UnderDOG to Watch: Moe Harkless

Moe Harkless has to step up for Portland to contend. (Thomas B. Shea/USA TODAY Sports)
Moe Harkless has to step up for Portland to contend. (Thomas B. Shea/USA TODAY Sports)

Not many teams had a busier offseason than the Portland Trail Blazers. A surprise playoff contender last season, Terry Stotts’s young guys were ahead of the curve, and he’s banking on more internal improvement to make that next jump in the standings.

Led by All-Star Damian Lillard & CJ McCollum (2016 Most Improved Player), there’s offensive firepower night in and night out. Lillard’s gonna get his, same with CJ.

But who’ll emerge as the third option? Someone, likely a wing player, who can create shots in a pinch, knock down open Js & play defense.

No, not you, Evan Turner (decent option but meh…)

For Portland to contend next year, newly-resigned Maurice Harkless needs to consistently produce as a hybrid forward. Despite struggling for minutes early on in 2015-16, Moe eventually carved out a starting spot down the stretch & put up nice numbers during Portland’s playoff run:

11 points/game, 5.1 rebounds/game, 24.7 minutes/game (via BBRef)

At 6’9, with solid athleticism, Moe works as a slasher, defender and transition scorer. He doesn’t have much creativity with a live rock and is learning how to make the better pass but early returns have been encouraging.

With 4 years under his belt, Moe’s still just 22 years old. He hasn’t even figured out his niche in the league. But to me, he’s a Trevor Ariza in the making, with an outside shot of becoming a Paul George-lite – a guy who can come in, play both forward positions, defend, knock down the open three & cut hard to the cup.

He’s already doing some of it – Moe shot just 27% on corner threes, if he raises it to around 34-35%, Coach Stotts will be urged to play him 30 minutes (& beyond). And if that happens, there’s no reason why he can’t sustain (or build) his postseason averages.

Moe as a third option puts Portland in another space. Depth was a big issue v. Golden State, so another guy who can slot into multiple lineups, similar to Dame & CJ, gives Stotts an entirely different dynamic.

Moe embodies positionless basketball while offering star potential in the long-term. Perhaps this is the year we see a glimpse of what’s to come.

(2016-17) Projected Stat Line: 14 points/game, 7 rebounds/game, 44% FG, 33% 3FG 

(2016-17) Projected DOG Status: Star UnderDOG

#delay

-Jabari J.

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