Efficient has never been a word used to describe the game of Justin Harper.
When the Magic drafted him 32nd overall in 2011, they had a vision of Harper evolving into one of the best stretch fours in the league. His senior year at Richmond proved that he could do nearly anything you asked of him on the court.
Named one of the top underrated players in college basketball, Harper scored 18 points per game for the Spiders while grabbing down 7 rebounds a game. The Magic saw enough value in him to trade away two second round picks to get him from the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Yet Stan Van Gundy and company only gave him 14 games to develop. Harper averaged 6 minutes a game in those 14 games he played his rookie season. Only once did he play in 10 minutes of a game. The plan for Magic management was to slowly allow Harper to develop under the likes of Dwight Howard, Glen Davis, Ryan Anderson and Daniel Orton.
But Harper learned fast that the game of basketball is also a business.
When current general manager Rob Hennigan took over for Otis Smith after he and Stan Van Gundy were let go — he cleaned house. The Magic opened the 2012-13 season with just five players on the roster from the previous year.
It didn’t matter that Smith shipped two 2nd round picks to Cleveland for Harper. Hennigan let go of the project big man before the start of the season. Harper never even got a true chance to prove himself.
Being so late into the offseason, Harper joined the Developmental League’s Idaho Stampede for the 2012-13 season. Taking his development into his own hands, the former Richmond Spider proved he belonged in the professional ranks. He scored 12 points per game and grabbed 7 rebounds while averaging just 26 minutes a game.
His performance would lead to an opportunity to play in Israel last season for Hapoel Tel-Aviv. The starting power forward averaged 10 points and 5 rebounds per game last year while vastly improving his shooting touch.
Now, after an impressive showing with the Pistons at the Orlando Pro Summer League, Harper’s career is at a crossroads.
The Pistons, desperate to find shooting help from their forwards, went to the Summer League with three stretch fours on their roster. Harper, who will be 25 at the end of August, had a chance to showcase his natural game.
After sitting out Detroit’s first game, Harper took every moment he could to showcase his game. When it was all said and done, He quietly had shot 60% from the floor and 58% from downtown.
In the last two games of Summer League play, Harper showed why Stan Van Gundy and company thought so highly of him in the 2011 draft. In a two game stretch, he scored 34 points in 43 minutes of play. All while shooting 81% from the floor and 71% from downtown.
It’s numbers like those that make you realize that Justin Harper deserves an invite to training camp.
While so many teams passed him over — it was Stan Van Gundy that was willing to give him another chance.
Harper took advantage of it.
Brian Cook and Chris Watford also had good camps for Detroit.
It was Harper though that was the best fit in SVG’s system. His athleticism was unmatched inside during Orlando Summer League play. During his time with the Pistons, Justin Harper lived up to his potential.
It’s also the first time that an NBA team let him prove what he can do through his best skill sets.
Here’s to hoping the Pistons give Harper a chance to continue proving himself during October training camp.