Joe Harris got paid this offseason.
The former Virginia star inked a four-year, $75 million contract with the Brooklyn Nets, and the newly paid sharpshooter is expected to play a major role alongside stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.
Harris, who is sporting a new tattoo of his mom and grandmother on his arm this year, showcased his value in Brooklyn’s most recent preseason game. The Nets beat the Boston Celtics 113-89, and Harris chipped in 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting to complement the 42 combined points from Durant and Irving. Harris made four shots from 3-point range.
“He is a flamethrower, man,” Irving said.
Harris knows he isn’t the star for Brooklyn. He knows some nights he won’t be asked to be a major offensive force. He’s also excited to play a role next to two of the biggest stars in the league.
“Obviously, right now, those guys are our focal point offensively,” Harris said of Durant and Irving. “That’s how we’re going to play our best basketball. That’s how we’re going to be most productive. And I think across the board, a lot of other guys are going to have to adapt. Some games, we’re probably going to get a lot of looks when guys are collapsing on them. Other games, maybe not so much.”
Even though Harris isn’t the central point of the offense, he plays an important role.
A career 42% 3-point shooter, Harris stretches the floor about as well as anyone in the NBA. He’s not only a spot-up shooter, though. Harris makes 54% of his 2-point shot attempts dating back to his rookie season with Cleveland in 2014-15.
The efficiency and shooting prowess make him an ideal starter alongside superstars.
“We call it gravity,” Nets head coach Steve Nash said. “The defense is always going to gravitate toward him, which opens up space for playmakers. Making shots, that’s even more deadly. He’s a shot-maker, an elite shooter. Shoots a high percentage, but even nights he doesn’t make shots, he creates gravity for his teammates.”
Durant likes Harris’ willingness to run the floor. The two-time NBA champion says the shooter does well to beat defenses down the floor, spotting up from 3-point range and knocking down shots before defenses settle into their halfcourt set.
When Harris attracts attention from the defense and takes pressure off Durant and Irving, it makes Brooklyn’s offense more effective. Other players, such as Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie, also can take scoring pressure of the two marquee players.
“Some of those shots that he hit tonight, we’re gonna need him to hit more of those; like those tough, quick catch-and-shoot 3s,” Durant said. “That might throw the defense off balance a bit, and sometimes he might miss some of those shots, they might look like bad ones, but we need him to continue to get those up and build that confidence because when we want to win big games, we’re gonna need Joe to hit some of those big shots.”
The Nets believe they need a productive Harris to turn their championship dreams into reality.
Brooklyn opens its season Tuesday against Golden State, and Harris figures to play a key role against the Warriors, just as he will all season.
The former UVa star has come a long way since he entered the league. Harris spent two seasons in Cleveland, being largely an afterthought on the team’s roster construction. He started just one game in his first two seasons.
Slowly, Harris developed into an NBA starter. He’s started 145 games the past two seasons, and he’s grown into a critical piece on a championship contender.
“I tell you when we first got Joe in Cleveland, he was just regular Joe then and now he’s got a tattoo on his arm, he’s got long hair,” Irving said, “and he’s still shooting the crap out of the ball.”