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After rough game in Milwaukee, Joe Harris needs to regain regular season form

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Brooklyn Nets v Milwaukee Bucks

Superteams are highlighted by stars who are complemented by key role players ... one of whom, it seems, is always a sharpshooter. In Steve Nash’s eyes — and a lot of others — Joe Harris is his complement to the Nets “Big Three.”

“He’s a tremendous complement to our star players. He’s a guy that is an elite shooter, capable of making plays if need be but doesn’t need the ball. Great competitor, physical player, never asked for anything. He just loves to go out there and compete and is an incredible teammate,” said Nash on Harris Thursday prior to Game 3. “He’s a pleasure to coach and work with every day.”

Harris — who ended the regular season shooting career-highs from the field (50.5 percent — 357-of-707), from three (47.5 percent — 211-of-444), and at the charity strike (77.8 percent — 49-of-63) — has taken a large jump this season. Harris’s historic ability to put the ball in the basket can’t be ignored. In fact, over the past three seasons, Harris has hit 46 percent of his 1,236 attempts, best in the NBA.

Of course, on Thursday night in Milwaukee, Harris struggled (like a number of his teammates). He scored only three points on 1-of-11 shooting from the field and 1-of-7 from three to go with four rebounds and one assist in 37 minutes.

“Definitely in the immediate moment afterwards, you’re frustrated especially with the outcome of the game, but at the same time let the dust settle a little bit there was a lot of areas to be encouraged. A lot of the looks that I had were some of the best I’ve had the entire series in terms of being uncontested clean looks where I’m able to get space,” said Harris on his Game 3 performance. “Definitely wished I could’ve played better but this is where we’re at and there's room to be encouraged though.”

That was very much un-Joey Buckets but if the Nets superteam is going deep in the post-season, he’ll have to revert to his regular-season form, when he once again led the NBA in 3-point shooting.

During the regular season, Harris scored 20+ points a career-high-tying 13 times. When he scores above that level, Brooklyn went 12-1, and in the 45 wins when he was on the floor, he averaged 15.6 points per game while shooting 53.8 percent from the field and 51.3 percent from behind the arc, seeing 31.1 minutes of action. (That one loss, vs. Wizards on January 31, Harris scored a career-high-tying 30 points — making a career-high eight threes on 13 attempts.)

Outside of his elite ability as a 3-point assassin — leading the NBA in deep shooting for the second time in three years and becoming the fifth player in league history to accomplish that feat — Harris has progressed in other facets of his game.

He may not get the accolades that J.J. Redick gets —and former Nets draft pick Kyle Korver have received, but he can do things that they could never do.

“Joe’s worth goes beyond just making shots. He’s a physical defender, plays hard and is capable of getting into the ins of the defense and making plays as well,” said Blake Griffin on Harris after Saturday’s practice. “I have a lot of confidence in him.”

Harris’ ability to affect the game without having the ball in the palms of his hands was a huge development during the regular season. The 29-year-old draws gravity and can pose a threat with his off-ball movement, slicing through the teeth of the defense as a cutter. He’s made big strides defensively.

“[Joe] is super competitive and a good defender, so plenty there to work with already,” Nash said. ”He definitely has improved and developed every year of his career so I wouldn’t put it past him to keep climbing, keep improving, keep bringing new things to the table and most importantly, a tremendous guy to work with every day and a tremendous teammate.”

While Harris’ growth may come as a surprise to some, there was a reason that Sean Marks made him a very rich man, inking his sharpshooter to a four-year, $72 million deal this past offseason. It wasn’t just about the player he is now, but what he can become.

When Nash was asked whether Harris can harvest the potential of Klay Thompson — one of the best shooting guards in the league who has an expanded skillset. Nash was around Golden State as a player development consultant prior to taking the Nets coaching job. Nash said he doesn't want to put that pressure on his 6’6” wing but noted how he is continuing to improve in all facets of his game.

“Klay is pretty exceptional so I wouldn’t want to put under pressure on Joe, but he can continue to improve and he’s already a terrific player. We’ve seen him get better in all facets of his game,” said Nash of Harris. “He’s better off the dribble, better passing, better finishing at the rim, better decision making. His shooting continues to improve.”

Back in April, Kevin Durant expressed no such doubt.

“Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are the best shooters I’ve played with,” Durant said back then. “Joe Harris is definitely right up there, getting there.”

Although Harris has the potential to grow and advance his game on both ends, it’s been a shaky postseason for the 29-year-old on the road. So far, his play on the home floor has been better than in the games at TD Garden in Boston and Fi-Serv Forum in Milwaukee.

Despite his bursts under the Barclays Center lights — 25 points in 29 minutes against the Celtics in Game 2 and 19 points in 34 minutes against Milwaukee in Game 1 — he is posting averages of 8.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.3 rebounds in three away games during the postseason. In fact, he’s shooting 51.4 percent at home, compared to 36.8 percent away.

Of course, even that road performance is pretty, pretty good for most anyone ... other than someone like Harris. But the Nets need Harris is to be Harris if they’re going to advance.

“Joe is a smart guy and an elite, elite shooter so it happens. Everyone has off shooting nights. It’s unfortunate we lost the game but there’s no question that both teams are going to have off shooting nights or shoot to their norm or even their average every night. I’m not worried about Joe Harris at all. He’s smart. He’s tough and an incredible shooter and if he gets the same looks, my money’s on him,” said Nash on Harris.