Just glancing at Joe Harris’ recent numbers alone, it’d be easy to assume that Brooklyn’s bearded wonder is in the midst of a serious slump. In his last 9 contests, the Nets’ long-range bomber is averaging 12.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists, just 42.7 percent from the field and an extremely uncharacteristic 33.9 percent from three. Reminder: Joey led the league in three-point percentage with a I-still-can’t-believe-this-is-a-real-statistic 47.4.
With Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert out of the rotation, Brooklyn’s offense has looked the part of a hot air balloon on its final propane reserves. Kenny Atkinson has been forced to scrape the deep, dark edges of his rotation to find answers within the half-court. To his credit, Atkinson’s adjustments in spite of slim pickings have worked: Brooklyn has come away victorious during 5 of its last 6 games, all of them without Kyrie and Caris.
Still, even as the victories pile up, Kenny’s mainstays – like “Joey Buckets” – are getting thoroughly overworked on offense just to keep this ship buoyant. Since losing Irving, the Nets have shot a combined 30.6% from three as a team – a number that would be dead-last in the league during this time span if it weren’t for those godforsaken Golden State Warriors and their historical awfulness, and, surprisingly, the Boston Celtics. Playing next to this many non-shooters has only accentuated Harris’ recent downswing. Opposing ball clubs have gleefully glued two —even three— defenders to Joe’s hip to thoroughly erase his impact as long-range threat.
Joe Harris is Brooklyn’s 28-year-old elder statesman on a roster still filled to the brim with starry-eyed prospects and NBA hopefuls. Even amidst his shooting slump, Harris has looked the part of that much-needed stabilizing veteran presence, especially in big moments. On Sunday, Harris knocked down two game-icing free throws against the crosstown rival New York Knicks. This wasn’t the only time Harris subtly saved the Nets namesake.
Santa Claus isn’t the only bearded patron blessing Biggie’s borough with gifts. Over the past two weeks, Joe Harris has slipped a handful of easy-to-miss nuggets into Brooklyn stockings.
To prepare ourselves for the upcoming holiday season, let’s go through some of Harris’ recent overlooked performances, set to the tune of a December favorite.
November 16th @ Chicago Bulls
On the first day of NetsMas, Joe Harris gave to me! Eight golden assists and a big Broo-ooklyn Nets victory!
Friends, family, peers, readers and all the rest, gather round as I tell ye all one of my favorite holiday fables. The date was November 16 and your Brooklyn Nets were faced with a tall task. Just that morning, it was announced that Kyrie Irving – the newly crowned face of the franchise – would miss the closing game of Brooklyn’s gruesome road trip with right shoulder pain. Already down a Caris LeVert, the team’s third-best creator, the Nets’ playmaking options were dwindling perilously. How could the basketball hum with that trademarked Brooklyn snappiness in the half-court? Who would step up for the Nets? After all, Spencer Dinwiddie couldn’t do it all alone…
Then, from Brooklyn’s injury-riddled ashes, a glorious phoenix from the great Pacific Northwest arose. The pride of Washington’s Lake Chelan Valley got into the action early just four minutes into the game. His playmaking?… downright nifty.
Possession one: Before Spencer Dinwiddie’s cross-court pass even touched his hands, Harris sat calmly in his starting blocks, ready to zoom off and make the right play. Since Tomas Satoransky over-committed on his closeout, Harris shifted his weight to his right foot and cannonballed his way to the cup. At this point, Wendell Carter Jr. entered the fold as Chicago’s help defender, giving Harris just enough space to squeeze by a cheeky bounce pass to the cutting Jarrett Allen.
Minutes later, Harris and Allen were at it again, rebooting their Google Fiber-strong connectivity with some nasty fast break flair. At this point, with Harris performing like Manu Ginoboli plus better recessive genes, the Nets transition game began to take hold. On the night, Brooklyn scored 16 points via the fast-break, better than their season-average of 13.5 transition points per game. Harris’ eight key dimes, including this gorgeous possession-redeeming find, were a big reason why.
November 22nd vs. Sacramento Kings
On the second day of NetsMas, Joe Harris gave to me! Five swift three-pointers! Eight golden a-ssists and a Broo-ooklyn Nets victory.
