Don’t let the rise of Joe Harris go underappreciated during a Brooklyn Nets offseason that will be remembered for free agency, not FIBA.
What a long strange trip it’s been for the bearded wonder, Joe Harris. While the Brooklyn Nets offseason stole headlines for the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving signings, Harris is flying under the radar.
However, the sharpshooter from the state of Washington could soon take center stage during the typically dull month of September. With the 2019 FIBA World Cup approaching, Harris has a legitimate chance to make the final roster and represent his country on the world’s stage.
And in a poetic way, his rise with Team USA mirrors his NBA career. Once a castoff, Harris is staring down a chance that doesn’t come around often. The NBA’s leading three-point shooter in 2018-19 has always found a way to succeed when given the right opportunity.
Shortly after Harris was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2015, the team signed LeBron James and the franchise’s focus turned to championships. On one hand, that could be an enviable situation for a rookie to find himself.
But in Harris’ case, he found himself struggling to scrounge up minutes with the Cavs. Cleveland was looking to break a city-wide championship drought and there was little time to let Harris learn on the fly. It wasn’t a situation where Harris could develop at his own pace.
Appearing on Barstool Sports’ “Pardon My Take” podcast, Harris talked about the struggle to find his niche in Cleveland.
“I get drafted by Cleveland, a young team, pre-LeBron, brand new coach with a developing team and then overnight, it changes to a championship contender when LeBron comes back,” Harris said. “So, it’s basically me in this situation where if I’m not helping them play at a championship level, I’m not gonna play. The opposite was in Brooklyn. I got a chance, I got an opportunity but I was able to learn through my mistakes. We were a young developing team and they wanted guys to take their wounds right away and develop in that direction.”
Harris is quick to highlight the difference between Cleveland and Brooklyn, and for good reason. He went from a perennial championship contender to a franchise in the dark ages of a brutal rebuild. And it could have been the move that saved his career.
With the Nets, Harris had the opportunity that eluded him for so long with the Cavaliers. He was able to learn on the fly and make mistakes without the pressure of championship expectations hanging over the team.
In his first season with Brooklyn, Harris played 21.9 minutes per game after spending two years buried on Cleveland’s bench. With his inaugural season with the Nets, he shot 38.5% from deep and started to flash some serious potential.
His workload has increased in all three years with Brooklyn, topping 30 minutes per game last season. As a result of his stable spot in the rotation, he increased his three-point percentages in all three years as well. His sterling 47.4% mark from downtown last season was a remarkable feat for someone whose NBA future was in serious jeopardy three short years ago.
All Harris needed was the right opportunity to prove his worth.
After establishing himself as a legitimate NBA rotational player and one of the game’s best shooters, Harris has the chance to cross off another item on his bucket list: play for Team USA.
This opening was unexpected. Originally chosen to play with the USA Select Team, Harris was only supposed to come to training camp in August and compete in a tune-up scrimmage for the guys heading to the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China.
But a slew of dropouts has Harris in a position to make the final roster. Team USA with its full complement of players wouldn’t include Harris. Guys like James Harden, Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, and other stars are clearly a step above Harris.
But think of this current group of guys competing as the Team USA equivalent of the 2016-17 Brooklyn Nets. It’s not a perfect analogy because they are still going to be the favorite to win the World Cup, but you get the idea. This team is a serious downgrade in talent from the average Team USA roster.
There are stars, but no transcendent superstars. Kemba Walker is probably the best player who will make the team, followed by fellow point guard Kyle Lowry. Each player has only one All-NBA team on his resume.
That leaves ample room for someone like Harris to slide in and inhabit a niche. The University of Virginia product is the best shooter at training camp, hands down. He shot 48.1% on catch-and-shoot threes last season. Not to mention, he’s a savvy cutter and underrated with the ball in his hands. His elite shooting and underrated versatility could be mighty valuable for head coach Gregg Popovich.
What Comes Next
While the perfect opportunity to represent his country mirrors his renaissance with the Brooklyn Nets, nothing is certain for Harris. Despite his value as a floor spacer and a knockdown three-point threat, he is likely to be on the bubble for a roster spot.
This could be his one and only chance to play for Team USA. With the Olympics on tap for 2020, don’t expect to see the same hesitancy to play from the country’s brightest stars. Even in a picture-perfect scenario, it’s next-to-impossible to imagine Harris making the Olympic roster in 2020.
So once again, Harris is staring at a major career opportunity. If his NBA trajectory is any indication, expect Harris to be on the plane heading to China in late August. He’s beaten the odds before and it will be difficult for the coaching staff to pass on him.