Monday, July 14, 2008

Defending Harpring

Let's set the record straight . . . I don't like Matt Harpring . . . but during the playoffs I've begun to grudgingly respect him. Any astute observer who is able to dissociate him or herself from the company line long enough will be able to admit that Matt Harpring has serious faults. For a small forward he doesn't shoot particularly well from deep (33% career, 20% last season), and injuries have robbed him of whatever mobility he started off with. Additionally, anyone with a working understanding of Kirilenkoneese (and his gripes) knows that Jerry Sloan has plays where the SF takes shots -- and those plays are called frequently when Harpring is in the game (and also when Korver is in the game), though not when any other small forward is in the game. That said, he is Ron Artest-like in the fact that no one really wants to play against him. Harp spends a lot of time on the floor, falling down, and putting his hands on people.

Salt Lake City - Utah Jazz vs. Golden State Warriors, NBA Playoffs basketball, second round, Game Two, at EnergySolutions Arena.
The Salt Lake Tribune/Trent Nelson; 5.09.2007 Offense
Harp Attack!!!11 Defense

It's no surprise (as any non-Utah TV crew will explain and re-explain) that he comes from a family with a proud football tradition.

"Meet Matt, the black sheep of the Harpring family. For generations, Harpring men have played football – his grandfather at Navy, his father at Michigan, his uncle at Notre Dame, one brother at Northwestern and another brother at Akron. Matt followed in the family footsteps through high school, but somewhere he took a wrong turn off the gridiron and wound up on the basketball court. Poor Matt. He had to settle for a career in the NBA. The Harpring men just shake their heads." (Balciunas, 2002)

Harpring does get under some players skin more than others -- the Denver Nuggets TV crew even gave Harpring a nickname: "The Agitator"; and suggested that he was like pepper spray. Perhaps their TV crew would feel better if he slapped other players and ran away, or had a history of fouling people into injury. What does any of this have to do with Matt Harpring?

Well, in the smallest of doses he can still be quite an effective player. I don't expect him to go for 30 and 33 points in the same week anymore (like he did back in the day); nor do I expect him to be able to defend a guy well enough over a serious stretch of games -- but I think that he and C.J. Miles are currently foils of each other, along the continuum of playing time and use. Currently, C.J. Miles gets no playing time -- yet he is able to channel his inner Vinnie Johnson at times, and be quite useful over a short amount of time. Harpring, on the other hand, plays longer and longer, and becomes increasingly less useful to the team. (Just look at the +/- stats @ again)

Is it time to go all Animal Farm on Harpring, and send him off to the glue factory yet? I would think not. Matty came off of another injured off-season, and played 18 mpg in the regular season, and 17 mpg in the playoffs. All five starters and both Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap played more mpg than he did. Furthermore, Harpring's mpg have been dropping for the last few seasons: 36.6 mpg (03-04), 33.1 (04-05), 27.4 (05-06), 25.5 (06-07) and 18.1 (07-08). It looks like a trend to me. (It would be petty of me to report that every year his mpg goes down, our total wins go up, so let's not Harp on that . . . alas, correlation does not always mean causation) Basically, I interpret these trends to suggest that he will have an increasingly diminished role on our team, in terms of court appearances. This may even suggest that his presence on the court will end up hurting us less than it currently does.

Furthermore, he is going into his 11th season in the league, and along with Jarron Collins and Andrei, he is the last remaining link from those Stockton and Malone teams. He is the only *real* wily vet that we have who can actually say a few things to the younger guys who have no clue what it's like. If there is anyone on the team who can explain to Morris Almond (another Atlanta product like Harpring) how to get shots in this offense without having any quickness or speed it would be Harpring. If there is anyone on the team who can transition a rookie who survives only on junk food (I'm looking at you Fess) into a guy who only eats lean meats, it's Harpring -- as he did the same thing when he was younger.

"I told him we were going to start working together," said Harpring, who worked as hard during his session with Fesenko as he would during any regular practice. "This last week we started, and every day we're gonna do some stuff to try to get him better.

"He's got some potential," the veteran small forward added. "He's got such raw ability, and if he could just channel it. You know, he's young, a little immature."

Yet Harpring sees enough hope for the inexperienced 21-year-old that he's decided to take the 7-foot-1 Fesenko -- who spent most of the season with the NBA Development League's Utah Flash, and who has been inactive for the first two games of the series -under his wing.

Getting the 2007 second-round draft choice to focus, Harpring acknowledged, may be his most difficult task.

"That's hard," he said. "Some of that is he's got to learn how to live in the NBA. He's such a young guy, and I don't think he has anyone mentoring him -- telling him how to eat, what do you do in your off time, what are you supposed to do as far as practice.

"I told him (Sunday), 'Just because we practice for two hours a day, that doesn't mean that's all NBA players do. Don't think you're done for the day,' " Harpring added. "I mean, a lot of us come back at night and shoot. Then we go to the weight room, or we get on the cardio machine, and watch film. There's a lot of things that goes along with being an NBA player, and he'll figure that out." (Buckley, 2008)

Obviously, if Harpring *is* doing the whole mentoring thing he will have a very long future in Utah, and follow up in the Ty Corbin role and may eventually become one of those former player who end up working for a team's coaching staff after he finally hangs up his Nikes. By then it wont matter what us Jazz fans think of him . . . he will become indefensible, in a whole different way.