Auburn basketball: Can Tigers alumni Jared Harper carve out a role with Knicks?

Auburn basketball Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Auburn basketball Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Now that Jared Harper is officially re-upped with the New York Knicks, does the Auburn basketball alumni actually have a shot at carving out an NBA role?

Per CBS Sports, former Auburn basketball guard Jared Harper will be back with the New York Knicks on a two-way contract: 

"Harper re-signed Monday with the Knicks on a two-way contract.After going undrafted out of Auburn last season, Harper agreed to a two-way deal with the Suns and appeared in three games with the club before being waived in March. The Knicks scooped him up off waivers, but the team didn’t get the chance to give him a proper late-season evaluation after the NBA suspended the campaign in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic. Harper will join Theo Pinson as the Knicks’ second two-way player for 2020-21, but neither is expected to see any sort of significant action at the NBA level."

Harper played exactly seven minutes and 53 seconds in his rookie season, all for the Phoenix Suns. That included opening night action and two early February losses on both nights of a back-to-back.

This is all to say, Harper is as green as they come in the NBA. For all intents and purposes, he is still a rookie, as he has yet to really get integrated into the Knicks system after spending most of his time playing for the Northern Arizona Suns in 2019-20.

He averaged 20.8 points (16th in G League), 5.7 assists and 2.8 rebounds over 29.8 minutes for Northern Arizona, ranking second in the league in usage percentage (30%) and third in free throws (111).

His NBA inexperience could work to his advantage, as he never suited up for David Fizdale’s dysfunctional group or Mike Miller’s less dysfunctional but still far from perfect unit. Harper was a rookie in the strangest year to ever be a rookie, as the part of the season he was likely to see big minutes was canceled altogether.

Those reps in front of a still passionate Madison Square Garden crowd could have done Harper wonders, but it doesn’t matter now. The 2020-21 season will have no fans in the stands to start the year, and it may finish that way too for all we know.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, though, the War Eagle needs to ask:

Does Harper even have a role on the 2020-21 New York Knicks?

It’s easy to imagine the former Tiger getting late season looks for a Knicks team that had thrown in the towel and wanted to lose more than win at the end of 2019-20. The team bringing Tom Thibodeau aboard is seemingly a sign that New York has postseason ambitions in 2021, though.

If that is the case, the undrafted Harper has an uphill climb to playing time. The Knicks front office just re-signed incumbent starter Elfrid Payton, signed Austin Rivers, and drafted Immanuel Quickley. The trio joins Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr. in the competition for minutes at the point guard spot.

As an undersized floor general, Harper is somewhat behind the 8-ball. Thibodeau keeps his rotation small, so unless he can show the team something in the preseason, it isn’t likely for the 5-foot-11 2019 NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional Most Outstanding Player to crack the rotation as the season progresses.

The one saving grace for Auburn basketball fans hoping to see one of the stars of their 2019 Final Four run prosper in the NBA this coming season is the fact that he plays for the most inept franchise in professional basketball. New York has held Ntilikina and Smith Jr. back early on in their respective careers, and Payton and Rivers could well find themselves on the trade block if they are just productive enough and the Knicks happen to also be just uncompetitive enough.

There’s a pathway to playing time–if ever so slim–for Harper in “The Big Apple”. Who knows, maybe there will actually be a good reason to watch New York Knicks basketball this season, Auburn basketball fans!

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