You Need to Be Watching Joe Harris

Joe Harris is the personification of the modern NBA. That's why you have to watch him.

Much is made about the “current NBA” or the “modern-day NBA.” You’ll hear terms like “pace and space” or just “spacing.” My current favorite buzzphrase is "freedom of movement."

Cliché and tiresome may it be, it’s become paramount. Until someone finds a way to conquer a well-executed pick-and-roll surrounded by shooters, we’re stuck here. The person who figures it out is the next great NBA innovator, bound to have their name written in stone.

Offenses today can’t work without players like Joe Harris. He is a distilled, concentrated microcosm of what it means to play offense in the NBA in 2018. Just look at his shot chart for this season:

(Larger squares show frequency. Blue is bad, red is good)

Harris is a role player performing his own version of players like Paul George, Klay Thompson, and J.J Redick – players who use off-ball action to get their shots up. He’s a coach’s dream: a player who enacts the system exactly how it’s drawn up, and if it fails, can be trusted to make the correct decision. He’s said as much himself.

Speaking earlier this year to The Athletic’s Michael Scotto, Harris said, “My job is to knock down shots, help create space on the floor, and by no means am I the go-to guy. My role is to play tough defensively, and then help create space for all of our facilitators that we have, and to be opportunistic when there are striking opportunities.”

He is, in effect, a more athletic and offensively versatile Kyle Korver.

Harris was a low-level free agency story this last summer. Several teams were interested, but few made concrete offers. In this league, it’s no wonder a player like Harris, a career 41% shooter from deep, would be worth $16M despite sporting ho-hum counting numbers for the bulk of his career.

Players like Harris would’ve been specialists off the bench as recently as five years ago. That’s exactly what Harris was in Cleveland. Now, Harris is a central part of the Brooklyn Nets' system. Harris is a skilled shooter and decision-maker, and it is in these two ways he best helps his team.

Shooting

Harris is a lights-out shooter. It doesn’t really seem possible someone could shoot as well as he does.

At the time of writing, Harris is shooting over 43% from 3 on over 5 attempts a game. Harris uses his teammates to get himself open looks.

In the clip above, notice Harris on the near wing. This is a non-traditionally and less universally heralded form of off-ball movement, but effective and needed nonetheless. Harris understands his space on the court. He syncs his movement with the drive, noticing his defender has averted his attention. Harris steps into the window, trusting his teammate to make the correct play. It's extremely intuitive, and it's plays like this that separate Harris from any other sharpshooter who can't replicate his success.

The above is brilliant.

Harris can see that he doesn't have a shot inside. As he turns around to take the ball out, he sees his opportunity: a blindside switch. Harris knows his man will swap onto the ball if he feigns a pick. He also knows the defender on ball will be none the wiser, and if Harris moves quick enough, he'll cause them both to stay on Allen Crabbe. They do, and Harris has the open shot.

This third play is included not because it's an amazing, intuitive, and nuanced play like the two before, but because it is an excellent representation of what Joe Harris does all game long. When players like Harris are plugged into a system that rewards effort and maximizes specialties, the result is so fun to watch. Harris is the walking embodiment of the 2018 NBA.

Decision Making

Like so many players who rely on feel, intuition, and smarts, Harris makes great decisions with the ball. His assist numbers won't make you call your mother or anything, but that's because he doesn't have the ball for long or at a high number of possessions.

Harris seems to always be in a state of control. Rarely will you see him force a play. Harris plays at controlled, pacified pace – not something you'd expect see from a player who is the poster boy for "pace and space" basketball. It is this control that he places on the uncontrolled that makes him so worth watching. J.J Redick talks about how his job is to put order to chaos. Joe Harris has been listening.

Above, Harris shows his patience. He holds the ball without stopping the offense. His eyes are not on the hoop, they are scanning, looking for the play to develop. Harris is more than a superhuman 3-point specialist, he's an ultra-valuable player who makes his team better by doing his job as it's designed. Not many players can say that.

Look at this play. Forget the assist, that's not important. Watch how Harris directs the offense. This is the value of players like Harris who don't show up on highlight reels or rack up game-changing fantasy point tallies. Harris does three things here worthy of note. 1) He runs off his screen perfectly, 2) he continues his run once he passes the ball, and most importantly, 3) he tells LaVert where to continue moving so that the offense works the way it's meant to.

I bet Kenny Atkinson is a big Joe Harris fan. One more play below.

The above play is my favorite of all.

Harris is doing everything here. Harris sets two screens, tells Crabbe where to go, runs off his own screen, then attacks the basket. Harris, like all clever individuals, saved the very best for last.

Watch how Harris attacks the rim. He's not moving full clip. Why? He's baiting the offense. Harris knows if he hits the perfect speed – somewhere between fast enough to beat his man and slow enough to get cut off – he will attract help defenders. Harris never looks at the rim. He knows the ball is going right over to Dinwiddie the whole time.

Conclusion

Harris is the modern NBA. He's a versatile offensive threat who helps his team in ways seen and unseen. No championship can be won by players like Harris, but they can be won because of players like Harris.

Will the Nets be winning a championship soon? No. Does that change how Harris plays? No.

There is a certain old-school aura around Harris' game: one that says that doing your job to the best of your ability is not only all we can do, but the greatest thing we can do. Harris is a player who knows his role and plays within it at the highest level he is able. He is what every team, front office, teammate, and coach want in today's NBA: effort, discipline, and intuition. Harris delivers in spades.

Harris moves off-ball, directs his teammates, positions himself correctly, and finishes his play when called upon. It's hard to ask for anything more than that.

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