Is Devin Harris a Top PG? How About Top 20?

A year ago, a January match-up of Chris Paul and Devin Harris would have been touted as a game highlighting two of the best young point guards in the league. Unfortunately, for Harris and the Nets, tonight’s game against Paul and the Hornets no longer seems to have that feel to it.

Devo’s decline from last season has been well documented at Nets Are Scorching. But tonight’s game got me thinking about how Harris now stacks up against the rest of the league’s point guards. After having the fourth best Player Efficiency Rating (PER) among point guards last season, I think an argument can be made that the 2009-10 version of Devin Harris is not even a top 20 point guard in the league.

Trust me; this is not a statement I make lightly – especially because so much of the Nets rebuilding efforts are centered around the idea that they currently have young talent at PG and Center – two of the hardest positions to fill in the NBA.  But stats are stats – and currently, Devo’s stats are very mediocre.

Let’s start with some overall indicators. Devin’s PER is currently 16.15, 1.15 higher than average, according to John Hollinger’s estimates.  Among PGs who are on pace to play more than 500 minutes this season, Devin is ranked 22nd in PER. The top five are Chris Paul (26.4), Steve Nash (24.64), Deron Williams (20.31), Chauncey Billups (19.96) and Rajon Rondo (19.83).

Looking at some of the other names in front of Harris, we can probably disqualify a few of them to help his cause. Luke Ridnour (19.26) is only averaging 22.2 minutes per game and plays PG and SG equally for Milwaukee, so let’s cross him off. Tyreke Evans (18.23) has actually played more SG than PG this season, with Beno Udrih doing a solid job at the point in Sacramento – so let’s disqualify Evans for positional reasons, though he’s certainly having a better season than Devin.  Nate Robinson (17.47) has been benched for the better part of the season and is not a PG, so we can disqualify him. And Sergio Rodriguez is the backup PG on Sacramento and is only getting 14 minutes per game, so we can probably knock him off the list based on quantity of minutes. So in terms of PER, Devin Harris is 18th among PGs who actually play the position full-time and are primarily starters.

The next metric to consider is value added, the estimated number of points a player adds for a season over a replacement level player. Devo’s VA of 65.8 is good for 23rd among PGs. Of the names we eliminated before, only Ridnour and Evans show up again, so let’s say Devo is ranked 21st here. A few new names jumped ahead of Devo based on VA – Andrew Miller, Raymond Felton, Aaron Brooks and Jason Kidd (remember him?).

Now let’s look at some specific aspects of Devin’s game.  He’s never been known as a good jump shooter for a PG, but last year, his True Shooting percentage (which accounts for three pointers and free throws), was 56 percent, which is certainly above average. Devo’s TS% this season is .499, good for 51st at his position.  Looking at Hoopdata’s shooting percentage, of all the PGs in the league who have played in at least 20 games, and are averaging about 20+ minutes a game, only three players – Chris Duhon, Derek Risher and Rafer Alston, have a lower field goal percentage. Devin Harris’ 38.6 percent from the field, is good for 40th at the position based on the 20 and 20 parameters.

So for a PG, what is Devin Harris doing well you ask?  Even with his off year, he’s still a good scoring PG, averaging 16.4 points and ranked 13th for all point guards with 20 starts and 20 minutes per game. And he still knows how to draw a foul. His 6.9 free throw attempts per game is good for a first place tie for the position.

The bottom line, a string of good starts by Devin could quickly thrust him back into the top section of most statistical categories for point guards, but he’s yet to have a streak like that this season. A case could be made that he’s still not 100 percent healthwise, but until he proves otherwise, I think it’s difficult for us to consider Devin a top-flight PG in the league. So, in advance of Sebastian’s pregame report, it’s advantage Paul by a mile.