Harper hopes for Magic touch

Justin Harper is a young, college-seasoned forward for the Orlando Magic standing six feet, 10 inches tall. He has played his first season in the NBA over the course of 2011-2012 and his second year looks to be even more impressive.

With a year of experience underneath his belt, he has new goals heading into the 2012-2013 NBA season. Harper was here recently for the 2012 Orlando Magic Basketball Camp at Camana Bay’s Arts and Recreation Centre and spoke about his future.

“I’m kind of unsure. We just hired a coaching staff, I haven’t gotten a chance to talk to them or meet any of the new guys because I’ve been here,” Harper said. “But I’m optimistic. We’ve got new guys, a lot of drive and hunger, the culture is changing with our head coach and general manager being replaced. There are a lot of things I’m looking forward to this year.

“I’m just going to try and get better, put in as much hard work as I physically can and improve each and every day. Last year as a rookie, I was just trying to earn my stripes, putting myself on the map, you know? I had to do anything I could to try and make an impression. This year is different now, I have to show that I deserve to stay in the NBA, I have to show where I’ve improved and exploit my versatility.”

Harper’s main attraction as a player is his astonishing versatility. He is 230 pounds and his agility, quickness and ability to finish through contact allows him to play on the perimeter too. The Magic traded for Harper on draft day in 2010 from the Cavaliers as a power forward to back-up Glen ‘Big Baby’ Davis at the position.

The Magic’s head coach last season was Stan Van Gundy and Otis Smith was GM and they stressed to Harper over the course of the year and this summer (before their firings) that the thing that would set him apart would be his versatility. He has the ability to guard small forwards, while being a match-up nightmare on the offensive end because of his ball-handling and penetration. Going into this offseason, that’s exactly what he worked on.

“I’ve been working on being able to play multiple positions effectively, improving my versatility. That’s what Coach Stan told me I needed to do and I’ve been following suit. I’ve been working on my ball-handling a lot, my foot speed; been trying to put a little weight on in the gym so I can be effective on the defensive side of the ball and get to the rim on the offensive end too.”

Harper has an extremely unique physique, even when compared to the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant. LeBron is an athletic freak, being 6’9 and 260lbs, while Durant is just as much of an anomaly: standing 6’11 and weighing 220lbs with a wingspan of seven feet. Harper is taller than LeBron, more lean than Durant and has more room for improvement than a lot of NBA teams will notice.

Being 6’10 allows him to defend anybody, long arms give him the ability to harass shooters and his foot speed permits him to stay in front of less athletic big men of the same height. He has the build to match up against any forward in the league.

Harper’s second year, at least on paper, looks very promising. Orlando has made changes, and as a result, there are minutes and roles on the team to be had. Last year’s starting power forward, and winner of the NBA Most Improved Player of the Year award, Ryan Anderson was dealt to the New Orleans Hornets in a sign-and-trade deal.

Marco Bellineli, a free agent wing player from the Hornets, has been signed. Earl Clark has opted out of his contract and the Magic’s new decision-making battery of first-time head coach Jacque Vaughn and GM Rob Hennigan has left plenty of opportunity.

There is so much up for grabs and Harper is determined to earn his keep.

“I’m expecting a really nice year. With positions not being filled yet, it leaves a lot of minutes out there for me to just take. There’s a great opportunity for playing time if I can prove myself and that’s exactly what I plan on doing to the new Magic management. I’m really looking forward to showing them how much better my offseason workouts have made me.”

Another factor to the situation would be, of course, the Dwight Howard saga. A trade is imminent, the face of the franchise is no longer and it’s a waiting game to find out where he lands and who the Magic have because of it. Once that happens, nothing is certain on the roster. No starting spots are guaranteed and the competition for minutes during training camp is sure to be an interesting one.

Harper has a mountain of untapped potential, his versatility is second-to-none and his talent is ever-present. Whether or not he manages to turn potential into production is another story, but as far as he’s concerned, it’s only a matter of time before he’s made a name for himself and becomes a consistent 
starting player.

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