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The Emergence: Harris and Lee at 23

One big question after Thursday is, of course, 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?

One quick--and admittedly imprecise--comparison might be helpful and hopeful.

Like Lee this year, Harris emerged as he helped his team get to the NBA Finals. Lee, of course, played shooting guard on a Magic team that lost to the Lakers this month. Harris played for the Mavericks when they went up against the Heat three years ago and lost. Like Lee, Harris was 23 at the time. Both also played on a team with a dominating big man, Lee with Dwight Howard, Harris with Dirk Nowitzki.

It’s hard to compare their regular season work in those years. Harris missed 26 games in the regular season. Lee missed only five. Harris was also in his second year, Lee a rookie. And of course, Harris is a point guard and Lee a shooting guard.

So let’s compare how they did in the playoffs, again at age 23, as a key part of an NBA Finalist. The variation in the numbers isn’t that great…and you hope that the rising arc of Harris' career can be matched by Lee.

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

Harris averaged 9.4 ppg in 23 games, helped by 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.

Other differences aren't that great either. 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 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. Naturally. What was surprising was that Harris averaged only 2.2 assists in the playoffs, only one assist more than Lee.

Of course, Harris didn't miss a potentially Finals-altering layup at the buzzer. But then again, Lee didn't lose Game 3 in a total collapse after going up 2-0.

Lee is reportedly upset with the trade, incommunicado according to HoopsWorld. Not surprising. His last few weeks has been a whirlwind of emotions--beating the favored Cavs and dunking on Lebron James, losing to the Lakers and being abused by Kobe Bryant, then getting traded for Vince Carter. Nice company, we think.

Bottom line, though: if he follows that same arc Harris followed, helped by more minutes and opportunites in New Jersey, the sting of Thursday night might be lessened for him and for Nets fans.

And he and Harris, at some point, might have a chance at getting back to the Finals.