The 2020 trade deadline was an opportunity for the Knicks to acquire some assets. The Knicks had an attractive trade chip in Marcus Morris and ended up dealing him to the Clippers at the deadline.
The primary focus of the deal was the draft pick compensation that the rebuilding Knicks secured for the free-agent-to-be. An afterthought in the deal was Moe Harkless. An eight-year veteran, Harkless' time with the Knicks since the deal has been a mixed bag.
The Queens-bred Harkless has started the last ten games, but has seen his minutes fluctuate. In the team's most recent back-to-back before the NBA suspended action, Harkless saw just 12 minutes against the Wizards before recording 41 minutes of action in New York's overtime victory against the Hawks.
Harkless is a versatile forward with a game primarily focused on the defensive end. In his previous stops in Portland and Los Angeles, he would often take the toughest perimeter assignment on defense. Harkless has found himself matched up with everyone from 6'10" superstar Kevin Durant to 6'1" All-Star Donovan Mitchell. His 7'2" wingspan makes him a nuisance on the defensive end. Harkless is tied for the team lead with Frank Ntilikina for deflections per 36 minutes (3.4). He can credibly guard four positions on the floor and blend in with multiple lineup machinations.
The Knicks' current roster lacks positional versatility, and their plethora of big men has confined Harkless to one position. According to Basketball Reference, 94 percent of Harkless' minutes with the Knicks have been spent at small forward. Unless interim head coach Mike Miller entertains the possibility of playing smaller, Harkless will be relegated to the same position. Much of New York's struggles (21-45) this season has centered around the offense and perimeter shooting.
Harkless has spent most of his time with the Knicks out on the perimeter as a floor-spacer. That's not a skill that Harkless excels at. The 6'8" forward is shooting just 7-for-25 (28 percent from three). A career 32.5 percent shooter from beyond the arc, Harkless' shooting percentages have fluctuated wildly throughout his career. During the 2017-18 season, Harkless shot 41.5 percent on 118 attempts. The next season, he struggled, shooting 27.5 percent from the three-point line.
Also, Harkless is heavily reliant on shooting threes from two spots on the court. Over the course of his career, nearly half of Harkless' three-point attempts come from the corners. Even when Harkless has shot well from three before in his career, opponents gladly conceded a wide open three from the forward to muck up the offense. According to the NBA Stats page, 80 percent of his three-pointers are wide open. Those are characterized as shot attempts with the nearest defender six or more feet away.
Harkless is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, and in a free agency period where only a handful of teams will have significant cap space, Harkless' value might be more pronounced. His defensive versatility would be a boon to multiple teams looking for an athletic wing.
Last week, The Athletic's Shams Charania reported that the Knicks have interest in re-signing Harkless. The Knicks do have a hometown advantage with Harkless, who has made it clear how much playing for his hometown team means to him.
Big men Taj Gibson and Bobby Portis could potentially depart due to contract guarantees and options, respectively. That could open up minutes at the power forward spot for Harkless.
Four years ago, Harkless signed a four-year, $40 million deal with the Trailblazers, and deal in that annual ballpark range would make sense this time around. Harkless is a quality defender and the Knicks could use some defensive help. The club hasn't finished top-10 in defense since the 2011-12 season.
Realistically, a frontcourt that features Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson and Harkless is heavy on length, but is a spacing nightmare. Add in RJ Barrett, and that is a Knicks squad too light on perimeter shooting. If the Knicks were to pursue re-signing Harkless, it would have to come with the expectation of him being in a bench role. If not, Harkless' fit as a starter with next season's projected Knicks roster is awkward at best.