Our 2022 NBA Draft scouting report series rolls on with a look at Ron Harper Jr. out of Rutgers.
For a draft prospect not projected to be picked until the latter part of the second round, Ron Harper Jr. might be as intriguing as any player in the 2022 NBA draft class. Possessing underwhelming athleticism but featuring elite feel and the ability to consistently make the right decsions, he is the ultimate young player to use as a case study in the debate about the value of young, athletic types versus that of young players that are more skilled.
The son of five-time NBA champion, Ron Harper, played four seasons at Rutgers as a instrumental part of a core group of players that helped turn the program around. He has an excellent reputation as a leader on the floor and plays with advanced wisdom and grasp of the nuanced areas of the game.
Further, Harper made himself into an increasingly skilled player during his collegiate tenure, most notably growing from a non-shooter into a highly reliable spot up scorer. From his freshman season to senior campaign he improved from a sub-30% shooter from the three-point line to a near 40% mark. The release point is low but the motion is highly repeatable and efficient.
While not a flashy creator, he makes the right read and, often, the simple and effective play. Importantly, Harper fully understands how to function off of the ball, conidering that’s the exact role he is likely to have at the next level.
The physical profile is where things get really interesting. He’s not much of an athlete. He graded quite poorly at the NBA combine posting bottom tier results in almost every drill. He also measured in with one of the higher body fat percentages.
Natural questions will come from this. Could he become a more projectable athlete if he can get himself into real shape? Why hasn’t that happened yet? Should it be expected to happen?
It’s important to work out because he functioned really as a power forward at Rutgers but measures at just 6’4 (no shoes). The 7’1 wingspan is highly desirable and could help him defend at the wing positions if an improved body and conditioning could help him realize enough lateral quickness and agility.
As a collegiate player he consistently struggled to keep ball handlers in front and found it difficult to generate defensive impact as a help defender at the rim and otherwise near the point of attack.
Offensively, it’s no surprise that his best play also often comes in the more nuanced areas. He’s as clean of a screener as you are likely to find entering the league, he moves without the ball with excellent timing and impressive subtlety. He can make almost any pass you need.
While not being the type of player that is asked to regularly run the pick and roll, his team isn’t going to have to worry about him being the prototypical ball stopper that most young players are. He plays mistake-free basketball with an ability to read the entire floor on an impressively consistent basis.
The part of the evaluation that will really determine whether and where he is drafted is around his position and role projection. Might he be a Robert Covington type? Harper doesn’t have as much size but is significantly more skilled as a prospect.
It’s not hard to see PJ Tucker comps coming into the conversation also. It took a number of years for the veteran forward to learn how to get his body to where he needed as to be able to become, initally, playable on defense and, later, one of the best defenders in the league.
In reality, there are a number of players in the league in the 6’5 range that reliably log minutes at the power forward position. But, will Harper be limited to that from a defensive standpoint?
It is noteworthy that on offense Harper shows some burst with his first step attacking defenders and some functional strength and athleticism working at or near the rim.
It will be interesting to see if a team believes that his conditioning and body will come along enough at the next level to consider using a top-45 pick or so as to acquire him. If he slips past that point, his representation may try to work back channels to convince teams to let him go undrafted as to allow him to function as a free agent.
It’s undeniable that he’s going to get a serious chance to catch on with a team. Prospects with his pedigree and wildly advanced knowledge and understansing of the game are hard to find.