Rookie Maurice Harkless learned everything he could from J.J. Redick during their five months together as Orlando Magic teammates.
Harkless studied Redick's all-out approach to post-practice shooting drills. Harkless watched how Redick almost always knew where to go on defense. And Harkless even listened when Redick advised him on what clothes to wear.
"I learned a lot from him," Harkless said. "He's a true professional. He taught me a lot about the game."
But Harkless couldn't put all those lessons to their best use until Feb. 21, the day the Magic dealt Redick and two others to the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Magic reluctantly traded away Redick for multiple reasons: to protect their long-term payroll flexibility, to avoid possibly losing an asset in free agency for no one in return and to obtain young combo forward Tobias Harris.
The Magic also saw an additional benefit to the deal: Moving Redick would create additional playing time for Harkless, especially in the fourth quarters of close games.
Harkless played the final eight minutes in Orlando's 105-102 comeback victory in New Orleans on Monday. He likely would've played the entire fourth quarter of Orlando's 97-96 loss in Miami on Wednesday if he hadn't fouled out with 4:28 remaining.
The 6-foot-8 small forward already had played significant minutes this season, but team officials think the time down the stretches of games will accelerate his growth.
"The consequences are more detrimental" for a mistake in the fourth quarter, coach Jacque Vaughn said.
"A turnover, a missed box-out, an uncontrolled close-out — those things are just magnified. It's just the way basketball is. A turnover counts the same in the first quarter as it does the fourth quarter, but somehow it means something different, whether it's a momentum shift [or something else]."
Harkless started the season slowly because he had undergone summertime surgery to repair a sports hernia. The procedure hampered his ability to work out in August and September and forced him to sit out the entire preseason.
He played tentatively after he finally made his NBA debut on Nov. 7 in Minneapolis.
In his first 37 games, he averaged just 3.5 shots in almost 16 minutes a game.
But he reached a turning point when fellow wing Arron Afflalo strained a calf muscle on Jan. 27.
With Afflalo injured, Harkless needed to play with more assertiveness.
"It was kind of like being force fed," Harkless said, chuckling a little. "But it was definitely a good thing for me because it changed my game for the rest of the season."
Since Jan. 28, Harkless has averaged 9.8 shots in 34.5 minutes per game. He's also scored 11.6 points and collected 5.7 rebounds per game.
His burgeoning confidence is obvious now.
In the season's early months, he would look to pass whenever a teammate threw the ball in his direction.
Now, he tries to create his own shot more often, and he attempts corner 3-pointers whenever he's open on that area of the court.
He also embraced the chance to guard LeBron James on Wednesday night (even though James drew Harkless' sixth foul on a controversial call).
In the postgame locker room, Harkless said he feels like he can guard anyone in the league.
He credits Afflalo and Redick for helping give him that confidence.
"They're both professionals and they both take the job very seriously," Harkless said. "I think having them to be a good role model for me was definitely a great help, and it helped me grow up fast."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times