For Joe Harris last season, it was about getting his name out there. Think of it like a new kid in school that just moved from out of state. He plays sports, he’s smart, and is an all-around cool kid, but no one really knows him yet. So, he throws a huge party at his house while his parents are out of town and now everyone knows him.
That “party” was Harris winning the 3-point contest and leading the league in 3-point percentage last year. His name is out there. He was part of the closing five of the Team USA team in the FIBA World Cup. He’s on one of the more high-profile teams in the league.
This season was more about Harris cementing himself as a high-end player and locking in that impending free agent money while contributing to what is likely to be a title contender next season. Harris has seen his efficiency go down a touch with more volume. Yet, he’s still a silent engine that pulls the Nets train. He has taken on some new tasks this season that may go under the radar, and with that, let’s take a look at the growth Joe Harris has shown this season.
For starters, the Virginia product is always moving. According to NBA.com tracking data, Harris ranks ninth in the league in distance traveled on offense this season, not far behind high usage ball handlers like Devin Booker and Trae Young. Harris is a good teammate and a heady player. He takes advantage of defenders falling asleep and helps his fellow Nets find passing lanes that he can blast through.
Harris’ ability to space the floor and be a threat from anywhere has opened up a bunch of opportunities for Brooklyn to thrive on offense. We can harp on his 3-point shooting all day (and I will later), but what has transformed his game this season is his ability to attack closeouts.
Last year, Harris placed in the 16th percentile on drives to the basket off of a spot up, according to Synergy Sports Technology. This season, he has improved to what is deemed “average,” 43% percentile on a similar rate. Take a look...
As Harris filters through the paint out to the corner in the above clip, Kyle Lowry calls out a switch to Pascal Siakam. With defensive assignments out of whack, Toronto is left with big man Serge Ibaka on Spencer Dinwiddie. Dinwiddie zooms past Ibaka into the defense and dumps it off to Jarrett Allen.
If you watch Dinwiddie begin his drive, Siakam gets caught ball-watching a bit. Harris, who is dancing along the 3-point line, uses this lapse in judgement to create a sliver more of space that he can use as a runway to get to the rack. Dinwiddie can’t see this happen, but by the time Allen catches the pass, he sees Harris ready to fly. Siakam closes in a bit too hot to stop the 3-point shot, but Harris is thinking an easy two on this one. Siakam is a step too slow as Harris blows by him and gets to the cup before the Raptors defense can adjust.
In this clip, Markelle Fultz gets a bit turned around on this Caris LeVert drive, and once again Harris is building up a head of steam into the open space. Harris catches and is already off to the rack as Fultz gets back into position. Harris is a strong, stout fella, and not afraid to get bumped inside. Nikola Vucevic makes a strong rotation over, but its too late. Harris is already at the backboard kissing it off the glass.
Both of the above plays are Harris taking advantage of turned-around defenders, but next season there will be more ball handlers on the floor that warrant such attention. Harris knows how to read his defenders and make them pay for ball watching, now with a strong drive in addition to his three-point shot.
In the same vein as above, Harris has become more conscious of how to manipulate defenses to give him favorable situations. Like driving to the rim off the catch, he also knows how to value the 3-point shot while keeping his man guessing.
Off the rebound, Tomas Satoransky is pretty much finished from the instant DeAndre Jordan gets the offensive rebound. It’s more about how he can minimize the damage. Jordan is covered so he looks out to old reliable, Joe Harris. Satoransky tries to recover but must close hard because of Harris’ ability to shoot from deep. Harris sees the hard close out and fakes the drive, Sato can’t react quick enough to the fake and Harris opts to take a one dribble step-back three instead of driving into the Bulls’ pack-line defense. I slowed down this clip to highlight Harris handle the closeout.
Harris has begun to incorporate this step back shot into his game more this season and the progress has been solid. It’s not his most efficient look, a quick, no-dribble three is, but as his game and reputation grows, being able to have this in his bag is essential.
On this play, the Pacers show zone, but the point still stands. As Harris crosses from left to right through the zone to the nearside corner, he becomes Domantas Sabonis’ responsibility. Sabonis, a fantastic defender, knows the Legend of Joe, and closes out strong with a high hand, cutting off the baseline drive, pushing Harris towards the zone. Harris takes the defense as it comes and after Sabonis sags off, No. 12 hits him with a step back three. By the time Sabonis recognizes what is happening the ball is already up.
As Brooklyn evolves in the next calendar year, its players will need to as well. Integrating in two players that will be posting high usage rates in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving may have its effects on ball handlers such as Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert early on, but it shouldn’t bother Harris as much.
Harris, as noted in this piece, does his best playing off others and moving with the flow of the offense. With an emerging penetration game that can be complimented nicely by a step-back three, Harris has the pieces to continue to grow as a player. The next step will be Harris starting to generate a drive-and-kick game. He’s made a few nice passes over the course of the year as defenses collapse on his drives, but they need to become more commonplace.
This was the season Harris proved himself as a winning player on a good team, not just a kid who threw that cool party when he moved to town, and he did just that. It hasn’t been the most flawless season when compared to last season, but that’s because it was almost the perfect campaign from an upstart player. This season was due for a bit of a regression. His 3-point numbers are down a bit, but still among the elite in the league —and 13th ALL-TIME in percentage; his points generated off of cuts is a bit down, as graded by Synergy, but he has made up for that by being a threat off the bounce a bit more.
By learning how to create his own shot, Harris becomes that much more valuable on the court. He can strike fear into teams as a strong finisher at the rim, but still knockdown from beyond the arc. That dual capability, especially for a player that isn’t going to need that many touches will show its value next season.
As for bringing back Harris, every team has its walkaway number, but based on Sean Marks comments on WFAN last month, it seems that Harris is a priority for Brooklyn. The Nets do have his Bird Rights, so the organization can go over the salary cap to retain him and offer an extra year if they are so willing to, which is a huge boost heading into negotiations.
Either way, if Harris is back in Brooklyn or not, he has developed year after year into one hell of a ball player. Last season he was able to get his name out there and become a grim reaper to the other team with the ball in his hands, splashing three after three. This season it has been working on the tertiary parts of his game.
Its all about developing for the time when Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are out on the floor of the Barclays Center, and Harris has done his part.