Name: Maurice Harkless
Years in the NBA: 8 years
Harkless came to Los Angeles in a masterclass of a deal by the Clippers front office. The team leveraged its cap space (while still retaining enough room to sign Kawhi Leonard later in the week) to enter the Jimmy Butler sign-and-trade to get a good player in Harkless and a future first-round pick that would eventually be part of the Paul George deal.
The Clippers used Harkless off the bench for the first 10 games of the season in favor of Patrick Patterson, and Harkless only entered the starting lineup when Landry Shamet went out with an injury. He remained a starter for the rest of his Clippers tenure other than two games against the Lakers and the Nuggets when the team elected to go big with Patterson as a starter.
Once the calendar flipped to 2020, every conversation about Harkless surrounded potential trades. The Clippers had a first-round pick that was basically burning a hole in their pocket, and as an upcoming free agent, Harkless was the natural candidate to move. He dutifully played his role until the Clippers exchanged him for Morris. He never got a chance to play against his former team as the hiatus ended his season before the Knicks were supposed to meet the Clippers.
Harkless was another rangy wing defender who could comfortably switch between perimeter players. The Clippers actually started many games with Harkless on the opposing team’s ball handler; he was the team’s primary defender on James Harden, Donovan Mitchell, and Bradley Beal during the season, as the Clippers liked his combination of length and speed. Among forwards, Harkless ranked in the 85th and 81st percentile in block rate and steal rate, respectively.
The Clippers used Harkless almost exclusively as a play finisher on offense, and he was very judicious about his shot location. 80% of his field-goal attempts came at the rim or were corner threes; that’s what resulted in his strong effective field-goal percentage of 58.1%. He’s an outstanding cutter, which allowed him to get so many good looks at the basket.
Harkless was also durable for the Clippers. He missed one game due to injury during his time in Los Angeles, which was bested only by Ivica Zubac.
Harkless shoots a low volume from 3-point range, and he only took 1.5 attempts per game. Opposing defenses don’t regard Harkless as a shooter, so even though he made 42% of his corner threes, his presence on the court didn’t create any extra space for his teammates. Consequently, Harkless’ offensive rating of 109.3 points per 100 possessions was the worst among rotation players; he only outpaced Rodney McGruder, Patterson, and other deep-bench options on the Clippers.
Defensively, the way that the Clippers used Harkless was good for his skill set, but it created problems for the rest of the lineup. Harkless was clearly the best Clipper to defend small, quick guards (though a healthy Paul George should do better), but using him on the opposing point guard left Patrick Beverley in mismatches. Even though Beverley is more comfortable against bigger players, the size disadvantage can be problematic at times.
Harkless also can’t create at all. His usage rate of 9.6% was comically low; per Cleaning the Glass, it ranked in the 1st percentile of all forwards. The Trail Blazers had clearly tired of defenses ignoring Harkless (and fellow former Clipper Al-Farouq Aminu) in the playoffs and overloading on Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. The Clippers had similar fears of Harkless gumming up their offense in the postseason, which is why they traded for a more complete offensive player in Morris.
Ultimately, Harkless’ positional fit was his undoing in Los Angeles. He is a small forward, and the Clippers played him out of position at the four. If the Clippers went small, they had better options at the three and four and Harkless wasn’t able to play the five, something Morris did to great effect later in the year.
Future with the Clippers:
It’s unlikely that Harkless makes it back to the Clippers. They don’t have much salary cap flexibility, and Harkless wasn’t exactly a priority when he was here.
Overall grade: B-
The best thing Harkless did was guard the best players on the opposing team at the start of the season until Leonard was ready to ramp up. Even if the rest of his impact wasn’t memorable, that service made his time with the Clippers worthwhile.