When the Auburn Tigers face the North Carolina Tar Heels on Friday night for a spot in the Elite Eight, Auburn guard Jared Harper could likely play his final collegiate game should the Tigers lose. It won’t be the final basketball game of his life, however, as he is likely to take his game to the next level in the NBA.
The biggest knock against Harper is his size. At just 5-foot-11 there will be legitimate concerns about his ability to rise over defenders or maintain the court vision necessary to play the point at the NBA level. What Harper lacks in size, however, he can make up for in shooting ability.
Harper has shown his accuracy and range off when it’s counted most, averaging over 18 points per game in Auburn’s last five contests. 45 of those points have come from 3-point range. The respect that defenders have to pay to his long-range shot will provide the passing lanes and create the ball movement that his size doesn’t demand.
Defensively, Harper’s skills are neither a liability nor a tremendous asset. He will be tested Friday night on that end of the court against the Tar Heels’ Coby White, who himself is an NBA prospect and is half a foot taller than Harper at 6-foot-5.
Harper has averaged nearly six assists per game this season, giving him an assist-to-turnover ratio of nearly 3:1. The big question for NBA teams is do they believe his skills will translate to the next level at a high rate of execution or will his lack of size trump them?
Current mock drafts are not kind to Harper, expecting NBA teams to not spend a draft pick on him. Neither Bleacher Report nor CBS have him anywhere on their mock draft boards. There is some hope for Harper, however.
Harper did get a workout for the Atlanta Hawks after his sophomore season. Harper ultimately decided to return for his junior year. He did improve on his stat line, going from averaging 13.2 to 15.4 points per game and improving his shooting percentage to 40 percent, up from 36 percent.
Purdue guard Carsen Edwards, who is projected to be the 44th overall selection by NBADraft.net, is only an inch taller than Harper. Like Edwards, Harper has shown an ability to take over games offensively and carry his team to victory over quality opponents. There are several NBA teams like the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic, who are in need of depth at the guard position and wing scoring.
It will be a surprise if any NBA team spends a draft pick on Harper despite his execution and talent. The bottom line is that there are other prospects out there with similar skills and size that is more suited to the current landscape of the association. That doesn’t mean Harper won’t get a shot at making an NBA roster as an undrafted free agent, however, and his skill set means his immediate future might be a spot on an NBA G-League roster.