The star of the Red Storm's all freshman fresh five, the 6'8" Harkless is the team's leading rebounder, second-leading scorer, the creative force at forward, a stealthy defender, and an outstanding athlete for his size. NBA scouts have been keeping track of him. Per Draft Express, his final game in the Big East Tournament - a 25 point, 9 rebound performance against the Pitt Panthers - drew favorable responses from the scouts taking notes in the media section.
By all indications, the decision is not yet made. But there is a real possibility that Moe Harkless will move on from St. John's.
Draft Express, ESPN's Chad Ford, and NBADraft.net have him as a mid-to-late first rounder, anywhere from 15th-30th best prospect. With that in mind, Moe Harkless has to take a long, hard look at playing for pay - tomorrow isn't guaranteed.
But is this the right time to go pro? What will this mean for St. John's future? Do you support the decision? We delve into the rationale and effects of Harkless' possible decision, below the fold.
The problem with having a talented team, of course, is that talent doesn't have to play in the NCAA for free after the first year of their college career. And when NBA riches are calling, it's hard not to answer. The last pick of the 2011 NBA draft received over $850,000 for two guaranteed years and team options for more.
In NBA terms, a good player is underpaid at that level. But compared to nothing (or the cost of an education) that's significant.
Right now, nothing is guaranteed - not even whether Harkless is truly going pro of not. Coach Steve Lavin tweeted that he, Harkless, and Harkless' mother Rosa have discussed the decision. Harkless' advisor told the Rumble that no decision was imminent. Still, Moe is weighing his options, and has been weighing his options since midseason.
Why pro now?
Fans will want Moe Harkless to stay another year before chasing NBA riches. The Garden could be rumbling, the 2011-12 "Fresh Five" will have a year of maturation and skill development to draw on for their sophomore campaigns. The team could credibly make noise.
Harkless was good during the year, but has room for improvement in his scoring efficiency, his ability to create points, and his strength.
The attention of NBA scouts can be fleeting - players have been known to expose their own flaws and throw doubt on whether they can improve in the NBA and become a serviceable player. Most players don't arrive in the Association fully formed; they have coaches to help them develop, fully dedicated offseasons to hone their craft without the pressures of school or the restrictions of the NCAA.
There is no guarantee of the same level of excitement, of money in the future, or even of full health; a player has to look out for himself. And Harkless' natural athleticism, length, and explosiveness is the raw wet clay that NBA GM's can't wait to lay their crafty hands on and throw into the fire that is the NBA season.
How long does Moe Harkless have to decide?
Rules changes last year mean that the window for working out with draft scouts is reduced. Players have until April 10th (or possibly April 12th) this year to decide whether they are coming back to college. That's about a week after the NCAA Tournament ends. I could write an essay about how little time this is, especially for a player who ins PLAYING in the NCAA Tournament, but the moralizing will be left for later.
Obviously, there is not much time. And with NBA scouts looking to work out players in groups for comparisons/ scrimmages, workouts before that April 10th deadline are highly unlikely.
What's the benefit to St. John's?
While it would seem the effect of Harkless going pro to Lavin's program might be nil or negative, that's not true. Top players want to know they are going to a program that develops them for the next level; and Steve Lavin has put together a staff with experience on the NBA level. Lavin himself has put numerous players into the pro ranks, including current NBA players Baron Davis, Jason Kapono, and Matt Barnes.
That's attractive to the kind of recruits needed on the Big East level.
What about Harkless' development?
Moe Harkless can develop on the pro level. But he still has a way to go in terms of physical strength and consistency. The effort level is strong, and his stroke looks smooth. Harkless' shooting percentages in mid-range and deep-two-pointer range was good. But he hasn't hit the three-pointer with consistency. Moe Harkless hit 21.5% of his outside shots this season.
To his credit, Moe did improve his shot-creation skills during the year, improving his ability to get shots off of the bounce, his driving from the right wing, and his ability to finish at the rim. A player with his skills should draw more fouls and shoot a higher percentage from outside, but the skills appear to be developing.
What's the risk?
But this season, in part because some one-and-done freshmen decided to stay for a second year in college in the face of NBA lockout uncertainties, the NBA Draft has a lot of talent. Harkless may have drawn lottery looks in a weaker year. But a few extra players may push him down in the draft.
And there are few guarantees. It only takes a few teams to pass/ see a shiny international player to drop a player who should have been a first-rounder into the murky waters of the second round - the unguaranteed contracts, the developmental league, looking for work in Europe.
What about the future?
If Harkless does choose to make money with his hoop skills, the Red Storm still have four top-100 players in the fold - D`Angelo Harrison, Sir`Dominic Pointer, Amir Garrett, and Jamal Branch - who should improve into notable Big East players this offseason.
If one of them (or Phil Greene) can become reliably efficient higher-usage player - a player who can get his shot - the Red Storm need some role players around them to rebound, to hit some shots, and to defend. There are no new recruits verbally committed right now, but Coach Lavin continues to mention a banner class coming in 2012.
Additionally, Lavin has been a very good developmental coach in his career, finding the right buttons to push in his teams.
But like tomorrow, that isn't guaranteed.
And either way, St. John's fans are behind Moe Harkless' decision.