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L.A. Clippers 2019-20 Player Preview: Moe Harkless is a luxury in the forward rotation

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The Clippers have a lot of depth at the wing and forward spots, and Moe Harkless brings unique defensive versatility to the position.

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

Basic Information:

Height: 6’9”

Weight: 220 lbs

Age: 26 years old

Position: forward

NBA experience: 7 years

Key stats: Harkless played in 60 games for the Portland Trail Blazers last season, starting 53. He scored 7.7 points in 23.6 minutes per game, while adding 4.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.1 steals, and 0.9 blocks. Harkless shot 58.2% on 2-pointers (4.5 shot attempts per game) and 27.5% on 3-pointers (2.0 attempts per game).

Contract status: Harkless is entering the final year of a 4 year, $42 million contract originally signed with Portland in 2016. That contract pays him $11,011,236 this season.

Expectations:

Of all the impressive things the Clippers did this offseason to build a championship contender, perhaps none of them were as impressive as acquiring Moe Harkless, and our staff agrees. With Miami struggling to quickly complete the Jimmy Butler trade, the Clippers offered to facilitate by lending their cap space for one season. In return, they got a quality wing player with oodles of playoff experience and a first-round pick that later came in handy during the Paul George trade.

Harkless joined the team before Kawhi Leonard and George, and he is now on a team replete with wing players. That doesn’t mean that he has any less value — as the Golden State Warriors have taught us, the more wings, the merrier. This situation simply allows Harkless to maintain a relatively low minutes total like he did last year while providing insurance in the event that either Leonard or George misses some games. It’s possible that the Clippers would rather have used the cap space Harkless is occupying on a backup point guard or a true center. However, Harkless is another tough, sometimes overlooked player who belongs in Los Angeles.

Before joining the Clippers, Harkless had the impression that this was a hardworking team, and he hopes to build on that. “They brought that toughness and that grittiness every game. It would never be an easy game against them no matter who they had on the floor,” Harkless said on media day. “I think I just want to, you know, kind of add to what they already have built here. That toughness, I think I bring that with my game. Just impacting the game and just trying to help win games, I go out there and I try to do whatever I can on any given night to help my team win, and I think that fits right in here.”

In Portland, Harkless started at forward next to Al-Farouq Aminu and generally guarded the more perimeter-oriented forward. Even though he and Aminu are essentially like-sized, Harkless functioned as the small forward in that starting lineup.

That position is occupied for the Clippers by Leonard and George. If Harkless wants to earn more minutes, he’ll have be a little more positionally fluid. The easiest way to do that is becoming the starting power forward. At 6’9” with a 7’2” wingspan, he won’t be overwhelmed by the size of opposing fours, though perhaps by their strength. Nonetheless, there aren’t many post-up fours left in the Western Conference, so this shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

“I feel like this year I have the opportunity to do a lot of different things and play a lot of different roles throughout the season. so it’s kind of just being able to adjust and adapt on a night to night basis,” Harkless said.

Harkless makes sense in the starting lineup for a number of reasons. Firstly, he’s the best defender of the players competing for that spot (including JaMychal Green and Landry Shamet), and he can switch onto both guards and forwards. Secondly, the second unit really needs shooters to surround Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, and for all of Harkless’ gifts, spot-up shooting isn’t really his strength. However, he is a really smart cutter, which could be put to advantage next to Leonard and George. Harkless also attacks the glass well, making him a nice complement to Ivica Zubac.

If Harkless does come off the bench, he provides some defensive insurance next to Williams and Harrell, who are more offensively minded. Williams is a terrific passer as well and can utilize Harkless’ ability to find open spots on the floor. Harkless isn’t the most willing shooter, but the quality of looks that the Williams/Harrell pick-and-roll can generate might make him less shy.

The second preseason game was a nice showcase for Harkless, as he was able to demonstrate how his effort can be impactful for the Clippers. As a championship favorite, LA figures to get every team’s best shot this season, and having waves of players who can keep the energy level high is a luxury.

The Clippers gained a valuable player in Harkless while simultaneously weakening a conference rival; the early returns show that Harkless already makes perfect sense on this team.