A great holiday tale wouldn’t be complete without a delightful three-point performance from our bearded protagonist. Versus a scrappy Sacramento playoff contender, Harris deployed heaps of three-point buckets as his winter sleigh curled around screens and circled the three-point line. These catch-spin-and-pop threes at the top of the key have become the staple of Joe’s offensive package. They’re the delicious main course to his game: a super-stuffed Christmas turkey worth three-points on the scoreboard.
The tasty mashed potatoes to that delicious bird? Transition threes. Quick-twitch, in-your-face shots that leave defenders wondering “how the hell did I lose him?”
Here, Harris’ pitter-patter footwork is understated, but effective. By the time the ball lands in Garrett Temple’s hands following a Kings turnover, Harris is the first off the blocks with a full-speed breakaway sprint. Noticing this, his transition defender (Nemanja Bjelica) frantically scrambles to protect the basket from a possible wide-open Harris layup. Of course, in diving headfirst toward the paint, Bjelicia foolishly loses track of Harris, who stutters his footwork and stops on a dime in the slot. Rather than screaming at Temple to make the extra pass (and alerting the defense), Harris positions himself rather coolly with full trust that his teammate will make the right play. Sure enough, his patience and good faith pays off; Temple swings the ball to Joey Buckets for the crispy made three.
Here’s the thing about getting Harris going early: He starts to show off almost uncontrollably if he’s really feeling it. Poor Cory Joseph, this is just mean:
Once again, precise movements produce to a savory result. As the trailer in the possession, Harris sprints up the floor at 3/4s speed -- seemingly toward the left corner. Then, in a split second, he executes a magnificent v-cut, lurches behind DeAndre Jordan’s hulking 265-pound frame, catches, and then dribbles to his left to completely and utterly shake the Sacramento sucker. With Joseph spinning and double-axeling like a gold medalist figure skater, Harris guns another deep one in the grill of Sacramento’s helpless defense.
Put that in your Christmas pipe and smoke it.
November 25th @ Cleveland Cavaliers
On the third day or NetsMas, Joe Harris gave to me! Five bailout layups! Five swift three-pointers! Eight golden a-ssists and a Broo-ooklyn Nets victory!
Let’s set the stage for a second. Already a bottom-7 offense without its aforementioned backcourt heroes, the Nets entered Cleveland on the wrong end of a back-to-back. The Cavs, meanwhile, enjoyed a nice three-day layoff to recoup for the big contest versus the surging Nets. Yet, through it all, Brooklyn persevered.
Make no mistake, game-ball for best performance should be given to Mr. 20-20 himself, Jarrett Allen. Or perhaps to the man behind the game-sealing midrange dagger, Spencer Dinwiddie. But not far behind the Nets’ fearsome pick-and-roll pairing, Joey Buckets quietly did necessary work in the wings, putting down 19 points of his own on a solid 8-of-17 shooting line.
Harris kept the defense just honest enough with three made 3-pointers, including a gorgeous one-dribble, leaning-the-wrong-direction first quarter bullet from a Taurean Prince dribble-handoff.
But where Joey really made his money was in his downhill game. With his Nets reeling because of the brutal schedule, Harris’ non-stop motor fueled Brooklyn during tight possessions and deer-in-the-headlights moments. If you asked me to summarize Harris’ “more than a shooter” mantra, I’d say look no further than his pair of first quarter makes that paced his Nets. The first: a timely backdoor cut to bail out an ostensibly doomed Taurean Prince isolation, in which the northwestern sniper finished through a whirling sea of arms…
The second (a personal favorite of mine): Harris flaunts his trademarked up-and-under game, suspending his beefy 218-pound body in the air for that extra second before finishing with a flip shot on the other side of the basket like so many times before.
Of course, Harris wasn’t finished. During a ziplock-tight crunch-time, Harris once again provided Brooklyn with some much-needed testicular fortitude and two big-time buckets; both of which stemmed from that endless motor that never stops rumbling. (That first bucket off the staggered screen is especially appetizing given the perilous late-game scenario.)
In October, Harris told Brian Lewis he was “pretty self-aware as to what type of player (he) was going to be.”
It’s pretty clear who that guy is: Slump notwithstanding, Joe Harris is a frickin’ gamer. He’ll get the job done regardless of the circumstances. May he continue to bless you all with endless gifts, clutch performances, and holiday cheer.