This time three years ago, Joe Harris was preparing for his second season in the NBA with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. His role with the team was minimal – a practice squad guy who sat at the end of the bench and cheered his teammates.
Three years later, that same Joe Harris is the talk of the Brooklyn Nets entering the season. He just re-signed on a two-year, $16 million contract. Harris is a polite guy who welcomes conversation, but he was never somebody who garnered much attention.
But after two years with the team and pretty phenomenal growth under Kenny Atkinson, Harris has suddenly become the poster boy for Atkinson’s culture of work ethic, Marks’ eye for hidden talent as well as a great underdog story for P.R. to push and for reporters to cover.
The same Joe Harris, who could have walked through a gym full of reporters unnoticed in 2016, is now taking questions about his facial hair from a crowd of them.
“What’s the funniest (nickname)?” a reporter asks.
“Moses is a pretty good one. Joey Moses, Joseph of Nazarene,” Harris says after the first day of training camp.
“Somebody on Twitter said Sasquatch…”
“I haven’t heard that one yet. That’s a pretty good one, Bigfoot,” Harris answers.
This went on a for a couple minutes. Of course, it’s a little fun between reporters and a player, and oftentimes things that fans love to hear. (Joey Moses might be our new Joe Jesus).
It sounds ridiculous but having watched the growth of Harris (and not just his beard) from Media Day in 2016 is undoubtedly one of the few feel-good stories during Brooklyn’s tough couple of seasons.
Atkinson in fact often recounted his recruiting pitch to Harris two years ago. The then new coach told Harris, still recovering from surgery, a trade and unceremonial dumping on the same day (!), that the Nets saw him as their Kyle Korver. Harris, Atkinson said, looked stunned.
In fact, Harris wasn’t the most outgoing guy when he first came to the Nets. He’d act surprised when reporters would circle around his locker to talk. Now, he’s talking about the beard he grew during the off-season and nicknames that might stick with it. More importantly, after shooting 41 percent from three the year before, Harris is walking and talking with confidence. Having $16 million in your pocket helps too.
“Being here with some familiarity with Kenny, with Sean, just understanding the philosophy, the culture that we have here, it kind of…a little added responsibility in terms of leadership, you know what to expect, you know what the coaches and front office want out of you, and you’re just trying to lead by example, set the example and then communicate how we do stuff here as well,” said Harris.
Harris, 27, is still technically in the prime of his career. The Nets have plenty of guards and wings competing for time and Harris isn’t spoken about (that much) when it comes to discussing starters. That said, he might be better off serving the same role he has with Brooklyn – coming off the bench and providing a much-needed spark.
That’s partially why he’s thrived so much. No ego, no handouts. He’s bought in completely. As somebody whose career started with complete uncertainty, he can finally play with some peace of mind knowing he earned the big payday.
Of course, sometimes the payday can backfire for players. Thing is, coaches and players usually get a hint of that in the off-season. That said player might not be in the gym as much while players are out enjoying their summers.
Harris was in the gym almost every day this off-season and continues to represent everything Atkinson and the Brooklyn Nets want to be. He’s even beginning to sound like a coach, Atkinson specifically. Asked about his off-season emphasis on Day 1, Harris provides an extremely elaborate answer.
“I think our approach is going to be similar but more aggressive with the centerfield philosophy. Our personnel, depending on who’s out there, we might switch, but more often than not I think we’re going to stay consistent with what we’ve been doing. We’re getting better at it, more comfortability with it, our bigs have really been picking it up and doing a nice job with it, just making it tough,” Harris explains.
“A lot of it revolves around the guards just being able to avoid screens and you kind of look at our guards across the board, we’ve got big guards, athletic guards and that’s helpful with the defense we’re trying to run. You’ll have to ask Kenny more of his philosophy with that, but I think so far, the first couple of days, I think we’re going to stay consistent to what we’ve been doing.”
(Seems to be working. Harris was in the 93rd percentile in the halfcourt on points per possession, 96th percentile overall, 89th percentile spot-up, 76th percentile off-screen, and 84th hand-off, as Matt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm has noted.)
While he finishes his final answer, Atkinson walks by as he gets ready for his time with reporters. Nets PR Manager Eli Pearlstein says what everybody else is thinking: “Great transition.”
In fact, if Kenny Atkinson molded into an NBA player it would be Joe Harris. And if Joe Harris were to mold into an NBA coach, it would be Kenny Atkinson. They’re a good coach-player tandem, and that’s a big reason why Harris should be back for at least two more years.
- Nets need new-look Joe Harris to maintain on-court identity - Greg Logan - Newsday