After playing only 15 minutes last season, Joe Harris is averaging 24 minutes per game this season, more than double his career high and 7th on the Nets' roster. Will he continue to play a major role in Brooklyn's rotation?
The Brooklyn Nets retained just five of the players on their roster from last year, so a rotation shake-up was bound to happen early in Kenny Atkinson's tenure. At the beginning of the year, the only players that seemed to be a lock for major minutes were Jeremy Lin, Brook Lopez, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Trevor Booker. Sean Kilpatrick has solidified his slot in the rotation as a sixth man (and occasional spot starter), but no rotation seemed set behind those six players.
Enter Joe Harris. Through the first 13 games of the season, Harris ranks 7th on the team in minutes with 24.0 minutes per game. He is currently ahead of Randy Foye, Yogi Ferrell, and Isaiah Whitehead in the Nets' rotation. These major minutes come as a huge surprise after Harris played just 15 minutes in the 2015-2016 season. While cracking the rotation in Brooklyn is less of a challenge than cracking the Cavs rotation may have been last season, Harris' early role has been far larger than expected.
Harris was drafted 33rd overall by the Cavs out of Virginia after four seasons in college. Harris was a sharpshooter at the collegiate level, shooting 40.7 percent from behind the arc and shot a little more than 50 percent of his shots from behind the line. Cleveland drafted him to space the floor when he came into the game, and while he didn't shoot as well as he did in college he was still solid from three-point range:
After shooting more than 50 percent of his shots in college from deep, Harris upped his three-point attempt rate to a remarkable 70 percent in his rookie season with Cleveland. He shot 36.9 percent from beyond the arc, a decent percentage but clearly not the stellar mark he managed to put up in college.
His shooting was offset by his very subpar defense during his time with the Cavs. He allowed 1.18 Points Per Possession in the 2014-2015 according to Synergy, which put him in the third percentile in the league defensively. The only defensive areas in which he didn't rank in the bottom 5 percent of the league were spot-ups (6th percentile) and post-ups (21st percentile). Even though Harris could contribute offensively with his marksmanship, he gave up too many points on the other end to be a valuable piece for Cleveland.
Joe Harris played just 15 minutes total during the 2015-2016 season--partially due to Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith playing the whole season but mostly due to not being able to contribute enough defensively to be worth playing as a shooter. All four of his shots in 2015-2016 were three-pointers, and he made only one of them. He spent most of the early part of the season with the Canton Charge before being traded to the Magic on January 12th. The Magic immediately waived him, and it looked like he would have a long road back to the NBA.
Brooklyn signed Harris to a two-year deal this offseason at the minimum, with the second year fully unguaranteed. Harris quickly gained the trust of Kenny Atkinson during the preseason, and rapidly made his way up the depth chart.
Given the emphasis that Kenny Atkinson places on three-point shooting, Joe Harris seemed like a perfect fit. Oddly enough, however, Harris has been far more valuable inside the arc this season than outside of it. He is shooting 62.5 percent on two-pointers and 31.1 percent on threes but is shooting 60.4 percent of his total attempts from behind the line. His role as a pure shooter allows him to pump-fake his way into easy drives if the defense doesn't pay close enough attention:
Harris draws the attention of Jerebko from behind the arc, but once Harris gets the ball to Scola he has a wide-open lane to the basket that Avery Bradley is unable to close before Harris can get an easy layup. This shot fake is so effective in part because he actually leaves his feet (which doesn't usually work out as well as it does here), but mostly because of how quick Harris' three-point shot is and how little he hesitates in taking those jumpers:
Despite his slow start from behind the arc percentage-wise, Harris still creates value through forcing defenders to pay attention to him behind the three-point line. More important to his progress, however, has been the major leap he has taken on the defensive end of the floor. He has been doing a much better job of being in the right spots positionally on defense and has made far fewer lapses on that end of the floor. His overall defensive numbers are in the 70th percentile according to Synergy and he has allowed 0.82 points per possession so far. While these numbers might be unsustainable over the course of an entire season, they show that Harris is no longer the defensive sieve he was during his rookie season in Cleveland.
Joe Harris has already played almost as many minutes as he had in his career prior to this season, and it looks like Kenny Atkinson will continue to trust him to play significant minutes for the Nets this year. If he can make a few more of his open 3-pointers, he could be a valuable piece for Brooklyn for the rest of this year and will be a likely candidate to return for the 2017-2018 season.