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Timberwolves Offseason Targets Part II: Joe Harris

The sharp shooter out of Brooklyn will be a free agent this summer/fall. How would he potentially fit on the Wolves? Let’s discuss.

David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

If we have learned anything from the Timberwolves’ 2019-2020 NBA season, it is that this team can never have enough shooters.

As a result of his consistent play in Brooklyn over the past three seasons, sharpshooting wing Joe Harris will likely be in high demand this October. After the Nets acquired two regals in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and signed Caris LeVert to a manageable contract extension all just last summer, the Kings County squad may view the former Virginia Cavalier as an expected cap casualty.

Today, I will dive into what the market for Harris might be and how the former 3-point champ could fit with the Wolves.

Background

  • Team: Brooklyn Nets
  • College: Virginia
  • Age: 29
  • Experience: Sixth season
  • Position: Shooting Guard
  • Height: 6’6”
  • Wingspan: 6’6”
  • Weight: 220 pounds

Statistics

Per Game: 13.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.3 blocks, 1.5 turnovers on 30.9 minutes

Shooting Splits: 47.1 FG% / 74.7 FT% / 41.2 3P% on 11.2 FGA / 1.3 FTA / 5.9 3PA

Per 36 minutes: 16.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.3 blocks, 1.7 turnovers

Advanced: 59.2 TS%, 57.9 eFG%, 17.9 USG%, .094 WS/48 minutes, -0.5 BPM, 0.68 PIPM, 1.21 RAPM

Similarity Score + Contract Information

  • Note that these are not perfect, but rather a cool way to gain insight as to how a player stacks up to prior free agents. These are standard stats, but I am still working on the program so it can include advanced metrics as well.
Data courtesy of Spotrac.com

Here’s a breakdown of each player’s statistics in the season leading up to their free agency summer.

Data courtesy of Basketball Reference

Despite Harris’s similarity to highly-coveted free agents of recent memory, such as Malcolm Brogdon last summer and Wesley Matthews in 2015, he is not viewed in even remotely the same light as either player is. That is largely because Harris has a much narrower array of marketable, high-level NBA tools in his toolbox. Harris is seen most commonly as a one-trick pony that is an elite shooter who does not offer much else outside of that. In today’s NBA, these types of players rarely fetch contracts that become unpalatable for the teams they sign with.

Think about Seth Curry, for example, who was just signed last summer. Curry is an elite shooter, much like Harris, but also provides valuable PnR playmaking and ancillary scoring in the mid-range and at the rim. The Mavericks signed him to a four-year, $32 million contract last summer. That figure is important to keep in mind, perhaps more so than the average ballpark that my program provided, because Joe Harris offers similar production to a guy like Curry, but does not offer a secondary skillset on par with Curry’s.

Funny enough, Harris’s expiring contract is a two-year, $16 million contract - the same $8 million average annual value as Curry’s current deal. I will get into it later on, but, given that Harris offers less offensively than Seth Curry does, I would be rather surprised if Joe’s new deal is worth more than the one Curry signed in Dallas.

Strengths

Off-Ball Movement Shooting

Joe Harris is my favorite off-ball movement shooter to watch in the NBA. I have never seen a player with the consistent, perfect shooting form on tough off-balance jumpers that Harris flashes on a nightly basis.

This season, the Nets’ deadly long-range specialist is shooting an eFG percentage of 53.5 percent in off-screen actions and 53.8 percent in handoff actions. Per Synergy Sports, each of those marks put him in the 65th percentile league-wide, but when you factor in how many times Harris is forced off the 3-point line into mid-range dribble pull-ups, these numbers are pretty impressive. The eye-test certainly matches the statistics in this case.

Harris makes this play look so simple because he absolutely crushes the footwork involved. His approach to catch the pass from a good friend of the program, D’Angelo Russell, is perfectly efficient; Joe catches the pass while he is in between steps, so that he can plant his inside (left) foot first in order to minimize the steps needed to get into his shot. The right foot follows the left while remaining in an athletic position; he then squares his shoulders and fires from his high release point to drain the three over late-arriving, Roseville native Mike Muscala.

What about a more closely contested movement three? Maybe one in the clutch? Does that change his form?

No, it does not. Harris is supremely confident in his stroke to the point where he frankly does not care whether there is a defender closely following him or one right in his face. The fluidity and rhythm he displays in his sprint to a spot and the footwork that follows is an art form.

Lumber Joe teaches a masterclass on it night in and night out. (Side note, Ian Eagle is an unmatched play-by-play maestro). Even when the clock is winding down, the mechanics are still there and Harris still delivers.

