Don't worry basketball fanatics, today may be the supposed first day of NBA training camps but don't let the Lockout keep in low spirits. October 8th will mark the beginning of Strasbourg's French Pro A league season where they host a better Cholet side that has won the previous 4 matchups. I definitely hope we get a chance to see some online streamed games while we're still stuck in this NBA work stoppage. Magic rookie forward Justin Harper just concluded over a month of training camp and preseason exhibitions with the eastern France franchise. Orlando fans should be rather thrilled about this Richmond Spider's potential on a very young and not greatly talented squad. It looks like the current #5 has cemented himself into the starting lineup at the power forward spot.
Since my previous Harper update, SIG participated in 4 friendlies. A few of those didn't have the team's Head Coach on the bench. Vincent Collet enjoyed a brief vacation after leading France to EuroBasket 2011 silver. On September 23rd, SIG beat Ratiopharm Ulm 75-60. Unfortunately, there is no footage or statistics from that friendly.
September 25th saw Strasbourg fall to VOO Verviers-Pepinster 69-70. Harper didn't take the last shot. Justin played 33 minutes and put up 23 points on 11-of-27 shooting. Harper was 1-of-6 from downtown, 5-of-6 from 2-point jumpers, and 5-of-15 shooting in the paint. That's about what I've come to expect from Harper at this point. He's impressing everyone with his 2-point stroke. 3s need more consistency. But, Justin's real struggles come from the interior where he's not dealing with physical contact all that well on either side of the parquet floor.
Justin did manage to snag 8 rebounds and 2 blocks. Hopefully not too many of his 7 offensive rebounds were off his own misses (A definite possibility). I do find it strange that Justin would take 15 shots in the paint, yet not a single trip to the free throw line. Maybe that'll change when the matches matter. It's still encouraging to know that Harper is already being seen as a go-to guy.
September 26th had Strasbourg involved in losing yet another close exhibition match. This time it was against Tubingen with SIG dropping the game 58-62. No stat sheet could be found but Justin Harper was SIG's leading scorer with 12 points. It's better than nothing. There are two clips of Harper's teammates Lavoy Allen and Abdoulaye M'Baye. In this Allen clip, you can see Harper missed the 2-point jumper and Lavoy grabs and offensive board and throws in a put-back.
Kid looks silky smooth there in the post and on the pick-and-roll. I'd like to express my immense gratitude to blog reader 'Franklin' who provided me with statistics and video from the Dijon friendly on October 1st (the last game before the regular season began). Another grinding defeat, 69-74. Harper again led SIG in scoring with 19 points. I'll let Franklin's words describe this match:
This game was lost in the three last possessions of the SIG: travelling of Justin, Kevin Anderson well controlled by the defense of Dijon, and a final possession disaster! To quote Vincent Collet: "This is a youthful indiscretion."
I saw the game, our men are too soft at the moment to hope to win a series of consecutive games... The main problem is that the championship starts next saturday against Cholet...
Justin scored 19 points. If I remember correctly he was 4/4 on free throws, 1/3 3-point attempts and shot 15 to 20 2-point shots but only made 6. This is an incredible shooter inside and his fadeway is beautiful (what a shame he doesn't use it more...), BUT he's too soft on defense, unfortunately ... he's a rock physically, but he does not use his physicality enough!
Then there's this SIG roster analysis from DNA that includes their views on Justin Harper. I know Magic fans, I don't like hearing the words 'soft on defense' either. But this is where Harper can vastly improve before he puts on Orlando pinstripes. Harper's drive, basketball IQ, and great athleticism are all reasons why his defense can easily get better. Harper already looks stronger than he did on Draft night. I expect to see a steady improvement in shot selection and shooting percentages. Unlike Rashard Lewis (who we seem to enjoy comparing Justin to), Harper isn't anywhere near as reliant on his 3-point shot dropping in order to have an impact. Dijon is another Pro A squad and I have some more optimism about SIG's seasonal outlook after this friendly.
Vincent Collet obviously showed his displeasure over another bad finish to a match. Despite all that, it's quite apparent that Collet's SIG side is definitely beginning to gel. Best of luck Justin, hopefully we see you back in Orlando sooner rather than later. As long as Collet allows Harper to learn from his mistakes instead of benching Justin (which some Euro coaches due as a punishment) then Harper shouldn't have any setbacks.