TUALATIN, Ore. — After the Portland Trail Blazers’ third day of training camp, Moe Harkless’ infectious laugh was an unmistakable sign that he’s happy to be where he is.
After all, he was buried on the bench in Orlando, sometimes not even in uniform last season.
Harkless is used to feeling good in the Blazers’ Tualatin facility, where he’s working to revive a once promising career.
It was here that he had his best pre-draft workout in the summer of 2012.
“I was hitting on all cylinders that day,” he remembers. “I was dunking on people, hitting every shot, it felt good. I’ll never forget that workout.”
It was so good that even when he crosses paths with Toronto’s Terrence Ross — one of several future NBA players in the building that day — he always reminds him of it.
The good play and good vibes continued into the month of September and the first week of camp, where Harkless has wowed teammates and coaches with his abilities.
“He had a very good September,” said head coach Terry Stotts. “I think in camp it has been a continuation too what he did in September.”
Two-time All-Star Damian Lillard said he doesn’t think he or the team have played with an athlete of his caliber. Lillard compared the effortlessness with which he flies to the basket to that of Nicolas Batum, just with “a lot less miles on his body.”
“It’s effortless for him, he’s going up there and dunking in traffic,” Lillard said.
Harkless’ summer with the Puerto Rican National Team helped him as he was being relied upon heavily to be a playmaker along with Dallas guard JJ Barea.
“A lot was asked of us,” Harkless said. “It was important for me to be able to do that after a year of not being able to do that. Especially coming into a situation like this where I will have an opportunity to play and make plays for other people.”
An ankle injury cut his time with the Boricuas short, keeping him out of the FIBA Americas tournament.
“Even though I hurt my ankle, I was still in shape,” he said. “I came in here and didn’t miss a step.”
While in Orlando last year, he found himself behind Tobias Harris, Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier and Devyn Marble.
He flew to Los Angeles to clear his mind and re-tool his skills with his trainer Cody Toppert in an attempt to keep his game sharp during the All-Star break. His playing time increased some after the firing of Jacque Vaughn, although the New York City native still got a steady diet of DNPs.
It’s fair to say Stotts’ vision of him handling the ball is a far cry from what he was doing in Orlando.
Stotts has empowered players with little playmaking experience at the NBA level before, Batum again is a player that comes to mind.
“When you have his kind of talent you don’t want to hold back,” Stotts said. “You want to see what he can do.”
Stotts wants Harkless to play positions 2-through-4, run pick-and-rolls and shoot 3-pointers created by Lillard and CJ McCollum.
Stotts has confidence in Harkless’ outside shooting despite shooting a career-worst 18 percent from 3-point range last season.
“We haven’t gotten to his post game yet but that’s something we want to explore as well,” Stotts said.
“He has given me a lot more freedom,” Harkless said. “It feels really good when your coach has that confidence in you. I feel like every player needs that.”
Harkless is back to playing the game the way it’s meant to be played.
“You just go out there and play,” he said. “You don’t think about it, shoot it, pass it, make a play.”
The confidence from the Blazers is there, the only question now is whether Harkless will take advantage.