When we look back at NBA history, the 2019 offseason will be known as the summer of transformation. There was such a large quantity and quality of stars who changed teams; Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, just to name a few.
There were even more role players who picked a new jersey to wear as well. Change was the name of the game.
The Brooklyn Nets were one of the major pivots on which these changes hinged. They added the obvious names like Irving and Durant, and their friend DeAndre Jordan.
However, they also acquired quality supporting pieces Taurean Prince, Wilson Chandler and Garrett Temple. With those acquisitions came departures: Brooklyn completed a sign-and-trade with De’Angelo Russell to the Golden State Warriors. They also lost Allen Crabbe (trade), Ed Davis (free agency), Jared Dudley (free agency), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (free agency) and Shabazz Napier (trade). When it was all said and done, only four teams lost more 2018-19 minutes than Brooklyn: the Los Angeles Clippers, Indiana Pacers, Washington Wizards and Memphis Grizzlies.
Even with all the disruption, there is some important continuity when we talk about sixth-year wing Joe Harris.
Harris played over 2,200 minutes last season, which accounts for about one-fourth of Brooklyn’s returning players. And he straight bombed it. Not bombed as in failed; bombed as in killed it from behind the three-point line.
In what’s become a trend throughout his career, he took and made more shots behind the arc than ever before. After attempting 359 threes in 2017-18 and hitting 41.9 percent of them (both career-highs at the time), he blew past that number in 2018-19 by connecting on a Kyle Korver-esque 47.9 percent of his outside shots.
Harris has officially reached elite shooter status, and that spacing will be a huge benefit to his new teammates. He’s able to hit shots in tight spaces and do so in a hurry. This allows head coach Kenny Atkinson to get creative and draw sets to get his sharpshooter open looks.
This play begins in a box formation with the now-departed Russell dropping the ball off to swingman Caris LeVert—one of the other few returning Nets, but another key one nonetheless—on the left-wing and running off a flare screen to the weak side. Harris, starting on the right block, feigns a second flare screen for his point guard, which forces his man to hesitate in anticipation of having to help on the pick.
He proceeds to shoot across the free-throw line as center Jarrett Allen—another incumbent, also important—hunts his man for a screen. From there, it’s a simple catch-and-shoot for No. 12. Well, simple for him at least.
Speaking of catch-and-shoots, Harris is elite in that category as well. He made 48.1 percent of his 322 looks from behind the arc. That ranked first among all players to attempt at least 200 such shots last season.
Despite Brooklyn losing All-Star point guard Russell, they gained All-NBA Kyrie Irving. Both are ball-dominant and love to have the offense built around them. Irving will likely “hog” the ball similar to Russell, but he also understands how defenses revolve around him and (usually) knows when to capitalize on that pressure with a pass to open teammates.
Irving gets a matchup he likes in the video above and pulls it up top while his teammates spread the floor to give him space. The defense is also concerned about this matchup, which is why Trevor Ariza plants himself on the left elbow instead of closer to his man in the corner.
Instead of forcing the issue, Irving whips a pass to Marcus Smart in the corner for an easy three.
Make no mistake about it, Smart is not Harris. And Harris’ defender will not disrespect him by sagging so far off him on the perimeter. When that happens, it’s a win either way for the Nets’ offense. The new point guard will have even more room to exploit potential mismatches, or Harris will knock down a three using even a sliver of the look an average shooter like Smart is afforded.
Irving brings the ball up the floor above and receives a liberal screen from Al Horford, who then rolls to the hoop. As the ball-handler’s man gets caught up on the pick, the help defender slides over from the corner to cut off the drive.
Now imagine the Nets putting Harris in the corner here instead, and it creates a nightmare decision for the opposing team. Harris will bury this shot more often than not, and when the defense stays tight to him, it creates a two-on-one advantage for Irving and either Jordan or Allen.
Similar to Russell, the new Nets’ point guard is also a pick-and-roll demon. He’s able to exploit defenses thanks to his elite handles and pull-up shooting, being just enough of a willing passer to keep defenses on their heels.
Irving receives another ball-screen from Horford, this time to the middle of the court. Despite the ineffectiveness of the pick itself, the point guard’s nearly able to get to the free-throw line and draw the defense. Most importantly, Mike Conley sinks deep into the paint to tag the rolling Horford, pulling himself away from his man on the three-point line in the process.
Irving finds his guy with a nifty behind the back pass, and the ball goes in for three points.
Harris will kill teams as the weakside player in these pick-and-roll situations. He forces the defender to choose between preventing a lob over the top to a big like Jordan or Allen (both of whom thrive on that stuff) or giving up an open three to one of the game’s most lethal shooters.
Even though Harris won’t have the ball in his hands a lot, he’ll still take a tremendous amount of pressure off Irving. Especially until Durant returns in 2020 and the whole offensive hierarchy will evolve again.
In either scenario, Atkinson will be able to draw up plays for the sharpshooter from time to time in order to give his star(s) a rest. Harris will also pull at least one defender 24 feet from the basket at all times, giving the remainder of his teammates more space to work with. This goes beyond just Irving and Durant as well.
Levert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Taurean Prince, Rodion Kurucs and many of the other Nets will have nice cutting lanes to work with, especially as pressure release valves for Brooklyn’s stars. They all can provide their own smaller doses of spacing, along with Temple, opening things up for swing and over-the-top passes to keep a defense shifting until it breaks.
Speaking of defense, we haven’t discussed that much here, and Irving’s definitely not a plus addition. Then again, Russell wasn’t either, and many of Brooklyn’s new and returning pieces have enough defensive aptitude to believe this work-in-progress will again achieve respectability under Atkinson. It’s the offense where their unknown (and higher) ceiling really lies.
It’s early, but Harris can track toward becoming one of the all-time greats behind the arc. His outside shooting allows him to naturally affect the game every single play he’s on the court.
Both the Nets’ new and old weapons are going to reap the benefit in a big way.
I cover the Milwaukee Bucks as a contributor for Forbes Sports and BrewHoop. I am also the creator of @BucksFilmRoom on Twitter and YouTube. I bring the game to you and am able to tell stories about the Bucks using analytics and video in order to help you become a smarter fan.