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2022 NBA Summer League - Milwaukee Bucks v Toronto Raptors

Player Preview: Betting on Ron Harper Jr.’s transformation to unlock his game

The Toronto Raptors’ gamble to closely supervise Ron Harper Jr.’s body and game transformation could unlock a potential future piece.

Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

Ron Harper Jr. is one of the latest additions by the Toronto Raptors this upcoming season, securing a two-way contract immediately after going undrafted last June. A senior from Rutgers, Harper, was not just the offense, but the heart and soul of his team. He’s a ‘90s throwback wing who uses physicality and girth to create a scoring advantage.

Despite being Rutger’s go-to scorer, Harper Jr. primarily played at the Power Forward spot. At 6’4”, he was undersized for the position even at the collegiate level, which is one of the concerns about his game coming out of college, especially given his below-average athleticism and lateral quickness.

Harper Jr. made his first appearance in Raptor threads during the Las Vegas Summer League, starting at the small forward spot. He played for about 24 minutes per game, averaging 9.2 points and five rebounds per game. Harper Jr. was the fourth option at best and didn’t get to showcase what he’s capable of. In a way, he played similar to David Johnson, showing flashes of things he can do, but not altogether in one game. Harper Jr.’s best game in the Summer League came against the Miami Heat, where he had a few stand-out plays, like hitting a clutch three as the Heat was trying to make it a game.

Unfortunately, Harper Jr. hasn’t played outside of garbage time in the preseason, and there’s really not much to glean from it. If there’s a pecking order for minutes in the preseason, he’s probably last, even behind Gabe Brown, who’s on an Exhibit 10 contract.

Rookie Campaign Expectations

Harper Jr.’s got a lot of things to work on, and he’s probably at it even before he got drafted. However, the bottom line is that he’ll need to reinvent his game if he wants to carve a career in the NBA.

The Raptors likely brought Harper Jr. in because of his size, length, physicality, IQ, compete level, and scoring ability. However, he’ll have to move to be at least a combo forward, if not a full-time small forward, as the players at the power forward position are bigger, longer, and perhaps, stronger. Heck, even if he is to stay at the PF position, Harper Jr. would still have to work on his body transformation.

The upside is for Harper Jr. to be a combo forward similar to Dillon Brooks, TJ Warren, or Miles Bridges. To achieve this goal, he’ll need to reprogram his body to maximize his physical profile, which is already in progress. There’s a significant difference between Harper Jr.’s body during his senior season, to the combine, Summer League, and even now in the preseason.

Getting an NBA-ready body should come with better conditioning for Harper Jr., and he’ll have the unenviable task of adjusting to his new physique and how it impacts his game, for better or worst.

The expectation is for Harper Jr. to spend most of his rookie campaign with the Raptors 905, where he’ll likely be joined by Jeff Dowtin Jr., Justin Champagnie, Christian Koloko and perhaps, Gabe Brown. In Mississauga, he’ll have the reps to refine his guard skills while adjusting to a life where he doesn’t have the ball in his hands for most of the game. At the very least, Harper Jr. won’t be asked to bail out the offense regularly, so his shot selection and efficiency should improve.

Year 1 Harper Jr. will need to lab his perimeter shooting, mainly as a catch-and-shoot release guy in the perimeter. He’ll also have to show that he can be a passable defender, at least by the Raptors’ standard. There’s more to Harper Jr.’s game than this, but that is his ticket to earning a look with the main club. If he can get these key skills down, we can potentially see his rapid development, as he can do much more.

Despite the low set point, Harper Jr.’s perimeter shooting improved during his Senior season. That set point will probably be tinkered with a little bit so that he can continue to be a better perimeter shooter. Perhaps he can have the same trajectory as Justin Champagnie, who made progress with the Raptors 905 working on his face-up game and perimeter shooting last season.

At the end of the day, Harper Jr’s “to-do list” should contain the following:

  • Get to game speed;
  • Work on perimeter shooting;
  • Transform the body to be more athletic and explosive;
  • Refine handle; and
  • Put it all together and re-calibrate his game as a crafty scorer as a small forward.

I always say that a Two-Way Contract is a year-long tryout, and Harper Jr. has to produce results, showcasing development to get the Raptors intrigued by his potential. We’ll keep an eye on his development curve throughout the Raptors 905 season via Raptors HQ’s Dial 905.

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