If you ever needed any convincing that Joe Harris’s game can’t be exclusively measured by his three-point shooting efficiency, look no further than this past season. And barring some unexpected drama over contract talks in this coming free agency, it should all transfer over to next season.
It’s something every basketball wise man (me included) has noted time and time again: Harris does more than just shoot the rock. And amid an injury-riddled season that saw Caris LeVert and Kyrie Irving miss a combined 69 games, it was more apparent than ever in the season now on hold.
Shooting the three-ball IS what Harris does best. That’s a fact and his strength within the Nets system. No need to advocate for a full-bore offensive repertoire combined with an ungodly usage rate for our beloved “Joey Buckets,” no. His shooting gravity is what’s going to ignite the Nets’ halfcourt offense; it’s what makes him such an alluring complementary piece alongside two high-usage profiles like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Those other small, little things he’s learned to do so well, like timely cuts, making the right decision off the catch, getting around rotating bigs with outside-the-box in-air maneuvers (that, frankly, defy his pre-draft scouting report) or ability to dish a pass off to a friendly big under the basket once the defense over commits, will only augment the team’s dynamic.
In other words, for the Nets to continue along their chosen path, they need Joe Harris
Maybe along the NBA spectrum he’s primarily seen as a marksman, and nothing really else besides that, due to his otherworldly efficiency. But since the 2017-18 season, Joe Harris is the only player in the entire association to shoot better than 43 percent from distance on at least 5.0 attempts per game. Puts a smile on your face, does it not? Want to smile again? Only four current players have better career 3-point percentages than Harris and two of them has the last name of Curry. He now ranks ahead of Klay Thompson and J.J. Redick.
However, allow me to divert your attention away from his 3-point statistics away just for a brief moment to take a look at some other numbers. Let’s discuss those aforementioned “little other things” that Harris does that make him distinct from other marksmen. He’s frequented the top of the NBA feudal system more than once in terms of true shooting percentage (he finished fifth in 2019, seventh in 2018), a tool used to more accurately calibrate a player’s efficiency, by being efficient...literally everywhere.
Here is a graphic used to really illustrate that point. Below is Joe Harris’ shot profile for the 2019/20 NBA season:
Now compare that to Kyle Korver’s 2014/15 season, in which he received an All-Star nod as an integral piece to a 60-win Hawks squad:
Though the percentages are comparable in many regards, it’s the difference in volume that really highlights the distinctions between an elite marksman and a player whose game goes beyond the confines of that rather limited definition. Harris connected on 180 two-point field goals this year, Korver only attempted 151 the year he was an All-Star.
Harris stepping up and commanding a much larger role in the offense was primarily out of necessity. The Nets were already shorthanded entering the season, with Wilson Chandler missing the first 25 games with a PED suspension, and of course, Durant out indefinitely to rehab a torn right Achilles’ tendon.
Irving and LeVert were always going to carry the offense to prominence—which they did, by the way. The Nets had a sixth-ranked offense before Irving injured his right shoulder—-until Durant eventually laced up his signatures once more. Unfortunately, entering the 12th game of the season, both were sidelined.
In their absence, Spencer Dinwiddie took on the form of an NBA All-Star for several weeks, and Harris filled in nicely as a legitimate second option most nights. In fact the Nets’ first game without the services of both Caris and Kyrie, Harris went for 22 points against the Chicago Bulls in what was really an early season must-win game. Brooklyn held an underwhelming record of 4-7 at the time, and needed a victory to fend off a start to the season that could’ve easily resembled the 2018-19 season which in case we’ve forgotten started 8-18.
It may not have been the most impressive of scoring outbursts. Instead, it was the manner in which he went about his business that set the tone for the weeks to come.
Harris shot a measly 2-of-8 (25 percent) from distance in the victory but still shot better than 50 percent for the contest by getting to the paint repeatedly, using every bit of a 6-foot-6, 220-pound lumberjack frame to muscle shots up in close or slash towards the hoop once an opening presented itself.
