After the 2012/2013 NBA Finals, Grantland writer, Zach Lowe, tweeted that Orlando Magic fans would take Moe Harkless over Kawhi Leonard. This was extremely puzzling to me as I felt the "Big Island" had posit...
After the 2012/2013 NBA Finals, Grantland writer, Zach Lowe, tweeted that Orlando Magic fans would take Moe Harkless over Kawhi Leonard. This was extremely puzzling to me as I felt the "Big Island" had positioned himself on the inside-track for the Most Improved Player Award for the 2013/2014 season. After all, didn't Leonard just average 14.6ppg and 11.1rpg in a grueling 7-game series against Miami while guarding arguably the best player in the world, LeBron James? I don't feel this is much of a contest, but for arguments sake let's break this down.
Age: Leonard turned 22 this past June, while Harkless turned 20 in May. It would appear as though Harkless has a slight edge here, because he is younger. However, in order to get an apples-to-apples comparison we need to consider that Kawhi just finished his second-year in the league, while Moe just concluded his rookie campaign. Leonard was 20-years for his entire rookie year, while Harkless was 19-years old. Their first-year numbers are surprisingly similar; virtually the same in minutes-per-game, points-per-game, and steals-per-game. Although, Kawhi separates himself with a positive assist-to-turnover ratio, was a better rebounder, and far more efficient offensively. The real barometer will be to compare Moe's 2013/2014 season against Kawhi's.
Edge: Kawhi Leonard
Offense: Kawhi has an identity on offense. He is a big-time threat launching corner 3-pointers, and has a solid post-up game, which he displayed in the playoffs. He can make plays in the lane, and is a terrific offensive rebounder for his position. He plays within himself, as you might expect from someone in Pops system, and never appears to be out-of-control. Moe is all about natural talent and is still very raw offensively. To his credit, I've never seen him force the action (don't watch a ton of Magic games), and realizes he can get easy baskets by running in transition. Like Leonard, he lacks a great handle and won't be asked to create for others as he seldom can create for himself. With that said, he does have a nice burst, and can finish around the rim. In the end though, Leonard is simply a far more efficient player and a much better 3-point shooter. Look no further than the FT% comparison - Leonard at 80% and Harkless at 57%.
Edge: Kawhi Leonard
Defense: This is pretty easy. Leonard gave LBJ fits throughout the entire NBA Finals, and can guard any wing player in the league, perhaps even some point guards in a pinch. He is very disciplined guarding the pick-and-roll, and seldom finds himself out of position. His freakishly-large hands and wingspan make him tough to go around, and he has a niche for getting a hand on loose balls. Moe on the other hand is again about the potential. He is a great athlete who one-day could become a great perimeter defender. He certainly has shown he is willing, and at times looks special, but he lacks consistency. Again, it is semi-unfair to compare two-years versus one, however, both players were heralded as impact defensive players from the get-go; Leonard has just been more consistent from the start.
Edge: Kawhi Leonard
In the end, I just can't see why anyone would take Harkless over Leonard even in a vacuum. One could argue that they play in very different systems, and given the expectations of both teams, were asked to do very different things. Of course, you could make that same argument about nearly every player comparison so I don't think that is a valid argument. I would say that Harkless perhaps had a higher ceiling than Leonard coming out of college, but that was based mostly on his athletic gifts. However, Leonard has a considerable high-ceiling as well, and has shown the work ethic and basketball IQ to give us hope that he'll realize it sooner-than-later.
Who would you rather have as your starting 3-man, Kawhi Leonard or Moe Harkless?