Denton: NBA Draft Analysis

By John Denton
June 23, 2011

ORLANDO – Some of the Orlando Magic’s greatest success came with Rashard Lewis manning the power forward position and burning foes with his ability to knock down 3-pointers. If things go as planned for the Magic, new Orlando forward Justin Harper will have a similar impact to Lewis, the player he most compares himself to in the NBA.

The Magic made a bold move in Thursday’s NBA Draft to trade up to acquire Harper, a player with the size of a power forward (6-foot-9, 230 pounds) and the sweet shooting stroke of a small forward (44.8 percent from 3-point range). The Magic acquired the No. 32 pick in the draft from the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for two future second-round picks in order to add Harper to the roster.

The 21-year-old product of the University of Richmond hopes to fill the role of the ``stretch four’’ once occupied so successfully by Lewis with the Magic.

``We both have the same type of games, being able to stretch the floor with the 3-point shooting,’’ Harper said while comparing himself to Lewis. ``I’d say I have the same skill set as a Rashard Lewis. I believe that’s a good comparison.’’

The Magic didn’t go into the draft with a first-round pick, having dealt what eventually became the No. 23 pick away to the Phoenix Suns as part of the Dec. 18 blockbuster transaction for Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark. The Magic did use the No. 53 pick of the second round on 6-foot-6 shooting guard DeAndre Liggins. The gritty Chicago native is known for his defense and he could possibly be insurance in case the Magic lose Richardson in free agency.

As he has done repeatedly in the past, Magic President of Basketball Operations/GM Otis Smith favored older, more mature college players in the draft. Harper played four years at Richmond, while Liggins was at Kentucky for three seasons. Smith feels both picks have a chance to stick with the Magic’s opening day roster even though the odds are usually stacked against second-round selections.

``Justin had a very good college career. He’s mature, he can help us now and he’ll fit in with the guys that we already have on this team,’’ Smith said. ``With DeAndre, his toughness is his best feature. He’s not afraid to work and we can throw him into a lot of situations. He can defend multiple situations and he’s a tough kid.’’

Harper was a lightly regarded prospect coming out of high school, getting collegiate offers from only Providence, Richmond and East Carolina. He ultimately helped turn Richmond’s program around and making the Spiders a perennial threat in the NCAA Tournament, while also evolving into a strong pro prospect. He averaged 17.9 points and 6.9 rebounds a game this past season while shooting 53.4 percent from the floor and 44.8 percent from 3-point range.

``I think I’m more of a power forward who can shoot, but I think I can make the transition to (small forward), too,’’ Harper said. ``But given my size, playing (power forward) might be more realistic right now.’’

Smith said that being able to chase small forwards off screens and contain some of the best scorers in the NBA would be a big adjustment for Harper, but he likes his ability to rebound and traffic and get boards out of his area. Harper said his four years spent at the college level will help him adapt and morph his game into whatever the Magic need be it a small forward or a power forward.

``Being in college those four years, I’ve really grown,’’ he said. ``I’ve grown on the court and off it and my maturity is one of my strongest points. Teams know exactly what they are going to get with me. I’m just a blue collar guy who is going to come in and show them that I want to get better as a player.’’

Playing on a Kentucky team loaded with star power and elite NBA prospects, Liggins was often overlooked over the past two seasons. But it was his ability to guard the other team’s best scorer and his willingness to do the dirty work that endeared him to Smith and the Magic. He has good size at 6-foot-6 and 202 pounds and he averaged 8.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists a game last season for a Kentucky team that reached the Final Four.

``I just want to come in and make an impact on the defensive end,’’ said Liggins, who played with Magic rookie Daniel Orton at Kentucky. `` I can guard three positions and knock down open 3-pointers. And I’m an underrated passer, too.’’

Liggins didn’t work out for the Magic in the weeks leading up to Thursday’s draft, but he interviewed with the team during the NBA Pre-Draft Camp in Chicago in early June. He said his agent informed him that the Magic were interested in selecting him with the 53rd choice three days before the draft.

If Harper is a Rashard Lewis clone because of his similar physique and 3-point shooting abilities, Liggins compares himself to some of the NBA’s grittiest defenders. Liggins said his ability to make the Magic’s roster will depend on his willingness to be a tough, hard-nosed defender.

``My toughness will carry on for the Orlando Magic,’’ he said. ``At Kentucky, I really competed and my toughness was a reason we won a lot of games. That toughness that I bring on the court you could compare me to Tony Allen or a Shane Battier. Toughness and defense win ball games and that’s what I’m trying to bring to the Orlando Magic.’’

John Denton writes for E-mail John at Submit a question to John for his mailbag segment at