If players, coaches, executives, and fans have wondered what Kyrie Irving really felt when Brooklyn dealt with James Harden, it’s doubtful much thought is given to Joe Harris, and how the trade might affect his place in the NBA world.
Harris was already Signed for four years and $75 millionSo no one started a GoFundMe campaign on his behalf. But with Irving, Harden and Kevin Durant standing among the world’s most dominant ball stars, and among the 15 best NBA players of all time in usage rate, Harris had to wonder how exactly he would get his touch.
Or, better yet, if he’s going to get his touch.
As it turns out, entering Game 3 against Milwaukee Thursday night, Big 3 Harris made the luckiest man in the post-season championship. Defenders preoccupied with containing one of the most dynamic offenses in league history had given Harris his personal space on the ground in one form or another. As the 29-year-old winger has proven, he needs only a small space to make a big footprint on a game and streak.
In the first round, after scoring 22 of his 25 points against Boston in the first half of Game 2, Harris summed up the reality of playing with three future Hall of Famers this way: “That’s a shooter’s dream out there.” But the benefits go beyond the open look that Harris gets because opponents are forced to scramble to help the Leviathan. The nets have a lot of eyeballs on them nationally, and even globally, because of the star power they’ve amassed. Of course, when people start following a super team, they’ll also notice non-star players making a slew of winning plays. Those who want to watch Durant and Irving, and when they’re healthy, will see Harden that there’s more to Harris than ol’ corner game.
He has learned how to put the ball on the ground and pass it to the goal. At 6-foot-6, 220 pounds, he learned to play defense with some physical strength, too. All in all, when fans watch the Nets, they immediately realize that Joe Harris has come a long way from the canton in charge of the G-League. In 2015, according to basketball-reference.com, the Cavaliers sent Harris to Canton, or called him back from Canton, 32 times before ceding him and trading him to the Magic, who immediately ceded him.
The Nets picked him in the summer of 2016. Their new coach, Kenny Atkinson, who was his assistant to Kyle Korver in Atlanta, told him he could be Korver from Brooklyn. Virginia’s previous second-round pick was hard to believe. In his first season with the Nets, Harris was the seventh highest scorer on the 20-62 team. Atkinson developed him into the kind that could make $75 million before Steve Nash secured his place as an important supplement that inspired Durant to call him one of the best shooters he played with.
Durant played with two guys named Steve Curry and Clay Thompson, you might remember.
When Harris was hot, Durant said, “This opens up our entire team.” Blake Griffin believes Harris raised the Big Three to Big 4 because, as he put it, “it looks like every shot he takes is going into it.”
The Nets stars are clearly willing to feed Harris, who told GQ he was initially surprised by Harden’s passing ability. With or without Harden, who missed games 2 and 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Brooklyn moves the ball across the board, allowing Harris to spend his time and energy, in his words, “just trying to find the windows.” He finished the regular season with his career best 50.5 shooting rate, and with a league shooting average of 47.5 from a 3-point range. In the Nets’ first seven playoffs, Harris made 51 percent of his doubles.
Longtime NBA watchers can see where the trend might be. The Michael Jordan/Scotty Pippin Bowls needed huge final shots from John Paxons and Steve Keirs as they collected trophies for their legacy. LeBron James asked Korver to make his big shot in the 2017 Finals, and missing Match 3 from a short corner helped the Cavaliers lose to Golden State in five games.
At some point during the post-season in Brooklyn, perhaps in the Finals, Harris will likely get the ball, and a clear look, in his moment of truth position. If the final story of this year’s Big Three trial ends up in his hands, well, Harris doesn’t appear as a man who fears the consequences of failure.
He said, “If I had space, I’d shoot him.”
And if that crucial shot happened, Joe Harris would be much luckier than he is today.