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Clippers Fans: Don’t Sleep on Moe Harkless and Rodney McGruder

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While their acquisitions were overshadowed, for obvious reasons, Moe Harkless and Rodney McGruder will be looked to as key bench players this season.

Miami Heat v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images

Moe Harkless and Rodney McGruder have taken decidedly different routes along their respective basketball playing careers to end up in L.A. Harkless was a hyped recruit, a one-and-done at St. Johns, a top 15 pick, and someone whose current contract raised eyebrows for its dollar amount. Moe is making over $11 million this season after signing a 4-year, $42 million deal in the, now infamous, bloodletting of money during the 2016 NBA offseason. He got this deal after averaging only 6.4 points and 3.6 rebounds a game the previous season. A nice postseason, in which he averaged 11 points and 5.1 rebounds a game, certainly helped his paying cause, but this deal was indicative of the notorious salary cap increase that summer. It was a summer that forced teams to become smarter in their contract dealings due to inflated deals for players that were potentially undeserving. Do I think that Moe is undeserving? Let’s put it this way: there are way worse contracts out there.

He’s a fantastic defender (2nd on the Blazers in defensive rating last season), with a 7’2” wingspan who can score when you need him to. He’s averaged over 35% from deep three times in his career, and has a career field goal percentage of 46.7% as a wing. He also had a net rating of 7.9 last season (ahead of players like Joel Embiid, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving) and upped his points per game from 6.5 to 7.7. His box scores aren’t eye popping. but Harkless has also started in more than half the games he’s played in the NBA and has been a part of a few deep-ish playoff runs with the Portland Trail Blazers. He’s 26 with seven seasons under his belt, a young veteran in today’s game that probably hasn’t peaked yet.

McGruder, on the other hand, has been overlooked his entire career. He played on the same AAU team as consensus number one recruit Michal Beasley in high school, then followed him to Kansas State. There, McGruder played all four years, gradually earning time under Frank Martin and developing into an AP Honorable Mention All-American by the end of his time in Kansas. However, as we often see now, four-year college basketball players are not coveted by NBA teams. McGruder went undrafted in 2013 and signed to Atomeromu SE in Hungary for the season. He returned stateside in 2014 and played back-to-back seasons in the D-League, even capturing a D-League Championship with the Sioux Falls Skyforce in 2016.

McGruder finally capitalized upon an NBA opportunity, signing a three-year deal with the Miami Heat after showing out in the 2016 Summer League. In his first season in the league, McGruder stepped up immediately, starting in 65 games, averaging 6.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 25.2 minutes. After playing in South Dakota and halfway across the world, McGruder was now a bonafide starter in the NBA. Following an injury-plagued 2017-18 season, Rodney averaged career highs in points, rebounds, assists, and free-throw percentage last year.

However, on April 7, McGruder was waived by the Heat in an effort to get below the luxury tax for the boon that was the 2019 free-agency period. They had made it clear they weren’t extending McGruder a qualifying offer this offseason, so letting him go was the right choice in their eyes. Two days later, the Clippers picked up McGruder. While it was too late for McGruder to join the Clippers’ actual roster for the playoffs, Rodney was brought in for practices and sat on the bench during their first-round matchup with the Warriors. This summer, McGruder signed a 3-year, $15 million deal to return with the Clippers. It is his biggest payday yet, and could be a really good bargain deal for L.A. McGruder is 28 and going on his fourth year in the league.

On paper, these two couldn’t be more different. Different positions, one (maybe?) overpaid, one properly paid, one who’s been on NBA radars since high school, one whose career has led him to Hungary, Maine, and South Dakota. However, when you look deeper, Harkless and McGruder both match the identity of this Clippers squad. The biggest likeness: both have been essentially given up on by multiple NBA franchises.

Harkless was a top half first round pick for Orlando, yet two years later received over 35 DNP-CD’s in 2014-15. He was traded for a 2020 second-round pick to Portland as the Magic wiped their hands clean of a player that they thought of as a bust. He eventually worked his way into becoming Portland’s incumbent starting three, and has started 32 of their 33 playoff games over the last four seasons. However, this summer, partially due to his perhaps bloated contract, the Blazers gave the Clippers Harkless AND a first-round pick for basically nothing ($110,000 in cash, a drop in the bucket for Steve Ballmer). Two teams traded Harkless away for little to no return.

While McGruder hasn’t been traded away from any NBA teams, he’s been waived by three, including twice by the Boston Celtics. After signing a undrafted free-agent deal with the OKC Thunder for 1 year, $490,180 in 2013, McGruder was waived less than a month later. The next year, same thing with Boston. Then, after appearing in 26 games with the Celtics’ affiliate D-League team, the Maine Red Claws, Rodney was waived by them as well. Overlooked and underappreciated — doesn’t that remind you of a few guys in L.A.?

No one should sleep on these two in the Clippers’ rotation because of their identity fit with this squad, the chips they should play with, and their gritty defensive tendencies. They are tough, athletic players who can mesh with multiple lineups. They fit right in alongside players like Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, Landry Shamet, Lou Williams, JaMychal Green, and Patrick Patterson — other guys who have been let go or traded, or been in the G-League and had to scrap and prove they belong in this league. That’s why the Clippers front office is one of the best in the league: they know exactly who they want, who fits, and who can help them win.

As pegged right now, depth-chart wise, Harkless is placed as Kawhi Leonard’s backup at the three. On ESPN, (which is already flawed because it has Trezz starting over Zubac, which won’t happen), McGruder is placed as the fourth-string two guard behind Jerome Robinson. Look, I want JRob to be good for L.A. one day, but McGruder should absolutely be ahead of Robinson in any depth chart. He’s (right now) better offensively and defensively, and provides a veteran mindset. There is a logjam at the shooting guard position, with Lou, Shamet and Paul George ahead of Rodney. However, for the Clippers to be successful this season and especially late, having a veteran presence like McGruder to D up, hit a shot, be athletic on both ends and do the little things as your 9th or 10th man is huge.

That’s also what I expect from Harkless. While part of me thinks that Harkless could potentially turn in half year a-la Mike Scott and become trade bait (expiring deal), Moe could be an important cog this season. He will be stepping into a role that is different from his time in Portland, but is perhaps the better fit for him. Harkless starting for a perennial playoff team feels like how the Clips had Luck Mbah A Moute starting for those Lob City teams - a good player a bit out of his depth. However, what Harkless could bring, similar to Mbah A Moute, is ferocious perimeter defense, rebounding and the ability to knock down an open three. With a bench lineup of Moe, Lou, Trez and Shamet/McGruder, you are looking at the best bench in the league scoring wise. Moe will also help where the bench tended to struggle last season, defensively.

Again, McGruder and Harkless won’t wow you in many facets of an NBA game. However, they are two solid bench additions to a team that has a crazy amount of depth. As we saw last year with the Toronto Raptors, depth and skill at every position can beat star power. If everyone does their job correctly, this Clippers team will be very, very hard to beat. Look for these two to come in day one with their hardhats and lunchpails and be solid contributors for the Clips next season.