Likewise, he also dished out a career-high eight assists that game. It’s that dynamicity (is that a word?) in his offense that separates him from being defined exclusively as a marksman. Here’s two of those assists (courtesy of Matt Brooks)
He’s just a very smart player.
In the span of 21 games from November 14 to January 1 —all without LeVert and Irving in the lineup— Harris drove the ball an average of 6.3 times a game. In those attempts, he shot the ball at a clip of 51.7 percent and had an assist to turnover ratio of 2.33:1.
It wasn’t just on that one side of the ball, either. In that same time frame, Harris led the Nets in defensive win shares (he finished third on the team for the season). Though he’s not exactly a reiteration of Ron Artest, the fact that he’s shed the status of defensive liability, always a foible when describing his overall game, is a moderately big deal.
His one-on-one defense leaves much to be desired, especially in a playoff setting, but playing the majority of his minutes at the 3 this past season for an eighth-ranked defense is impressive in its own right. You’ll never see him lacking defensive intensity in any possession. As mentioned, the results may lack consistency, but there aren’t many who work harder to maintain defensive positioning than Harris ... a requirement if he’s going to compensate for athletic inadequacies.
Zoning back into the details of his offensive breakthrough (of sorts) this season, the month of December stands out in particular. That month, Harris’ volume reached new heights. In the 13 games played, his 12.4 field goal attempts per contest are the highest of any month in his career. But he still maintained synonymous levels of efficiency, putting up 47.2/42.5/78.9 splits en route to 15.5 points per game. It’s what we’ve come to expect and that fact that he can deliver isn’t a trifle. It’s critical.
Context is required, however. The following month saw an uncharacteristic slump to the extreme of 10.1 points per game on just 31.5 percent shooting from deep. It’s not exactly outside the realm of possibility to say his fully-loaded backpack finally weighed him down. Reinforcements were on their way, but the precipice was daunting. Sheer speculation, of course.
The beautiful thing about those several weeks, and about Harris’ season for that matter, is that his experience with an increased role will really shine once it’s lessened. It may sound counter intuitive, sure, but knowing that the Nets have a complementary piece that has seen a wide variety of different defensive schemes or scouting reports drawn up to combat his effectiveness in such a role should instill confidence in any fan of the franchise.
Although his shooting gravity is what makes him who he is, playing alongside two superstars whose gravities are unparalleled in the NBA universe will benefit all parties. That synergistic relationship might really show up when the Nets need it the most, in crunch time ... where, by the way, he’s shooting a combined 50.5 percent from the field and 52.1 percent from three over the course of the last two seasons.
I can envision it now, Harris on the inbound with 5.4 seconds on the clock, Brooklyn down two, the defense’s focus primarily on Durant and Irving and rightfully so. Then Joe bounces an inbound pass to either or, the defense doubles, leaving him open on the left wing...the shot goes up, it looks pure, it is! Ian Eagle follows up by screaming that Joe is “STUCK ON AUTOMATIC!” And life is good.
Simply put, the Nets were a better squad with him on the floor this season. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Nets scored an average of 6.5 points per 100 possessions more than the opposition with Harris on the floor—-good for a personal ranking in the 85th percentile of NBA players.
Harris did NOT have a good playoffs last year for the Nets. The 76ers tied him up and he finished the five games averaging a mere 8.8 points on a horrid shooting ... 38/19/60 to be exact. But five playoff games don’t define a player’s worth. If the NBA comes back, he’ll get another chance to showcase all his skills. The complementary aspects of his game will only be amplified alongside the star power of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
He is, of course, an unrestricted free agent but the Nets hold his Bird Rights. They can —and most likely will— go over the tax threshold to sign him. Of course, in light of the pandemic and its economic ramifications on the NBA, it’s hard to tell what the market will be. When the Nets recruited him in 2016, Kenny Atkinson told Harris the organization thought he could be its Kyle Korver. Heady stuff, but Harris has proven that he can be that ... and more.