Denton's Notebook: Dec. 15

By John Denton
December 15, 2012

CHARLOTTE – When the slow starts continued to stack up earlier in the week and there was a call from some for Jacque Vaughn to change his starting lineup – namely replacing rookie small forward Maurice Harkless – the Orlando Magic coach resisted and kept the status quo.

Vaughn has made it abundantly clear throughout this season that while he’s responsible for helping the Magic win games, he’s also very much in tune with the need to develop the Magic’s four rookies and three other second-year players.

Vaughn is vowing to stick with young players such as Nikola Vucevic, E’Twaun Moore, Andrew Nicholson, DeQuan Jones and Harkless in his regular rotation even if they happen to struggle from time to time. Vucevic, who has led the team in rebounding 13 times this season, is a regular starter at center, while the 19-year-old Harkless has started the past 13 games at small forward.

``I think, if I haven’t stressed it enough, it’s that I believe in my guys,’’ Vaughn said. ``I’m going to continue to have confidence in them and continue to try and put them in positions of success. Some nights it’s going to be a challenge and success isn’t going to be there, but it doesn’t mean I don’t still love you the next day.’’

Nicholson and Moore are perfect examples of Vaughn’s patience with the young players paying off for the Magic. Nicholson set career highs in points (19) and rebounds (nine) earlier in the week against Phoenix and he had another 15 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots in 25 minutes on Friday against Golden State.

Moore, who had two points last week against Utah and Sacramento, bounced back with three consecutive double-digit scoring games this week.

``For Mo, Nik, Andrew and E’Twaun, guys who are younger guys, for them to contribute the way that they have, it’s a testament to them and the work that they are putting in,’’ Vaughn said. ``It’s work that is paying off for them and they deserve success.’’

COLLEGE CONNECTION: If it wasn’t for Orlando’s Harkless, Charlotte head coach Mike Dunlap likely wouldn’t be in the NBA. And vice versa, Harkless said on Saturday night prior to facing the Bobcats that his former college coach helped him reach the NBA.

When Charlotte GM Rod Higgins went to St. John’s last fall to scout Harkless, he saw a coach in Dunlap who commanded great respect and got the most out of his players.

Dunlap conducted 6 a.m. practices and was so tough that he made players run laps for yawning in practice or not looking him in the eyes when being instructed.

``He made me a lot tougher and taught me how to deal with adversity,’’ Harkless said. ``He was a different style for me because I was never used to a coach coaching me that way. It definitely helped me out.’’

Dunlap worked previously in the NBA with the Denver Nuggets as a player development and he gave Harkless advice when he was trying to decide whether or not to opt for the NBA Draft after just one season at St. John’s. Harkless said his coach was very supportive of him.

``Mentally, he’s smart and he was a pleasure to coach,’’ Dunlap said of Harkless. ``Second, every time you coached him he improved and he’s a gym rat. And third, his willingness to try different things (is a plus). I know he came into this season with an injury – a sports hernia is tough injury – and he’s starting to get a bite of the apple. I’m really happy for him.

ETC: Rebounding was a major concern for the Magic entering the season following the trading of Dwight Howard. But Orlando has held up quite well on the glass this season, ranking ninth in the NBA heading into Saturday’s game. The Magic are even better in defensive rebounding (fifth), while ranking 23rd in the league in offensive boards. Vucevic is 12th in the NBA in rebounding at 9.1 a game, while Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis ranks 19th at 8.1. … By averaging 12.8 points over his last five games, Nicholson has boosted his scoring average to 8.1 points per game. That ranks him ninth in the NBA among all rookies. … Harkless said the most points he ever scored in a game was a 56-point effort in high school. He said he also once blocked seven shots in a prep game. He added that Friday’s effort vs. Golden State (seven points, rebounds, four rebounds and two steals) was good for his psyche after some struggles of late. Said Harkless: ``It did a lot for me because I was going through a tough stretch. It was tough for me to regain that confidence. I just tried to stay aggressive and I have to stay confident. You can’t let bad games get you down.’’ … One aspect of being a head coach that has been an adjustment for Vaughn is not getting out on the floor and working out with players prior to games. Head coached don’t usually partake in such drills and Vaughn somewhat misses that time working with players. ``Normally I’d have the young crew or a veteran who wanted to get in some shooting and I’d be sweating right now,’’ Vaughn said 90 minutes prior to tipoff. … The Magic are back at the Amway Center on Monday night to face the Minnesota Timberwolves. Orlando lost 90-75 in Minnesota on Nov. 7 in a game in which Timberwolves star Kevin Love did not play because of a thumb injury.

ORLANDOMAGIC.COM FEATURES: Vaughn Attentive to Young Player's Needs | Nicholson Growing

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