1st Team All-Conference USA his junior year
Chris Douglas-Roberts - 1st Team All-American his junior year
Jason Smith - 1st Team All-MWC his sophomore year
Morris Almond - 1st Team All-Conference USA his junior year
Nick Fazekas - MWC POY his sophomore year
Ramon Sessions - WAC Freshman of the year

We could go on, this trend continues all throughout the last decade. These guys all were big time players before their senior seasons. Harper is in uncharted waters. He didnt have much success before this year. I think it is fair to interpret that as he's a fairly average basketball player besides one skill. Against regular college competition, he failed to stand out until his senior year. Sure he improved other areas of his game this year, but it is obvious to see those skills still are lacking.

That one skill, of course, is his shooting. To make it in the NBA, he is going to have to be one of the best shooting big men of recent memory. That brings us to the final questions of our two part study - how good of a shooter is he?

If you look at just this season, he is one of the best shooting big men in awhile. There are plenty of good 6-8 shooters that have past through the college ranks, but what makes Harper better than them is his 6-10 frame and athleticism. He hasn't figured out how to use his athleticism completely yet, but he can at least hang with NBA level athletes. The reason why we aren't talking about Pat Calathes or Steve Novak is because they fail the eye test athletically.

After digging through 3-pt shooting stats of the past ten years for power forwards, I found that Harper's season ranks only behind the aforementioned Steve Novak when it comes to a healthy balance of accuracy and frequency. Novak took 9.9 threes per 40 minutes pace adjusted while making 46.7% of them, while Harper made 45.2% on 6.1 three per 40 minutes pace adjusted.

Guys like Ryan Anderson, Kevin Pittsnogle, Daniel Kickert, Kevin Durant, and John Shurna all had great numbers as well, but Harper and Novak stand above the rest.

Based off this, Harper definitely can make it in a NBA rotation as a shooter. Novak is still getting 10 day contracts even though he brings far less to the table than Harper. The only question left to answer is whether or not his shooting was a fluke. He vastly improved his numbers this year and his free throw percentage never pointed to him being an elite shooter.

There is only way to find out, though, and that is to give him a chance. His stroke is pure and simple, which makes me believe he has what it takes to make it in the league. Its enough to justify taking him in the late first to early second round.

Just remember what you are getting out of Harper - a stretch four that is meant to come off the bench. Some teams use stretch fours more than others, most notable Orlando. He needs to find a team that will utilize him correctly. He lacks the tools to be a complete power forward and should not be taken by a team expecting him to be a traditional four who plays in the post.

His past may be unusual for a draft prospect, but it is pretty clear what he will bring to the table in the NBA.

1 comment:

  1. Very good take on Harper. I am a UR alum and hoops fan and have followed Harper's career closely. He went from 6' 8" 190 lbs as a freshman to 6' 10" 225 lbs as a senior. But the biggest reason he had a breakout year as a senior was between the ears--his confidence level grew tremendously. For his sake, I wish he had red-shirted his freshman year. He certainly needs to develop a more well-rounded game. The sweet-sixteen game against Kansas was a great measuring stick for him. In terms of physical stature, there wasn't much difference between him and the Morris twins. But it was clear that their skills are much more honed. Harper needs to develop the same level of ball-handling and post-move skills that Marcus Morris has. He appears to me to have the potential to do so, but it will hinge on the same thing that it hinged on this year--between the ears. I have no doubt that if he's truly hungry and willing to work, he could develop into a solid role player for the right NBA team. UR fans were thrilled to see him reach his potential this year. And we're rooting for him to reach his potential as a pro.

    By the way, we're also pulling for Kevin Anderson. He's a special player and we hope he gets a shot as well.