NBA PM: Harkless Prepares for Breakout Year

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Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy and CineSport’s Noah Coslov preview the 2015 NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers.

Harkless Preparing for Breakout Year

I woke up Moe Harkless from his afternoon nap. I felt bad, since this is one of the few times during the day he gets to relax due to his rigorous workout schedule at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL. But the Orlando Magic had just hired Scott Skiles as their head coach and I texted him to see what he thought of the move. I had no idea he was sleeping, and it’s not my fault he’s a light sleeper.

Fortunately, Harkless woke up to good news, because he’s thrilled with the hire.

“Everything I’ve heard about him has been good,” Harkless said. “I’ve heard he’s a hard coach and he expects a lot out of his players. That’s the kind of coach we need as a young team, we need to be held accountable and he’s the guy that’s going to do that for us. Also, he’s a defensive-minded head coach, which I think is perfect for me because I love playing defense and practicing hard. I love all that stuff so having him coming in with his mindset is a great opportunity for myself. It’s a new opportunity for me to earn some more playing time too. Last year, I feel I didn’t really play a lot so it’s an opportunity to earn some minutes back and just be able to play my game. I’m looking forward to it and looking forward to working with him.

“Coming into the league, my goal was to be on an All-Defensive Team and that’s still one of my goals. With Scott Skiles coming in and his emphasis on defense, I definitely think he can teach me a lot and help develop me to be that guy. It’s definitely something I’m willing and able to do. I’m looking forward to working with him and learning from him.”

Harkless is determined to have a breakout 2015-16 season for the Magic under the guidance of a new head coach. After starting 59 games as a rookie and averaging 8.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 26 minutes per game, his playing time decreased over each of the last two seasons. As a sophomore, he started 41 games and averaged 24.4 minutes. He posted similar stats and his three-point shooting improved significantly from 27.4 percent to 38.3 percent on more attempts.

Then, last year, Harkless basically fell out of the rotation altogether for some reason. Under former head coach Jacque Vaughn and then interim coach James Borrego, he played in just 45 games (starting only four) and averaged 15 minutes per game. There were many nights where he was a healthy scratch from the lineup. His Magic teammates were confused and privately questioned the decision.

Throughout the year, Harkless tried his best to remain positive. He was supportive of his teammates while also working hard and staying prepared for the limited opportunities when he was given significant minutes. In the few games he played 30 or more minutes, he averaged 16 points (on 53.8 percent shooting from the field), 6.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 3.5 steals. Now, he’s hoping he can showcase his game to the new coaching staff and earn a larger role going forward.

“I’ve always felt like I’m a guy who works hard and puts in the extra time in the gym, so last year not playing definitely humbled me a bit,” Harkless said. “For whatever reason, I couldn’t get on the court. I like to think I always stayed ready. I brought it every day in practice. Even the old coaching staff complimented me on that. They said it’s hard to do, but that I kept bringing it. I think I did a good job last year just staying ready mentally and being ready for any situation I’m going into.”

Harkless knows that this is an important summer for him and he’s determined to produce in his fourth NBA season. The 22-year-old is working extremely hard to prepare for next year. He started training at St. John’s in early May with some of their players preparing for the 2015 NBA Draft. Then, he arrived at the IMG Academy several weeks ago and plans to spend the rest of the summer there.

“I took a couple weeks off immediately after the season and then I went up to New York and worked out with some of the guys at St. John’s,” Harkless said. “I saw how hard those guys were working as they were getting ready for the draft. It reminded me how hard it was to get in the league, and it’s even harder to stay [in the NBA] so I wanted to get back to work early. I started working out with those guys and once they all graduated, I came down here at IMG early and just got going.”

He is doing two-a-days at IMG, working on and off the basketball court, following the recommendations of a nutritionist and dedicating every day to improving.

“I’ve been working with [IMG Head Skills Trainer] Dan Barto every day on my shooting,” Harkless said. “We’re focusing a lot on my shot, and also doing a lot of work around the basket with different ways to score like floaters, layups and finishing through contact. I think I had a lot of trouble finishing through contact last year and I think that’s where the weight room comes in too. I’m getting my body stronger, continuing my development and just getting better. I think all the stuff I’m doing here is definitely helping me. Honestly, there’s no better feeling than just being around basketball all day. I could stay here all day long and I’m happy to be here working out.

