Justin Harper has taken quite a circuitous route to the Cavaliers' summer league roster. The Cavs officially selected him with the 32nd overall pick in 2011 out of Richmond. They then dealt his rights to the Magic for second rounders in 2013 and 2014. Neither of these picks have yet been realized after the Cavaliers' draft day trade of the 31st overall for two future second rounders a few weeks ago, but they still have a chance to see what they have in Harper. Overall, I'd say this trade didn't work out too poorly for the Cavs: three second rounders plus you still get to see the opportunity you missed by trading Harper this offseason.
A smooth-shooting stretch four out of Richmond, Harper was selected early in the second round during the phase of the league where everyone was searching for the next Rashard Lewis - a tall zone buster that could shoot the lights out of the gym. And during his senior year at Richmond, Harper may have been the best candidate to do that job entering the 2011 draft. He shot 45% from three-point range on nearly five threes per game, plus led the Atlantic-10 in both true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage. It may have been a slight Derrick Williams-like aberration, given that this was 10% points higher than he'd shot in his previous two seasons, but the shot totals were high enough and the shooting stroke true enough to where teams felt comfortable that he was a verifiable threat from distance. To top it off, he measured well at the combine at 6'9" with a 7'0" wingspan, meaning he even had potential defensively to not get toasted like many stretch fours do.
Then things started to go a bit poorly in Harper's first season. The lockout made it so that he couldn't gain any sort of chemistry with his teammates, and he travelled over to France to make some money. He only got the chance to play in nine games, but performed well there as his game is pretty much tailor-made for Europe. He scored 13 points per game while 52% from the field and 38% from three while playing for Strasbourg. Then upon returning, he kind of stalled out. He never got an adequate chance to really show what he could do in the lockout-shortened 2012, only playing garbage time minutes in 14 games. Plus, his three-point stroke had unfortunately abandoned him over a terribly small sample size, only shooting 15%. After the Dwight Howard trade that offseason, the Magic were faced with an overloaded roster of guaranteed contracts, meaning they had to cut bait with Harper after training camp ended.
But again, someone saw potential in Harper. He went third overall in the D-League draft to the Idaho Stampede. He put up adequate numbers this season, scoring 12 points per game to go with 6.5 rebounds. But that three-point stroke still hasn't returned, as he only shot 32% from behind the arc again. If he's going to make a roster, it's going to be with that shot everyone fell in love with. Unfortunately, there just hasn't been any evidence that it's going to.
Harper suited up for the Pacers in Orlando this week, and started every game until Friday's tilt with the Jazz. Until his game on Thursday, he had been largely invisible. While Miles Plumlee made some waves with his improved defensive ability and rookie Solomon Hill went a long way towards silencing those who called him a reach in the draft, Harper was never able to get off the ground running. That's kind of the problem with guys like Harper generally - when their shot is on, they are the best players on the floor. But when they're playing tentatively and only taking six threes in four games, you're not going to notice them.
So here we are with Harper on the Cavs' summer league team. Does he actually stand a chance of making the roster? Maybe. It really feels like Chris Grant wants to keep some sort of stretch four on this squad. He's invited Kenny Kadji along with Cavs' legend Kevin Jones to play on the team along with Harper, so it seems like they are intent upon bringing a tall shooter to camp. At only 23, Harper is still the youngest of the bunch despite being well-travelled already.
But his time is running out. In the NBA, second-round picks don't get unlimited chances. This offseason may be the last one for Harper to prove what he can do. If he's able to make an impression on the coaching staff here, I would be far from surprised to see him invited to training camp. Having said that though, this is a guy who can make more money in Europe I think. His game is just perfect for that setting. He's a solid, somewhat tough rebounder who is long and can score from beyond that three-point line. If it doesn't work out in the NBA this time offseason, I hope he goes that route instead of the D-League again.
Maybe we will see a good version of Harper this week. If Harper's shot is falling, I still have faith he can be an NBA player. But he has to regain that skill and fast in order to prove it to everyone else.