Celtics Draft Preview: Justin Harper

Harper throws down against Morehead State.

For the next month, Celticsblog.com is taking a look at potential Celtics draft picks in the 2011 NBA Draft. For a look at previously featured players, click on names: Markieff Morris and Klay Thompson. Third up in the series, Richmond's Justin Harper.

 

His measurements from the Draft Combine:

Birthday: 8/30/1989     Height: 6'8.75"     Weight: 228.0     Wingspan: 6'11.75"     Standing Reach: 8'10"

His per-game stats from his junior season at Washington State:

Mins: 31.8     Pts: 17.9     FG: 6.6     FGA: 12.4     FG%: 53.4      3p%: 44.8     FT%: 79.7     Rebs: 6.9     Blks: 1.2     Turnovers: 1.5

 

As much as I hate spiders, I'd make an exception for Justin Harper (sorry). For a power forward - right now anyways - Harper has a much more polished offensive game than many of his "classmates" at the same position.

He's a spot up shooter who can hit 18+ footers consistently, and his quick feet allow him to come off screens and beat defenders.  Harper has also shown the ability to hit from the three-point range, shooting at a 45-percent clip over his senior season at Richmond.

That longer-range ability keeps him further away from the basket on the offensive end, as he's not much of a banger down low and his low-post moves aren't a big part of his game.

Dare we compare him to a Jeff Green type? It might be true. Their build is quite similar, and while Green may be more athletic, their styles of play seem somewhat similar, seeing as both are combo forwards who can stretch the floor.

Taking a look at all four years at Richmond, it's clear that Harper improved each and every season, with his junior year to senior year being his biggest difference in numbers.

"It was really just my mindset and just being more aggressive going into my senior year that helped me make that jump and kind of helped a lot more people recognize my game," Harper told DraftExpress.com at the recent combine. "Just the success of my team also, us being on a larger scale and a lot more people seeing us on television playing and making that run in the tournament. It really helped my stock and helped show a lot of people what I can do against better competition as well."

Harper helped lead his team to the Atlantic 10 title, but that's not all. They upset Vanderbilt in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, and made it to the Sweet 16 after defeating Morehead State. They fell to Kansas in the Sweet 16, but Harper was still impressive in the loss, dropping 22 points and grabbing nine boards.

But can Harper make it in the NBA as a power forward? With his body, he's known as a "tweener" - between a small forward and power forward. It's not the ideal size by, but this is a draft filled with tweeners.

Here is what NBADraft.net, who gives Harper an overall rating of 92, says about his weaknesses:

"Lacks a true position: Despite having excellent speed and agility, he's a bit of a tweener lacking the bulk to defend post players and the lateral speed to defend quick 3s ... Gets pushed off the block far too easily ... Needs to bulk up and become a full time power forward ... May not have the frame to put on considerable weight comfortably ... Back to the basket skills are underutilized. Usually will post up but then face the basket and isolate and use the dribble to beat defenders instead of maintaining low post position, keeping the ball high, and scoring via post moves ... Playing at Richmond doesn't help to convince scouts that he can compete against top tier talent at the same high level consistently ... Rebounding ability would benefit from more leg and upperbody strength ..."

 

"I see myself starting off at a 4 but making that transition to a 3," he told DraftExpress. "I think that's more realistic for me given my size."

If that's the case, teams will be looking at Harper differently than other power forwards in the draft. Will Harper be able to make a smooth transition to a position that often times features opposing teams' best players?

"It's definitely going to be tough [guarding other small forwards] but it's going to require me to get faster and better with my foot speed, being able to guard those quicker wing men on the perimeter at the next level. Also increasing my ball handling ability and being able to get past the quicker guys at the next level as well.

Being 22 years old when the season begins, don't expect Harper to hit any growth spurt to add a couple inches. The one thing he could add is weight, but it remains to be seen how that will affect his game. It will depend on how whichever team drafts him plans on using him.

Regardless, Harper is a player who could join a team and help out a lot sooner than other players can. A team like the Celtics could draft Harper and work a lot of different lineups into the game, something that Doc Rivers has liked to do when he has the healthy bodies to do it.

"I see myself as coming in and just being able to stretch the floor for whatever team I'm on," he told DraftExpress. "Providing another perimeter threat from three-point range and being able to just fit in with whatever team I'm able to get drafted by in that role."

Danny Ainge has interest in Harper, as he's been named one of the players invited to group workouts on June 1 here in Boston. Does he look like a fit?

 

Richmond Basketball: Giving To The Game (via RichmondSpiders) -- A really cool HD video featuring Harper that takes you inside Richmond basketball

 

SpiderTVHD: Harper's 30, KA's 20 Lead Spiders Over GW (via RichmondSpiders)

 

Follow Jimmy Toscano on Twitter, @Jimmy_Toscano.

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