Posted Oct 1 2010 2:33PM
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Nets' pursuit of Carmelo Anthony is not over. The four-team trade that would have sent Derrick Favors to Denver, Devin Harris to Charlotte and Quinton Ross to Utah has been tabled. But the Nets will continue to look for ways to acquire the Nuggets' star.
Until then, though, they'll hold on to Harris and hope that, if he's still around in late October, that this season will be more like his All-Star effort in 2008-09 than his fall-off last season during a forgettable 12-win disaster.
Harris' true shooting percentage (a way of measuring points per shot attempt) was the lowest of his career last season. He shot just 40 percent and dropped from 9.7 free-throw attempts per game in 2008-09 to seven last season. And that's only half the battle he's going through.
Defensively, Harris has been struggling. Even in his All-Star season, Harris was a far cry from when he was considered a strong defender with the Mavericks.
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"He was a guy that we could count on for charges and steals, disrupting other offenses, deflections, and playing solid defense on our opponent's point guard," Nets head coach Avery Johnson said last week. "I didn't see that look in his eye [the last two years] as I watched from my media position."
Harris supported the Nets' move to bring his old coach to New Jersey. With Johnson on the bench, Harris' defense can't help but improve. Offensively, it will be the Nets' other additions that help Harris. The team's summer free-agent haul was pretty underwhelming at first glance, lacking both primary and secondary stars. But via Plan Y (for youth), New Jersey improved dramatically in one critical category: perimeter shooting. And that should be the key to Harris getting back to playing more efficiently.
When Harris was an All-Star, the Nets ranked ninth in 3-point percentage, shooting 38 percent. Vince Carter, Keyon Dooling, Jarvis Hayes and Bobby Simmons were all above-average 3-point shooters (41 percent combined) and complemented Harris' penetration game. The Nets' weren't a very good team overall, but their problems were more on defense than offense, where they ranked 14th in the league, scoring 105.4 points per 100 possessions.
Last season, Carter was in Orlando, Dooling and Hayes battled injuries, and Simmons barely played. As a result, New Jersey ranked 29th in the league by hitting just 32 percent of its threes. That allowed defenses to focus more on Harris. With only center Brook Lopez to count on offensively, the Nets ranked last in efficiency, scoring a putrid 98.1 points per 100 possessions.
Enter Jordan Farmar, Anthony Morrow, Troy Murphy and Travis Outlaw. They may not be big names, but they can all shoot. The four summer additions, all of whom will be major parts of the Nets' rotation, have combined to shoot 41 percent from 3-point range over the last two seasons.
Harris again has the shooters around him to make defenses pay for sagging into the lane.
"Every point guard needs space," Johnson said. "We feel that's going to be important for him to not have any excuses of why not to be aggressive."
Johnson will be holding Harris accountable on offense as well. He wants his point guard to be less of a shooter -- Harris has made just 28 percent of the 437 threes he's taken over the last two seasons -- and more of a penetrator. Even when Harris doesn't have the ball in his hands, he'll be looking to make cuts to the basket.
This won't be the spread-the-floor-and-let-Harris-attack offense that we saw from the Nets two years ago, though. There will be more screens, more ball movement and more player movement.
"We've got a lot of different weapons on this team," Harris said. "It's not as Devin-heavy as far as ball control, but with cuts and everything I do away from the ball, it fits right into what I do."
"We want the ball in his hands," Johnson added. "And if he gives it up, we want him to get it back."
Harris has missed 49 games to injury over the last three years. Knowing he needs to get to the rim more than he did last year, Harris bulked up this summer. He arrived at camp last week with a noticeably bigger upper body.
"The main focus is to stay healthy," Harris said. "With the way I play the game, how physical it is, the contact I take, the main thing is to put a little more poundage on, but to be able to take that beating that I put on myself game in and game out."
It promises to be a much better season for Harris. But, clearly, New Jersey is willing to part with its point guard in order to acquire the star it covets.
"I just come and prepare each day like I'm going to be here," Harris said Wednesday. "That's the only thing I can control."
Under Contract: G Devin Harris, C Brook Lopez, G-F Terrence Williams, F Kris Humphries (Player option)
Free Agents: F-C Josh Boone (Restricted), F-G Trenton Hassell (Unrestricted), F Jarvis Hayes (Unrestricted), G Chris Quinn (Unrestricted), F-G Bobby Simmons (Unrestricted)
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