Brooklyn's Joe Harris Elevates Alongside James Harden

When Joe Harris led the NBA in 3-point percentage in 2018-19, he was 64th in the NBA in 3-pointers attempted, with 5.1 per game. That number went up to 5.9 last season, and through this season it’s up to 6.9, but it’s really over the last two weeks that Harris’ attempts have taken a huge leap, to 8.2 per game. He put up eight against Toronto on Friday, making five while leading the Nets with 19 points.

That stretch coincides with the acquisition of James Harden, who played his 10th game as a Net on Friday night.

Harden’s arrival gave the Nets a fearsome big three of himself, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving. That combination helps keep defenses spread out, opening opportunities for everybody, and Harris is taking advantage with a quick-trigger mentality.

“When these guys are coming off the ball, they’re such savvy offensive players, it’s usually because I have a little bit of space,” said Harris. “When I know that and I know that I have a little bit of space, the ball comes my way, it’s almost instantaneous that the shot’s going up. I’m not giving it a ton of thought. There’s not a lot of indecision there. The ball comes my way, I’ve got to let it fly. Make or miss, it’s good for us because it helps create a little bit more space for guys maybe the next time down and the following possession after that.”

Harris is connecting at a career-high rate as well, hitting 49.4 of his threes, fourth in the league. Last Sunday, he made a career-high eight against Washington while matching his career-high with 30 points. He’s up to sixth in the league in 3-pointers made per game, with 3.4. Two years ago, when he led the league in 3-point percentage, he was 25th with 2.4.

With this array of offensive weapons, coach Steve Nash has been staggering them in different combinations throughout the game. In particular, Harris regularly teams with Harden and a combination of three players off the bench.

While the big three of Durant, Irving, and Harden has played 165 minutes together, Harden has played 305 with Harris, an average of 30.5 per game. The Harden/Harris combo is Brooklyn’s second-most active pairing on the court in minutes per game over the last two weeks, behind Durant/Irving and even with Durant/Harden. The Nets are posting a 121.3 offensive rating during Harris and Harden’s minutes together.

“James is an elite-level scorer, an elite-level playmaker, an elite-level passer,” said Harris. “So he’s putting guys in all the right places. A lot of that he does just by the way that he plays. He commands so much attention. He makes the right basketball plays, too. People are collapsing on him, he sees there’s a momentary lapse from the guy defensively. He exploits it, takes advantage of it and it benefits all the guys that are on the court with him.”

After three straight seasons leading the NBA in scoring in Houston, Harden’s arrival in Brooklyn has brought the attention back to the full scope of his game. In 2016-17, he led the league with 11.2 assists per game, and he’s leading the league with 11.3 this season after averaging 12.0 assists in his first 10 games as a Net.

With a focus on facilitating, Harden is averaging 23.4 points for the Nets, 10 fewer than last season, and attempting 14.7 shots per game, his fewest since his third pro season in Oklahoma City, before he moved to Houston for a lead role. And he’s averaging 7.4 rebounds after posting four triple-doubles in his first 10 games for the Nets. He’s had a points/assists double-double in nine games.

“Just coming to this team and obviously leading the league in scoring the last few years, not many players can just try to switch up their entire game and focus on other things. Not many players can,” said Harden after Tuesday’s win over the Clippers. “But just me I know the roster, I know who we have on this team. Scoring isn't everything. So I try and impact the game in other ways. I try and get my shooters involved, obviously Kevin and Ky get them easier looks when they can. Get our bigs easy touches around the rim and defensively just getting after it. Taking upon the challenge, whoever coach makes me guard that night taking on the challenge to make it tough on them every single night. It's not about points for me, it's not about stats for me. It's about getting the win. I think since I've been here I've tried to do whatever it takes for us to have a win and I think that's all that matters.”

“He’s an incredible player,” said Nets coach Steve Nash. “I know we see his scoring and playmaking ability, but his intelligence is special, defensively as well. He sees it, he reads it, he has an understanding at that end of the floor as well. So I think he’s in a position where he’s grateful for this opportunity, he wants to win, and he’s willing to sacrifice, and so his leadership has been great. And as he plays himself into shape here, his production’s been amazing. He was conference player of the week. So he’s been incredible to add to our group and we’re fortunate to have him.”