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Does Joe Harris have something to prove?

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Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets - Game Seven Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Over the past three seasons, no NBA player shot better from 3-point territory than Joe Harris. Twice, he was the leading 3-point shooter in the NBA including last season. Steph Curry may be able to do more with the ball — and shoot from deeper points on the court, but no one’s more accurate than the Nets sharpshooter. And as he’s developed his game, Harris has proven he can do things that other 3-point specialists like J.J. Redick can’t, things like getting to the basket, rebounding and defense.

All good.

But as he and every Nets fan knows, Joe Harris had a bad, bad series — as a shooter — vs. the Bucks when Kyrie Irving was out and James Harden “couldn’t move,” as one Nets staffer put it following Game 7. So, asks Kristian Winfield, does Harris need to “take a page” from Pat Connaughton’s playbook? Connaughton, taken with a Nets pick in 2015, has raised his game during the Bucks run to a title. Of course, Harris won’t be able to do that until the Nets return to the post-season next April.

Connaughton also had some poor shooting efforts during the Bucks’ run. Specifically, he shot 19 percent in the second round to Harris’ 32.1 percent, but as the series wore on, the two went in different directions.

As Winfield notes, Harris shot 8-of-16 from deep at home in the first two games of the second round, then shot 8-of-33 in Games 3 through 7, a poor 24.2 percent from downtown. Connaughton, on the other hand, shot a bit better, at 31.6 percent, in those same games. Winfield uses other data to argue that while Bucks sharpshooter “found other ways to impact the series,” Harris did not.

The Bucks regularly sought Harris on defense and took advantage of those matchups. The Bucks shot a team-high 54.4% against Harris, according to the NBA’s stats page — they also shot 50% against Kyrie Irving, 48.6% against Landry Shamet, 44.7% against James Harden, 44% against Kevin Durant and just 33% against Bruce Brown.

The Bucks also targeted Harris 11.3 times per game — they targeted Harden an average of 12.7 times in Games 5 through 7, and Harden played with a bum hamstring.

Harris, in his post-season talk with the media, couldn’t deny his play, but suggested that he did what he could in other ways to help the team.

“Obviously I’m disappointed. I wish that I’d played better,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of things where you can go back, be a tough critic on yourself, be judgmental, but at the same time, I mean, you’ve got to bring more to the table than just one thing.”

Indeed, in Game 7, he grabbed nine rebounds, the most he secured in a game this season, regular season or post-season, to go with 10 points. It wasn’t vintage Harris, but the Nets were short-handed and the Bucks knew they had to stop him if they were going to win.

“I wish I would have shot more efficiently, help alleviate some of the pressure that other guys were facing, but this is sort of the situation that we’re in, and you know, frankly, had I played better, we might be in a little bit of a different spot,” he said. “So it’s definitely gonna be a motivating factor for me in this offseason going forward, just because you know, like a lot of us were just talking about in the locker room, this thing is far from over for us.”

In Harris’ defense, his performance whether in Game 7 or Games 3 through 7 wasn’t the only, even primary, variant in the difference between a Nets win and a loss. Aside from the devastating effect of Irving and Harris injuries, other Nets had poor games (or poor moments). Steve Nash came in for his fair share of criticism, too. And if Kevin Durant’s shoe size was just a bit smaller...

For those fans who’ve pointed to Harris’ subpar stats in the 2019 playoffs as a way of suggesting Harris isn’t a “big game player,” they might want to check out his 2020 playoff stats. Before leaving the “bubble” to attend his grandmother’s funeral, Harris had games of 14 points and 15 rebounds and 19 points and six rebounds, shooting 58.6 percent from deep in the two contests.

Harris in effect is criticized for four games, four bad games. And Connaughton is on a roll. It’s fair to compare them, as Winfield does. They basically play the same role. They’re only 15 months apart in age ... and Harris makes three times what Connaughton does. But to be fair to Harris, his shooting from deep is historic. Only three players who’ve ever stepped on an NBA court have a higher career 3-point shooting percentage (43.8 percent) than Harris. He passed Drazen Petrovic on the Nets career list this year. That should not be easily dismissed.

Might the Nets entertain offers for Harris? Maybe but the offers would have to be stunning for any response. In some ways, the front office sees him in the same light they see the “Big Three.” He gets a say in the team’s big decisions, for example, and, of course, Joe Harris is no-to-low maintenance.

As he’s said, what happened in June will motivate Harris next season. He’s gotten better every year. Expect him to do the same next season.