Joe Harris Shouldn’t Start, But Can Finish for the Brooklyn Nets

Joe Harris, a journeyman wing out of the University of Virginia, has found a role on the young Brooklyn Nets this season. While he isn’t as effective in the starting lineup, he has earned coach Kenny Atkinson‘s trust late in games.

It’s an old coaching mantra: there are players who start games, and then there are players who finish games.

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Joe Harris is one of those finishers and has carved out a role for himself this season as a key part of the Nets’ closing lineups.

Finding the five-man unit that closes out games is one of the hardest jobs NBA coaches have. It’s a job that becomes even harder when a team, like the Brooklyn Nets this season, lacks top-tier talent.

Harris, who signed a two-year deal with the Nets this past summer, is one of those solid, but unspectacular players able to find a role on virtually any team in the league. He doesn’t jump out of the gym, but can surprise with athleticism and smarts.

Harris brings a defensive versatility, with the ability to guard both guard spots and the strength to hold his own in the post. He’s also a good shooter, making close to 36 percent of his attempts from deep this season.

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Harris is the rare player who seems more comfortable coming off the bench. Head coach Kenny Atkinson has repeatedly trusted Harris down the stretch of close games. Only Brook Lopez and Sean Kilpatrick, the Nets’ two most dynamic offensive players, average more fourth quarter minutes than Harris.

In nine starts this season, Harris is averaging just 5.8 points per game and shooting 39 percent from the floor and 25 percent from deep. As a reserve, those numbers jump to 9.4 points per game with 44/38 shooting splits.

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There is probably a bit of noise in those numbers, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that Harris is better suited to a bench role. He lacks the talent to compete against the great starting lineups of the NBA, but he can be a weapon against weaker bench units.

Some interesting fourth quarter numbers also help to understand why Atkinson continues to call his number late. Harris makes 49 percent of shots and hits threes at a 49 percent clip in the fourth quarter, per NBA.com.

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His game doesn’t announce itself, but rather adds to others and plays off teammates. Harris is best spotting up around penetration for jumpers and occasionally attacking the rim. In the more wide-open first quarters, periods that require more explosion and creation, Harris can look lost.

But in the fourth quarter, when the game gets tighter, Harris can be valuable. He works hard on both ends of the court and complements the offense Lopez and Kilpatrick provide.

Atkinson has had to juggle his starting lineups a bit with Jeremy Lin missing an extended amount of time, but he should try to keep Harris locked into a bench role. The Nets have a number of young, intriguing wings they can start, and Harris has proven he doesn’t need to be on the court at the game’s opening to be effective at its closing.

The Nets took a chance on the 25-year-old Harris this summer, hoping to score on a buy-low deal. It has largely worked out in their favor.

Harris probably won’t ever turn into a player who wins games for a team. But he’s undoubtedly a capable player who won’t lose his team the game either. He provides solid defense and shooting, two qualities that have never been more valuable than they are in the current NBA.

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