Do you know what does spook the 19-year-old rookie forward of the Orlando Magic? Haunted hotels.
Last weekend, Harkless and his Magic teammates made a trip to Oklahoma City and stayed in the Skirvin Hilton, which is supposedly haunted. After his first stay there, Harkless may be a believer.
“I was aware of it and I really don’t like stuff like that so I was a little paranoid,” he said. “Actually I woke up at about 4:45 in the morning, sweating. I don’t know if I was paranoid or if something happened but I couldn’t get back to sleep until about 5:30, 6.”
Harkless wasn’t spooked by having to guard Durant or James, perhaps the two toughest covers in the NBA. He certainly didn’t win those showdowns; both superstars went for 26 points on Harkless, who collected 11 fouls trying to stop a pair of unstoppable players.
But Harkless also acquitted himself well, scoring 12 points in both contests. Against James and Miami on March 6, he had three blocks, two steals and was plus-8 for his 39 minutes. Against Durant and OKC on Friday, he had six steals and helped force Durant into six turnovers.
The 15th overall pick in last year’s draft, Harkless was part of the package that the Philadelphia 76ers gave up to acquire Andrew Bynum, a four-team deal that sent Dwight Howard to Los Angeles and has looked better and better for the Magic as the season has progressed.
It didn’t begin that way, however. Despite establishing himself as a rotation player early in the campaign, Harkless struggled to make an imprint. He scored in double figures just once in Orlando’s first 43 games and didn’t crack the starting lineup until late January, when the Magic were in the throes of one of their many long losing streaks.
Since the All-Star break, however, Harkless has taken off. In 17 games, he has nearly tripled his scoring average to 12.5 points while contributing 5.4 rebounds and 1.9 steals. He is shooting 49 percent from the field and nearly 41 percent from the arc.
Everyone expected it to be a rough season in Orlando, and it has been. After a somewhat surprising 12-13 start under first-year coach Jacque Vaughn, the Magic have had losing streaks of 10 and 12 games and have dropped 38 of their last 44 contests overall.
Following the deadline deal of J.J. Redick to Milwaukee, there was an extended stretch of games where Vaughn had 11 healthy players, eight of whom had less than two years experience and none of whom were with the Magic last season. That goes a long way toward explaining why Orlando is last in the league in free throws and turnover margin.
But with the promise shown by fellow rookie Andrew Nicholson, emerging second-year center Nikola Vucevic and trade acquisition Tobias Harris and four first-round picks over the next two drafts, the Magic have the pieces in place to rebuild quickly.
And with the versatile Harkless at small forward, it may not be long before they are downright scary.
On to the rankings.