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Lee Following Harris Along the Arc from "System Guy" to "Star"

One big question as the season approaches is how good can Courtney Lee be? He isn't going to become Vince Carter, the man he was traded for, but could he become Devin Harris, or more precisely, could he become as good a shooting guard as Harris is at the point?

"He was a system kind of guy. And it's his challenge [to] re-invent himself here and really do the things people didn't know he could do," Harris said of Lee in an interview with the Post.

"Like people didn't know I could score like I could score when I got here, but obviously I was a system guy in Dallas and that wasn't my role. But here he can sort of re-invent himself and re-define his role."

Lee doesn’t use "system guy" to describe what he did at Orlando, but he admits what Harris says is true.

"I can play with anybody, but didn’t get a chance to until I got to the league. Now I’m playing with the best of them and I proved I had a good season," he told Dime Magazine. "That’s just being a role player on the team, imagine what I’m going to be able to do now. Now that I’ve got my wings up free now and I’m on a team that likes to get up and down and run, so I’m looking forward to the season."

Rod Thorn said basically the same thing on Draft Night, describing why the Nets were willing to part with Carter: "We love Courtney Lee as a young player. We think he is going to be a very good player in this league for a decade or so."

Like Harris, Lee emerged on the NBA stage when his team made to the NBA Finals. Lee, of course, played shooting guard on a Magic team that lost to the Lakers in June. Harris played for the Mavericks when they went up against the Heat three years ago and lost. Like Harris, Lee was 23 when they took the floor in the Finals. They weren’t seen as key offensive players, but rather fourth or fifth options. Instead, their specialty was defense.

One comparison that should give the Nets fans—and the front office—some hope that Lee can follow the arc of Harris’ career is how similarly they played in the NBA Finals. The variation in their numbers isn’t that great…and fans have to hope that Lee’s career will track with what Harris has done.

Harris vs. Lee – On the Road to the Finals

Player Games Minutes Shooting Pct. 3 Pt. Pct. Free Throw Pct. Points Per Game Assists Per Game Rebounds Per Game
Devin Harris - 2006 23 24.3 48.0% 00.0% 70.3% 9.4 2.2 1.7
Courtney Lee - 2009 21 26.2 43.5% 27.3% 88.5% 8.0 1.3 1.9

A few things stand out. Harris averaged 9.4 ppg in 23 games, helped by what was then his best game as a pro, a 30-point performance against San Antonio. He started in 15 of them. Lee averaged 8.0 in 21 games and like Harris has his best game of the year in the playoffs, scoring 24 against Philly.

Harris shot a bit better overall, but Lee hit 12 three's in the playoffs. Harris didn't connect on any of his eight attempts. Both players shot over 80% from the line, but Lee shot much closer to 90. Harris went to the line almost three times as often, taking 74 free throws to Lee's 26. What was surprising was that Harris averaged only 2.2 assists in the playoffs, only one assist more than Lee.

Of course, the experience of making the Finals is not something that is measured only in numbers. Both got a big boost in confidence from playing in the national spotlight. That translates.

"He has a very high basketball IQ, is a very smart player. I don't know if people really know that." Harris told the Post.

So far, Harris and Lee have played only one half together, against the Celtics’s back up squad last week in Newark, although Lawrence Frank liked what he saw: "They played off each other really well," he said.

Hopefully, they can play like each other too.