Luke Harangody is quickly becoming this year's version of the human victory cigar. In other words, if you see him on the floor, chances are good that a victory is well in hand for the Celtics. Such is life for a rookie second-round draft pick who many doubted would even make it onto the active roster this year.
If you know anything about Harangody, however, proving the doubters wrong is nothing new. To him, it's certifiably old news. I've learned this lesson after speaking with Harangody, as well as a couple of beat reporters who covered him in college, in an attempt to gain some insights about the rookie's game and what we can fairly expect from him going forward.
What's well known - at least to anyone who follows the team or the sport in general - is that Harangody (listed at under 6'7" without sneakers) is undersized as an NBA power forward. He is also considered to lack the lack the requisite foot speed and athleticism to cover the majority of small forwards in the league. These questions, despite Harangody's unquestionably deep offensive resume, are what allowed him to fall all the way to the Celtics with the 52nd overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft.
Harangody acknowledges that his defense has been considered an issue. If you caught his brief appearance at the end of Boston's Tuesday night victory over Cleveland - during which Harangody was caught way out of position and was subsequently toasted to the basket by J.J. Hickson - you saw a neatly packaged Exhibit A of that issue.
Such was the case in college as well, according to Tom Noie, who covered the Fighting Irish for the South Bend Tribune during Harangody's four seasons at Notre Dame.
"Luke was never a guy who was going to be a lockdown defender and other teams knew they could exploit the middle when Harangody was in the game because he was such an offensive-minded guy."
Noie added, "I just can't see him being a small forward because of his lack of foot speed. He's gotten better but at that level in the NBA he's still, for lack of a better word, slow."
Regardless, Harangody is optimistic that he'll progress on defense to the point of earning the trust of Doc Rivers where he'll eventually be allowed to play in non-garbage time.
"I have a lot to learn on the defensive end," he said. "I think that's where I have to improve in order to get on the floor. I think Doc's seen changes in that, in me being in the right place at the right time. I've come a long way since training camp. It's been good for me."
To his credit, Harangody has clearly paid enough attention to see the bigger picture as well as a reasonable path to eventually earn some playing time.
"To get on the court in the NBA," he said, "I've got to do little things first. We already have enough scorers on this team obviously so for me to come in and play defense and rebound, that's one way for me to get on the court."
Even so, it's Harangody's offensive gifts that provide the most compelling argument regarding his future value to the team. It simply becomes a question of how his wide range of scoring abilities can best be used by the Celtics.
In summer camp, he showed the ability and willingness to run the floor and fill the lane in transition, which obviously fits in nicely within the Boston system (heads up to Jermaine O'Neal). That said, at least based on what he accomplished in college, Harangody is also a viable threat as a consistent shooter from both long and mid-range and is craftily productive around the basket.
Some have pointed to Harangody's low release point on his jumper as an area of concern at the professional level. Harangody fairly bristled at the suggestion but Noie added some insight as to why the low release point probably wouldn't be an issue.
"The one thing about Luke Harangody that I've always seen is that he adapts," Noie said. "Whenever he was going against a bigger guy, maybe someone who was quicker, he adapted and figured out how to get his shot off even quicker. It's a low shot but it's also a quick shot. He doesn't need much time from when he gets the ball to get it up on the rim and usually it was going in."
In Harangody's favor, he's received some much needed support thus far from the veterans on the team.
"One of the coolest things about being on this team is that you just learn so much. Everyday, I learn so much from Kevin. He takes me aside and for a player like that to do that, I'm really thankful."
Regarding what Garnett has taught him specifically, Harangody said, "Just everything about the game. How he approaches it, his intensity, how he takes care of his body. I try to approach the game every day in a similar way."
Brian Hamilton, who covered Notre Dame basketball for the Chicago Tribune, believes that Harangody will eventually become a valuable role player in the league, provided he is given the appropriate opportunity.
"I don't see why Luke can't be a nice piece," Hamilton said. "On the right team, in the right circumstance, surrounded by the right guys, he can fill several need areas. Hustle, rebounds, pick-and-pop shots, points off the offensive glass. It's not cliché to say the guy's motor runs pretty high. I don't think he's going to take possessions off like some other guys in the NBA might do, so does he get you four to six points a game simply by playing harder than other people? Very possibly."
Noie added, "If that's what a team needs, for him to get in there and scrap and get the ball, get a couple rebounds, get a couple put-backs, get to the line maybe four or five times in a quarter quickly, there's real value in that."
Both Hamilton and Noie look back at Harangody's early days as an incoming freshman and recognize just how far he's come as a player since then.
Noie said, "I still remember the first time Luke went and played two-on-two in a summer game as a freshman. He was going against Rob Kurz (a 6'9" power forward who graduated from Notre Dame in 2008 and spent the 2008-09 season with the Golden State Warriors) and got eaten alive.
"Harangody got back to his dorm room and basically wanted to transfer. He called his dad and said, ‘I just got my rear end handed to me in a two-on-two game. I don't think I'm ever going to play here. Maybe I should go somewhere else, maybe go to a Big Ten school'. His dad told him to stick it out, keep working. Keep learning what guys like Rob Kurz and the older guys are trying to teach you, make that a part of your game and understand that the game is totally different from high school. Harangody kept battling and kept working and all of a sudden you look up and only one guy has scored more points in the history of Notre Dame basketball than Luke Harangody and I don't think anybody saw this coming."
Hamilton added, "He had offers from a few other major conference programs but it wasn't like he was a top 100 national recruit. People were doubting him then. People were still doubting him this past summer in terms of whether he could make an NBA roster or even get drafted. This kid, for as good a player as he is, and for being one of the Big East's all-time leading scorers, he's still been able to carry this chip on his shoulder. I think that's just kind of who he is and how he operates."
There, Hamilton touches upon something that Harangody acknowledges as his primary source of inspiration.
"That's always in the back of my head whenever I'm getting a workout in," Harangody said. "You have to have motivation in how you approach the game and everyday I'm thinking about somebody who passed up on me and didn't see the potential in me."
It also meant quite a bit to Harangody to be drafted by the Celtics, a team who has produced a number of successful second-round draft picks in recent years in Ryan Gomes, Leon Powe and Glen Davis.
"I think some teams may not put as much trust into their second draft round picks," Harangody said, "but I knew the Celtics did because of the guys you just mentioned. It gave me confidence that the Celtics believed down the road that I could be a project for them."