Maurice Harkless is the NBA's fourth-youngest player.
For much of this season, he played like it.
The wiry 19-year-old deferred to veteran teammates when the Orlando Magic played on offense. If he received the ball, he passed it away quickly rather than drive to the hoop or take an outside shot.
That changed over the last five games. The hesitancy faded away. A controlled assertiveness took hold. And Harkless displayed the raw ability that made him the 15th overall pick in last June's NBA draft.
"I think it was real important," he said. "Every game, I've just got to try to take another step to get better, and I think I've been doing that as far as just being more aggressive, more active and playing more confident."
A combination of opportunity and injuries to more established players prompted the transformation. Arron Afflalo strained a calf muscle Jan. 27, and Afflalo's absence opened the starting small-forward spot for Harkless. Injuries to other players followed: Glen Davis' foot fracture, Jameer Nelson's forearm bruise, J.J. Redick's sore right shoulder and DeQuan Jones' sore left foot and ankle.
Someone needed to take the shots and grab rebounds, and Harkless obliged.
In Orlando's last five games — all losses — he averaged 37 minutes, 11.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.
"He's just gotten better throughout the course of the year," coach Jacque Vaughn said. "[He's] more confident in what he's doing. He's understanding what's going on on the floor. He's just learning the NBA game, which is different for a guy that played one year of college."
Fellow rookie Kyle O'Quinn, one of Harkless' best friends on the Magic roster, has noticed a change.
"It shows that he's becoming comfortable in his talents that got him this far," O'Quinn said.
"He's going out there with an approach like, 'Hey, I'm going to go out there and play.' And it's showing. And he's playing big-time minutes, and I hope his game and his production go up out of the roof."
Harkless traces his newfound boldness to a conversation with Afflalo.
Magic rookie Maurice Harkless is playing with more assertiveness
Orlando Sentinel | Feb 6