Spot-Up/One-Dribble Shooting

There are certain guys in the NBA who make you swear at the TV when they catch the ball behind the arc for a wide open three. Harris definitely fits the description; the veteran shooter regularly makes defenses pay for affording him uncontested looks from deep. The 2019 NBA 3-Point Contest Champ is as good as they come behind the arc.

Joe ranks in the 96th percentile in unguarded catch and shoot opportunities this season. He has connected on an absurd 52.1 percent of his looks from deep on 140 (!) wide-open looks. That is a testament to not only Harris’s incredible accuracy from long range, but also his ability to hunt open space while he is playing off-ball and remain shot ready at all times.

Here, Hollis-Jefferson gets trapped, but does not panic. Harris sees the open corner and flows to the open area, slows down as a makeshift spot-up to make things easier for RHJ, and buries a three off a quick release.

Part of the reason the Timberwolves struggled mightily this season was the glaring need for shooters to help KAT out down on the block. As a result of the shooting deficiency, Towns often saw a second and third defender come his way while trying to operate in the post. The opportunity to flank Karl with three elite shotmakers in Harris, Beasley, and Russell could be a tough one to pass up, if it presents itself to the Wolves’ front office.

Man, it has to feel good when your point guard knows the shot is going in while it is still on the way up. We still have to get to his weaknesses, but count me in for wanting a DLo and Joe reunion. Coaches love the phrase “passer makes the shooter.” Do not get me wrong, the pass is definitely an important contributor to a shot going in, but the great shooters are able to reload and fire no matter where the pass is. Combine that with elite movement shooting and the clutch gene, and you have yourself an weaponized lightning in a bottle.

I may be an optimist when it comes to players’ best abilities, but I truly believe that Harris is already one of the league’s all-time greatest shooters, despite the relatively small sample size and career usage rate.

Very rarely do you see Ben Simmons play terrible defense, but it happens to the best of us. Simmons gets drawn all the way into the lane by the DLo drive, leaving Harris wide open. Russell is late on the pass, which Joe corrals at his left ankle with one hand, does not panic, and fires off a beautifully-looking trey.

Bottoms. Clutch gene activated. If only Ian Eagle was on the call that night...

Harris is also a smart transition player on the wing. In this clip, Joe knows that a diving big in transition has increased gravity, so he smartly spaces himself back out to the corner while the defenders take the big, spots-up, and drains the shot after a good feed from Russell. A great, simple example of smart, high-level off-ball basketball.

Another key skill that makes Harris such a dangerous, versatile shooting threat is his knack for using the dribble in order to relocate to open space or evade a defender flying for a contest.

In this play, Harris deploys a realistic shot fake that gets RoCo in the air and follows it up with a smooth, under control one dribble step-back to regain his rhythm for an easy look. Rhythm and feel is so crucial for shooters in the NBA, which makes a simple step-back an essential tool to have.

When a shooter feels rushed, I am always a proponent of taking a dribble to get to a different shot or passing out of it. Here, Harris calmly takes his time collecting the loose ball, takes one dribble to the corner to create extra space for himself, finds the right rhythm, and correctly positions his body to elevate for an easy look to start the game.

Harris has very few electrifying highlights to speak of, but his strengths are consistent and unquestionable. He is not a widely talked about player on NBA Twitter, or immediately thought of as a very impactful player, but Harris’s strengths are ones that every NBA team cannot get enough of; as a result, the sharpshooter will be able to find success on just about any NBA team.

Weaknesses

Athleticism

Joe Harris has never been a blow-by threat as a guard, which limits his upside at the rim. He tries to use a change of pace, coupled with head fakes, to get to the cup, but is pretty easily defended by longer, quicker defenders at the 2 and 3.

Even when he has a head of steam going towards the basket, defenders do not struggle to recover ground and close on him for a block. For someone who regularly flashes excellent footwork on perimeter shots, it can be head-scratching to see Harris fail to effectively utilize shot/ball fakes and deception to create an advantage on the drive and around the rim.

While he was a mostly sound NBA defender this year, as evidenced by his positive Defensive Real Adjusted Plus-Minus of 0.56, his athleticism can create problems on that end of the floor as well, especially in transition.

Harris fails to maintain an athletic stance and a low center of gravity, which enables the ball-handler to turn Joe’s hips twice and get by him, which forces the foul. Often times in the NBA, slower defenders are able to remain effective if they have great hands, defensive instincts, and timing. Here, however, Harris does not trust his slow feet, and immediately tries to reach on a rather slow player in Korkmaz, forcing a bad foul on the drive.

Finishing Around the Rim

Harris’s occasionally spotty ball-handling, coupled with slow feet, can lead to lethargic, awkward takes and layup attempts, too, which is a consistent problem Harris has faced in his career, as well.

