When Josh Harrellson first came to the NBA as a rookie in 2011, he was fortunate that he ended up with the New York Knicks who valued a 6-11 three-point shooter. Thanks to then-coach Mike D'Antoni.
"I shot a lot of threes in my rookie year with D'Antoni because that's how he played," said Harrellson, 26, who has played for three different teams and is competing for a roster spot with the Wizards as a free agent. "He spaced the floor with one big so he was the first coach to start playing that style. I thrived in that offense. How the NBA is going I think I can start thriving again."
It's still an uphill climb. The Wizards have the maximum 15 guaranteed contracts for the regular season, so it's going to require them really believing in Harrellson, or one of the other four free agents, to make a move. They could release a player such as DeJuan Blair, pay him the full amount of his guarantee and acquire another player at the minimum and still be under the luxury tax. Or they could simply be taking a closer look at Harrellson with an eye towards 2016 when the only big under contract could be Marcin Gortat.
D'Antoni often was ridiculed for his fast-paced style, spreading the floor with four shooters as coach of the Phoenix Suns but they couldn't get past the Western Conference finals. But with the Golden State Warriors winning the NBA crown even more teams have adopted a similar style, including the Wizards with Gortat as the lone big in the middle.
"Spreads the floor. Smart player, in the right spots which he has to be," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said of Harrellson. "I think he understands who he is, how he can be effective on the floor. Stays away from things he can't do. That's the important thing. ... Stay to your strengths and stay away things that get you in trouble."
Harrellson's best season was his rookie year when he averaged 4.4 points and 3.9 rebounds off the bench for a playoff team in a lockout-shortened season. D'Antoni, unfortunately for him, was fired. Harrellson then spent time with the Miami Heat and lastly with the Detroit Pistons in 2013-14.
He went virtually unnoticed while he at Kentucky, where he spent three seasons before being taken in the second round. Harrellson was a teammate of John Wall when they made a run to the NCAA regional finals but DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson and Daniel Orton (all eventual first-round NBA draft picks) earned the playing time and the attention.
"He was making threes in college," Wall said. "We just didn't play him as much because we had DeMarcus and Daniel and Pat so it was tough to get him playing time. He could always shoot the ball."
That was on display in Sunday's exhibition vs. Bauru, a Brazilian professional team that visited Verizon Center. Harrellson made three consecutive three-point shots to finish with 11 points. In today's NBA, front-office officials unanimously will agree on this (and say it often): "You can never have enough shooters."
This is especially true if it's a big. That ability has prolonged the career of Drew Gooden, 34, who is in his third season in Washington after having been out of the NBA. He's a 6-10 three-point shooter who can play at the "stretch" power forward.
"I've always had the ability. I don't know what it is," Harrellson said about developing the range so early. "When I first started playing basketball I just had good hand-eye coordination. I guess it's from being a pitcher when I grew up. I just always had the touch. I expanded that after college. ... I got the stroke better."
Harrellson spent last year overseas, including in China. He played for Phoenix at Las Vegas summer league this year before joining the Wizards for camp. He had to get stitches over his eye after Day 2 because of a practice collision.
"It's very important (to be in the NBA). I think I belong here. I'm a solid player," Harrellson said. "Injuries have plagued me for the last few years. I'm more focused than I've ever been in my life. I got a family now. That definitely changes your mentality."