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John Schuhmann

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Injuries and a suspect supporting cast have cost Devin Harris and the Nets.
David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

If the Nets are to improve, Harris will have to show the way


Posted Feb 3 2010 11:26AM

There are seven first-timers on the rosters for the 59th NBA All-Star Game in Dallas next weekend. The Nets' Devin Harris was one of those guys in Phoenix last year.

This year, Harris is one of 11 (10 if Chauncey Billups is selected to replace Chris Paul) 2009 All-Stars who won't be on the floor at Cowboys Stadium on Feb. 14. Harris will be in Dallas next week, but not in an official capacity for two obvious reasons:

No. 1: You don't make the All-Star team when your own team is on pace for the worst record in NBA history.

No 2: Harris' numbers (15.6 points per game, 6.2 assists per game, 38 percent shooting) are way down from last year.

The two go issues hand in hand. The Nets are as bad as they are because Harris hasn't been playing well, and Harris hasn't been playing well because the Nets are as bad as they are.

Health is at the heart of it all. Harris has missed 15 games with a sprained ankle in November and a sprained wrist in January. Injuries to other key members of the Nets' rotation have totaled close to another 100 games missed.

When Harris has played, he hasn't been 100 percent. And he hasn't had a very good supporting cast. Those two factors have resulted in a regression from his breakout season of a year ago.

"Last year, he was healthy until the end of the season," Nets president Rod Thorn said Tuesday. "And we also had Vince Carter, which I think helped Devin, in it took some pressure off him.

"Carter demanded a double-team, so that left driving lanes open. We also shot the ball from outside very well [last year]."

The Nets ranked ninth in the league in 3-point shooting last season, connecting on 38 percent. The ability of Carter, Keyon Dooling, Jarvis Hayes and Bobby Simmons to knock down shots created space for Harris to do his thing.

This season, the Nets rank 29th, shooting a miserable 29 percent. Carter is in Orlando, Simmons hasn't been in the rotation, and Dooling and Hayes have combined to play just 37 games thus far.

"So what's everybody doing?," Thorn asks. "They're double-teaming our post player, [Brook] Lopez, and they're cutting off driving lanes. And that's Devin's game. So he's running into a wall. He's got to beat three or four guys."

Of course, some of it is on Harris. And Tuesday's game against the Pistons was Exhibit A for that argument. In returning from a four-game absence, Harris was more aggressive than he's been all season. He pushed the ball down the floor, attacked the basket, found Lopez on the run, and found shooters on the perimeter. Harris finished with 24 points (one shy of his season high), a season-high 14 assists and went to the line 11 times.

It was the best he's played since last March.

"To me, that's a normal Devin game," Nets coach Kiki Vandeweghe said afterward. "His wrist is better, he's going to be aggressive and that's what we've come to expect from him."

The question is: Where had that Harris been all season?

"In the time off that I had, I took a look at what I was doing last year, how I was effective and how I could bring that back," Harris said. "Obviously, transition is a big part of that, getting down before the defense can set up, trying to get guys open shots early, and just trying to attack them as much as I can."

The Nets still shot poorly (4-for-15) from 3-point range. But Harris' play kept them in the game until Detroit went to a zone late in the fourth quarter and cut off those driving lanes. The other issue down the stretch was what has been the issue for the last two seasons: Harris' defense.

Both this season and last, the Nets have been better defensively with Harris on the bench than they've been with him on the floor. Last season, though, the statistical boost he provided on offense outweighed the harm he caused on defense. This season, it hasn't.

Harris' lack of focus on that end of the floor is part of the problem, but it also goes back to the supporting cast. If he was teamed with better interior defenders, guys who erase mistakes, Harris wouldn't look so bad defensively.

Nets Efficiency, 2008-09
With Devin Harris on/off floor
On/Off Off. Rat. Def. Rat.
On floor 107.1 109.1
Off floor 102.4 106.6
Difference 4.6 2.4
Nets Efficiency, 2009-10
With Devin Harris on/off floor
On/Off Off. Rat. Def. Rat.
On floor 97.7 113.4
Off floor 92.3 101.9
Difference 5.4 11.4
Off. Rat. = Points scored per 100 possessions
Def. Rat. = Points allowed per 100 possessions

Of course, that's not happening anytime soon. Lopez and Yi Jianlian will never be mistaken for Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett. And unless Thorn and Vandeweghe use some of their expiring contracts to pull off a deadline deal for some more talent, the Nets will have to work with what they have.

This season was about building a foundation for the future, but 47 games into the season, there's nary a block in place. As Thorn puts it, "We're about at square 1 or 2 here."

Thirty-five games remain. And with them come two objectives: Win some games to avoid making history, and win some games so the players can believe in themselves.

"We need to play better the last half of the season," Thorn said, "because when you've got a lot of young guys, you need to have success to get their confidence up."

All stats are through Tuesday, February 2 and were compiled with the help of the NBA and StatsCube.

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John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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