He stands at 6’6”, 220 pounds, which is a rock solid frame for a 2 guard. Instead of going into bigger defenders to draw fouls, Joe often opts to cross the key and try to use his body as a shield from bigs. But, because he is not quick, and is not a particularly good finisher, he is susceptible to getting blocked.

Despite these weaknesses, Harris is a very solid player overall. His weaknesses can be minimized if he plays in a more spread out offense in which he can spend most of his time spotting up and running off screens or hand-off actions, instead of driving to the rim or trying to create for others off the dribble.

Ideally, he would be able to aggressively attack close-outs, but in Minnesota, he may not have to in order to create space for others.

Fit With Minnesota

Harris would be an excellent fit in Minnesota’s up-tempo, run-and-gun offense. As a team that is going to be top-five in the NBA in attempted threes next season, the Timberwolves are going to need all the shooting they can get, especially if Jarrett Culver and Josh Okogie continue to struggle from deep.

I envision Gersson Rosas and Sachin Gupta making at least one trade that could somewhat thin out the gluttony of smaller wings the team has. This could open the door for the team to use its full Mid-Level Exception (projected to be $9.775 million) on a player like Harris, who has extensive experience playing alongside D’Angelo Russell and working with Player Development coach Pablo Prigioni in Brooklyn.

Last season in Brooklyn, Joe Harris had one of the more prolific shooting seasons any player has ever had, from an efficiency standpoint, and much of it can be attributed to the insane offensive synergy DLo and Harris exhibited on the floor together. With DLo running the show, Harris ranked in the 95th percentile offensively in the half court, per Synergy Sports. Here are the play-type and statistical highlights (percentiles are league-wide figures):

  • Off Screen: 1.288 PPP | 97th percentile | 55.5 FG% on 238 FGA
  • Spot Up: 1.117 PPP | 80th percentile | 46.6 FG% on 238 FGA
  • Cut: 1.425 PPP | 79th percentile | 73.5 FG% on 34 FGA
  • Hand Off: 0.976 PPP | 63rd percentile | 39.7 FG% on 68 FGA
  • Jump Shots: 1.374 PPP | 99th percentile | 47.2 FG% (68.6 eFG%) on 369 FGA
  • Catch and Shoot: 1.484 PPP | 99th percentile | 49.8 FG% (74.0 eFG%) on 277 FGA
  • Off-Dribble Jumpers: 1.055 PPP | 89th percentile | 39.6 FG% (52.7 eFG%) on 91 FGA

Not to mention, Harris out-paced the league shooting 47.2 percent from 3 on 386 attempts. That figure was good for fourth all-time among shooters with that volume from deep.

While sharing the floor with Russell, Harris ranked in the 99th percentile league-wide in points per shot attempt. He held the top figure in the entire NBA among all off-ball wing starters at 129.3.

Additionally, the Nets’ collective effective field goal percentage rose by 4.4 percent when Harris was on the floor, which trailed only Danny Green for the largest positive swing among starters in the NBA last season. For a team so devoid of shooting in the past few seasons, Harris’s shooting would be a huge shot in the arm for the entire lineup.

On other end of the floor, lineups with DLo and Harris played average defense, allowing 111.2 points per possession. That was good for the 47th percentile among all NBA lineup combinations, per Cleaning the Glass. Not as bad as you would have thought it was, right?

It is important to note, too, that these lineups gave up the lowest free-throw rate in the entire league (12.1 percent of possessions, 100th percentile) among lineups with greater than 975 minutes played. Per CTG, all Timberwolves lineups ranked in the 27th percentile collectively, allowing free-throws on 22.0 percent of defensive possessions.

Outside of his fit with DLo, Harris would fit extremely well alongside Karl-Anthony Towns. His ability to relocate off the ball and help trapped bigs by moving to where they can throw the ball would stretch the defense, force second and third defenders off of KAT, and allow him to go to work on the block. Thanks to his evolution as a passer, KAT would also help Harris on inside-out passes. Harris did not get much help from the defensively-minded bigs he played with in Jarrett Allen and Ed Davis in Brooklyn.

Defensively, Harris is a solid defender who would have to guard opposing teams’ smaller 2-guards and wings. He can be overpowered by bigger 3s on the block. He fits best as a 2 on offense as well, so deploying him alongside DLo and Josh Okogie would be the best fit from a defensive standpoint.

I would love to see Harris in a Timberwolves uniform next season and there is a very clear path to acquire him. Because the Nets are in cap jail from extending Caris LeVert after signing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving last summer, a sign-and-trade could be a very feasible option in this situation as well. With creative minds at the table at Mayo Clinic Square, in the words of our beloved KG, “anything is possible.”

Until then, I will just be imagining what an offense featuring DLo, Harris, Beasley, and KAT would do to opposing defenses.