“I’m usually up at 7:30 and I get breakfast, then I get here at about 8:15 because we start working out at 8:30. We’re on the turf [doing drills on the IMG football field] at 9:00 until usually around 10:00. We’re in the weight room after that, until about 11:15. At 11:30, we’re in the gym until 1:00. Then, we get a break until 5:00 and that’s when we get another workout in – usually a lot of shooting or we play pick-up games. Then, afterward, I’m just relaxing at home, watching the playoffs and preparing for the next day.”

Watching the postseason games has made Harkless hungry for a taste of the playoffs. The Magic entered last season with playoff aspirations, but failed to live up to expectations (winning just 25 games). Next season, under Skiles, Harkless and his teammates are hoping to finish as one of the top eight teams in the East and experience the postseason.

“It’s absolutely motivating,” Harkless said of watching the playoffs. “I love competing at a high level like that and watching it on T.V. and how hard those guys are going, I can’t wait until I get the chance to perform on that stage and be in that situation where I’m fighting for the championship.”

In addition to his training regimen, Harkless has also been watching film and studying a number of players. He wants to add some more moves to his arsenal, and he’s watching to see how certain players fill a specific role for their respective team.

“There’s a few guys who I study,” Harkless said. “One guy, in particular, is [Memphis’] Jeff Green; he’s a guy who I could see myself being like. [Houston’s] Trevor Ariza is another guy I watch. I’m probably more like Jeff Green because he can do everything, and does everything well on both ends of the floor. He can pretty much change the game with his length, athleticism and his activity so I think he’s a good guy for me to look at with my body and style of play.”

At IMG, Harkless is training with a number of draft prospects (such as projected lottery pick Cameron Payne) as well as NBA players like Utah’s Rodney Hood. Going up against Hood in one-on-one drills and in pick-up games has helped the development of both players.

“Just to be able to go at this with another player in the league [is great], and I commend him for being here so early too,” Harkless said of Hood. “Just being able to work out and play five-on-five together is good for both of us. We’re two completely different players, but I think we can use each other to get better.”

While IMG will be where Harkless spends just about every day of this summer, he will leave for a few trips to work out with his Magic teammates. He’s trying to plan a team get-together for later this offseason, where everyone can work out together and bond off the court (just as Jameer Nelson used to do each year with teammates when he played for Orlando). He is also planning to bring Magic point guard Elfrid Payton to IMG for some time, and fly to other training locations around the country to work out with teammates like Victor Oladipo and Kyle O’Quinn.

“I’m definitely trying to keep in touch with those guys and work out with them,” Harkless said. “I’m trying to get guys together this summer to just bond some more. Hanging out off the court is just as important as our relationships on the court [in order] to build a good team.

“I actually just got done talking to Kyle, he works out in Las Vegas so me, Kyle, Elfrid and maybe Victor will all go out there to work out and play pick-up for about a week this summer and just enjoy each other’s company. It’s hard sometimes to get together in the summer time, but those are my brothers so we definitely want to do that. I also want to get Elfrid down here [to IMG Academy] and I plan on spending a week in D.C. with Victor.”

One thing that outsiders may not know about Harkless is that he’s close friends with just about every player on the Magic. He bonds with everyone off the court and gets along with the whole group. He is great for team chemistry, and that’s part of the reason why a number of teammates were so confused and critical of the decision to diminish Harkless’ playing time.

Harkless is Orlando’s glue guy – a role that is usually filled by a veteran, not a 22-year-old. But he is very mature and understands the importance or being close with teammates and how that can impact a team. This isn’t a role that Harkless goes out of his way to fill, it’s just who he is and he loves being around his teammates and making friends.

“I feel like I’m a guy who gets along with everybody well and I try to use that to keep the peace whether it’s in the locker room, on the court or in practice,” Harkless said. “I try to keep everybody happy, so I guess you can say that I am the glue guy on this team, like you said. It’s definitely a role that I’m willing and able to handle.”

Harkless is doing all of the right things to have a strong 2015-16 campaign and take advantage of his fresh start under a new coaching staff. He’s hoping all of his hard work pays off in the form of playing time, on-court success and, most importantly, his first trip to the playoffs.