PHILADELPHIA - The Philadelphia 76ers, with an eye toward the future, couldn’t pass up Maurice Harkless.
The Sixers selected the St. John’s forward with the 15th pick in the NBA draft Thursday night, temporarily passing up an opportunity to select one of the big men most observers expected them to take.
An hour later, they got that guy.
After the NBA-champion Miami Heat selected Mississippi State forward Arnett Moultrie at No. 27, the Sixers acquired him for a second-round pick and a future first-rounder.
The 19-year-old Harkless was the Big East Rookie of the Year last year after averaging 15.5 points and 8.6 rebounds as a freshman for the Red Storm.
“We felt this kid had too much potential to pass up,” team president Rod Thorn said. “He was our No. 1 choice. All of our basketball people felt this is a guy we should take for our franchise going forward for our future. In the long range, he has a chance to be an outstanding player, not just another player. His upside is tremendous.”
Moultrie averaged 16.4 points and 10.5 rebounds last season for Mississippi State. The 6-foot-11 Moultrie spent his first two college seasons at Texas-El Paso, where he averaged 9.3 points in 70 games.
“He’s good, real good,” Thorn said. “We had him in our top 10. He’s a big, he’s athletic, he’s a good defender, a good rebounder and has a good jump shot. He should be a good player for us. We think we got an outstanding player.”
Harkless, 6-foot-8 and 207 pounds, played power forward in college but projects as a small forward at the next level. Thorn eventually expects him to also play the power spot.
Harkless is versatile and has been lauded for his ball skills and footwork for a player his size. He struggled with his shooting from the perimeter, however. Harkless made 20 percent of his 3-pointers and only 68 percent from the foul line.
Those numbers didn’t scare off Philadelphia. Harkless impressed the Sixers staff when he worked out at the team’s practice facility.
“He made 37-of-50 3-pointers,” Thorn said. “He’s obviously working on his shot. His shot is fine. He just needs repetition with it. We feel he’ll be a good shooter.”
Harkless wasn’t surprised he ended up in Philadelphia.
“They told me they really liked me and that there was a really high chance they would pick me,” he said. “So it was definitely a great feeling, and I kind of had a gut feeling. The workout went really well. Afterward, I was talking to the GM and the coach, it felt really comfortable.”
Andre Iguodala, who has long been the subject of trade rumors, is Philadelphia’s starting small forward. Harkless likely isn’t a candidate to replace him if he’s dealt this summer.
There was speculation Iguodala was going to be dealt Thursday night, but it didn’t happen.
“We had a lot of talks with teams, but those conversations didn’t come to fruition,” Thorn said.
Veteran Elton Brand, if he stays, and Thaddeus Young are the team’s power forwards. Harkless figures he could be on the floor with Iguodala and Young.
“I can play different positions,” Harkless said, “and those guys can play different positions, so I think it will be great.”
Thorn said the team must decide by July 17 whether to amnesty Brand’s contract.
Harkless started all 32 games for St. John’s last season, scoring in double-figures 26 times, including seven games with 20-plus points. Harkless had a career-high 32 points on 14-of-17 shooting against Providence and tallied 30 points and 13 rebounds at Duke. Overall, he recorded 11 double-doubles.
“Going into the workouts, I showed teams how hard I work and how hard I compete,” Harkless said. “A lot of teams didn’t think I could shoot the ball and I showed the teams I could shoot the ball really well. I think I just left a good impression on Philadelphia.”
Thorn expects Harkless to add some bulk to his slender frame.
“I think the main thing is just getting stronger,” Harkless said. “I think that’s what really is going to take my game to the next level.”
Philadelphia selected LSU center Justin Hamilton with the 45th pick and sent him to the Heat along with a protected 2013 first-round pick to complete the deal for Moultrie.
With their second pick in the second round, the Sixers chose forward Tornike Shengelia of Spirou in the Belgium League at No. 54. His rights were sent to the Brooklyn Nets.
The Sixers are coming off a successful season in their first year under new ownership. Led by Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Iguodala, they started 20-9, posted their first winning record (35-31) since 2004-05, and won a playoff series for the first time since 2003 by knocking off the top-seeded Chicago Bulls.
After taking the Boston Celtics to seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Sixers are hoping Harkless and Moultrie help them get even further.
“We are very excited to add Maurice to our roster,” coach Doug Collins said. “He’s a terrific athlete with tremendous upside. We think he can play multiple positions. We’re adding him to a team that’s young and exciting and we think he has a very bright future.”