Magic position battle focuses on small forward

Harkless, 20, heads into camp as starter

Nik Vucevic is running unopposed at center. Arron Afflalo is the choice at shooting guard – unless rookie Victor Oladipo steals the race. Jameer Nelson is the incumbent at point guard. Tobias Harris looks to be the leading candidate at power forward ... until Glen "Big Baby" Davis returns to create an intriguing debate.

Those are the storylines we've examined in our Saturday series focusing on the Magic's position battles heading into their Oct. 1 training camp.

Today: (Last in the series): Small forward.

Maurice Harkless probably doesn't have a care in the world – and why should he?

He's 20, a millionaire and has secured a spot on an NBA roster.

Except Moe might want to at least glance over his shoulder.

Three of the top prospects likely to enter the next NBA draft have the ability to play Harkless' position: Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle.

And the Magic should be in prime position at lottery time to land one of them. Wiggins, enrolled at Kansas, is said to be the star of a 2014 class that draft experts compare to the stunning 2003 class of LeBron, 'Melo and D-Wade.

A rookie last season, Harkless probably wouldn't need to worry about being replaced by a younger player in other NBA locales. But this is Orlando, where the rebuilding Magic are as open to accommodating kids as Disney World.

Harkless should pick up where he left off – as the learn-as-you-go starter.

He was acquired in the Dwight Howard deal from the Philadelphia 76ers, who selected him with the 15th pick in 2012.

Harkless played as a 19-year-old last season, and the Magic brought him along with care. He was promoted to starter and demoted until regaining the job.

He played 76 games, starting 59, averaging 8.2 points and 4.4 rebounds in 26 minutes per game.

At 6-9, 210 pounds, he flashed his athleticism near the basket on put-backs, but struggled from 3-point territory (32-of-117 for 27 percent). Like many rookies, he had to transition from being a focal point in college (he spent one season at St. John's) to playing without the ball and carving out a role in the pros.

Defensively, he showed promise, blocking three of Carmelo Anthony's shots in a game against the New York Knicks. He finished with 62 blocks and 88 steals.

Harkless added muscle from weight-room work this offseason, looking bigger (and a little taller) during the Magic's summer-league action.

Coaches were pleased that he was more aggressive on both ends of the floor, and obviously had picked up confidence after playing a year in the league.

Harkless still is in the developmental stage. With DeQuan Jones gone, and Hedo Turkoglu expected to be bought out of his contract, he figures to be the starter … unless Harris winds up competing for the job, too. That would set up the most hotly contested position battle of the season.

Harris, 21, is expected to start at the 4, but that could change if (or when) Davis recovers from a lingering foot injury.

Harris has an extra year of experience. He certainly offers the Magic more scoring than Harkless, averaging 17.3 points in 27 games after arriving from the Milwaukee Bucks.

 

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