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Harris’ Horrid D Is Making Him Unplayable & Possibly Untradeable
The Nets, in their first game of the post-Kyrie Irving era and still absent injured starters Kevin Durant, Ben Simmons, and Seth Curry, put up a hell of a fight before falling to the visiting Clippers, 124-116, on Monday night. Cam Thomas continued to serve notice of his wondrous scoring ability with a second consecutive virtuoso performance, contributing 47 points in the defeat after dropping 44 on the Wizards on Saturday. It took professional execution by the Clippers star duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George down the stretch to put away the frisky Nets.
Another way to look at the game was that the Nets let it get away. They were outscored 25-9 over the final six minutes, turning what would have been a more inspirational result than Saturday’s victory, considering the caliber of opponent, into a missed opportunity, especially considering that they are slated for a difficult engagement when Devin Booker returns to action for Phoenix in Tuesday’s back-to-back.
Brooklyn (32-21) dropped to fifth place in the Eastern Conference with their eighth loss in the 13 games KD has missed due to an MCL sprain. Despite Thomas’ herculean effort and excellent outings from guard Edmond Sumner (23 points) and center Nic Claxton (15 points, 16 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 2 steals), it wasn’t enough, and that should sting.
Brooklyn Head Coach Jacque Vaughn does not seem like a man who embraces moral victories, and neither should Nets fans. Though basketball is a team game, if Vaughn did any soul-searching after the loss, he shouldn’t have had any trouble spotting the most the glaring individual culprit.
That would be Joe Harris, who was appropriately benched for the entirety of Saturday’s fourth quarter yet was allowed by Vaughn to run for all but 2:09 of Monday night’s final frame. The Nets’ lengthy list of walking wounded notwithstanding, Harris has almost become unplayable thanks to his horrid defense.
Never known for his foot speed before an ankle injury prematurely ended his 2021-22 campaign after 14 games and required multiple surgeries, Harris simply can’t keep up when guarding opposing wings these days. Harris also stood no chance when scram switching onto L.A. center Ivica Zubac in the paint, but in those situations he was more a victim of unfortunate circumstances—the Nets’ injuries have left them severely undersized.
The main issue was that the Clippers abused Harris off the dribble unmercifully for much of the game--and then took extra steps during their decisive run to ensure he’d be the defender switching onto either Leonard or George, making attacking the basket a much easier task. To misappropriate a line from the film “Best in Show”, they attacked Harris like he was made out of ham.
The dagger came with 57 seconds remaining, when Harris got beat on Nicolas Batum’s cut to the basket off a baseline inbounds pass from Reggie Jackson. Harris’ foul could not prevent the layup and Batum’s ensuing free throw put L.A. up 121-116.
In past years, an argument could be made about how Harris’ offensive impact as one of the NBA’s best all-time three-point shooters more than compensated for what he gave back on defense. That hasn’t been the case for most of this season—he took two shots (at least making both) in 28 minutes of action on Monday night.
Although Harris has gotten his three-point percentage this season above 40% after a slow start, his effective field goal percentage is his lowest since 2016-17, his first season in Brooklyn. His presence still provides gravity that is useful to run an efficient offense, but he’s been more decoy than weapon. He hasn’t even been all that effective this season in attacking hard closeouts, with just 55 field goal attempts in the restricted area in 46 games played—he took 137 such attempts in 69 games two seasons ago, according to NBA.com.
The reason I’m bringing this up is, as New York Post reporter Brian Lewis likes to say, twofold. Obviously, I’m still bitter about the loss, but, more importantly, it underscores the difficulty the Nets will have in finding another trade partner to boost their chances of competing for a title in their remaining superstar’s mind.
With Irving shipped to Dallas on Sunday and Durant’s headspace regarding how he wants to proceed when he returns to health unknown, Nets General Manager Sean Marks has reportedly been working the phones looking to make a big splash. In order to get that done, Marks will likely need Harris’ approximately $18.6 million salary (he is also due to count about $19.9 million against next season’s cap) to be offloaded in exchange for any player of substance.
Given Harris’ numbers and eye tests, it’s no wonder a team like Atlanta balked at that proposition in a reported John Collins deal earlier in the season, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. If the rumors that Marks was checking in on the availability of Toronto star Pascal Siakam before finalizing the Irving trade for Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, and picks were accurate, it’s hard to imagine the Nets being able to match Siakam’s $35.4 million salary without including Harris.
I don’t think Harris and his contract are in the Ben Simmons “I’ll need a first-round pick to take that off your hands” category in terms of trade value, but he’s certainly no longer as coveted as he was pre-injury. That makes his inconsistent play a micro and a macro problem for Brooklyn.
Then again, Thomas’ historic feat—he’s the second-youngest player behind LeBron James to ever notch consecutive 40-point games—has put his potential trajectory in an intriguing new light in the eyes of NBA GMs. Thomas has been labelled, not all that unfairly, as a one-dimensional volume scorer, which is why he had often been tethered to the Nets bench. As he’s gotten more into the flow of games this past week, other aspects of his game like playmaking and defense, while still far from outstanding, have improved.
But Thomas’ core NBA skill has always been his ability to ger buckets in a variety of ways. Well, except for behind the three-point line, where he had knocked down just 28.8% of his career attempts through January 28. If his recent scorching shooting from deep (7-for-11 on Monday night, 16-for-28 over his last four games) isn’t too much of a fluke, he can take his game to a whole new stratosphere.
That click you just heard was Marks hanging up the phone on executives demanding Thomas’ inclusion in an offered trade that also involved Harris.