Jeremy Lin aside, it seemed that every Brooklyn Nets acquisition this off-season flew under the radar. Perhaps the most under-the-radar of all was shooting guard Joe Harris, who’s quickly established himself as a vital piece in the Nets rotation.
Of course, Harris’ backstory isn’t some astoundingly eye-catching one: Four-year senior with the defensive-minded University of Virginia Cavaliers, second round draft choice of the Cleveland Cavaliers, he spent time in the NBA D League during each of the last two seasons, and now finds himself part of —according to most— one of the more underwhelming rosters on in the league.
His time in Brooklyn has been a striking contrast to sharing a locker room with the likes of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and others. Aside from obvious talent comparisons, Harris came from a program aiming for instant championships to one that’s starting all over again with a long-term plan.
Except it will likely take a while. Harris, 25, understands that.
“Looking back at my time in Cleveland, it was really valuable in a lot of ways,” Harris said in a 1-on-1 with NetsDaily. “Just being around some really high level players, guys that have had a lot of success, I’ve learned a lot from them just by watching.
“(Cleveland’s) emphasis wasn’t necessarily on letting guys learn through mistakes. It was more so, ‘you come in, and you help impact the game’ because they’re trying to win championships. I feel like the vibe here is a little bit more, ‘if you make a mistake, so be it, you’ve got to learn through it.’ It’s different to be a guy like where I was in Cleveland chasing after spots with guys in front of me like Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Richard Jefferson.”
Establishing himself as an everyday player in the league, Harris currently averages 8.2 points per game in 22.3 minutes of play through six contests in the Nets 2-4 season. Behind Sean Kilpatrick, Harris is the Nets’ second leading scorer off the bench, and surprisingly has made his mark defensively since arriving in Brooklyn.
Harris’ defensive pedigree stems from his time at Virginia. While playing 135 games in four years at the perennial ACC power, Harris, a four-year starter, was part of teams that were nationally elite defensively, and extremely patient offensively (much to the ire of some college basketball pundits). The 6’6” former All-ACC wing says that playing a vital role in that defense has had an unmeasurable impact when picking up defensive game plans at the next level.
“The NBA game is obviously different in terms of spacing and positioning but the overall fundamental defensive concepts we learned at UVA, I feel it gave me a little bit of a head start,” said Harris. “A lot of stuff that these guys are preaching, whether it’s getting into the body on screens or other little things from a fundamental aspect – I feel like I didn’t have to think about it. It’s almost second nature at this point because I was doing it for four years at school.”
Harris also touched on the value of the D-League in his development. The Long Island Nets are currently gearing up to tip-off their inaugural season in the D-League. During his two years with the Cavs, Harris spent some time at Canton, which he embraced, and offered some advice to other players who may face a similar fate (or fortune) during their career.
“People look at it as the minors but at the same time it doesn’t do you any good to have that attitude,” said Harris who averaged 15.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 21 games with the Canton Charge. “You’ve got to look at it like this is your job, this is what you get paid to do every day, you might as well make the most of it no matter where you’re at. Obviously the travel, the accommodations and facilities are nothing at all like the NBA life but from a playing aspect I think it’s awesome. The D League is arguably the most scouted league outside of the NBA so you never know who’s watching – that’s the way I kind of approached it.
“I’m a big advocate for the D League! As much as I value watching and learning while I was playing with Cavs, anytime I had a chance to play in Canton I loved it,” the former UVA star continued. “The coaches there were great, they really help you adjust to the NBA lifestyle and the NBA game. It helps out a lot because people don’t realize how complex the NBA game is in terms of where you need to be, your positioning.
“Offensively it’s one of those things where you go down and they want you to be aggressive. They want you to look to score, which will help out any player who goes down there – that’s how you get more confidence in your game.”
Moving forward, Harris continues to prove himself as one of the key Nets on roster that, well, still needs some key Nets. He started off strong against Boston, pouring in 16 points, tying a career high. He hasn’t matched that and now, he’s looking to overcome an 0-for in his last outing against Charlotte. If the motion offense is to work, he and others, like Justin Hamilton, Sean Kilpatrick and Bojan Bogdanovic have to hit three’s.
He knows that and he also knows he can make the most of a golden opportunity.
“They believe in you and they emphasize the developmental process for me as a young player,” Harris said of head coach Kenny Atkinson and general manager Sean Marks. “It gives me a lot of confidence just to know that they put an emphasis on it and you can come in and be yourself and play with a lot of confidence.”
He, like so many of his teammates recently, has praise for the culture.
The team isn’t slated to win 60 games. True, they may surprise the Indiana’s and blow leads against the Charlotte’s. Ushering in a new era, the growing pains will always arise. Harris, like the others, is embracing the challenge ... and the culture. And if all goes well, better days are yet to come.
“I think what’s been ingrained in us here since I’ve been a part of this organization is really just embracing each day,” he said. “That’s kind of where all the focus and energy is put towards. We’re not looking so far down the road, it’s more about just getting better today and taking that one step at a time. The wins and losses and stats will take care of itself as long as you’re coming in, putting in the effort and trying to get better day by day.”
Here’s hoping that 0-for against Charlotte gets erased vs. Minnesota.