The Early Struggles of Devin Harrs: Is He Turning a Corner?

Knicks Nets BasketballHeaded into this season, the Nets roster had two known quantities: Brook Lopez and Devin Harris. A quarter of a season in, Brook Lopez has more than held up his end of the deal as he’s on the verge of putting together a 20-10 season. Devin Harris on the other hand, is a bit of an enigma right now. After dealing with injuries in training camp and at the beginning of the regular season, Devo’s been back for the last 13 games and has struggled to find his shot, though there are some signs that he’s on the verge of turning it around.

After last night’s game against Cleveland where Harris had 22 points on 7-18 shooting, Devin has scored more than 20 points in back-to-back games for the first time this season. His performance Sunday, against the Hawks, was probably his finest all-around game to date, when he scored 23 points and made 9 assists in an otherwise irrelevant blowout loss. Against Cleveland, Devin struggled with his shot early, but went 5-8 in the second half, before committing a flagrant foul on Jamario Moon and getting ejected.

What’s been most concerning about Devo at the quarter-season mark is how his numbers seem to be regressing back to his days in Dallas when he wasn’t the first option on offense like he is now in New Jersey. While the 2007-08 Devin Harris was a solid player and nice get for Rod Thorn when he dumped Jason Kidd that spring, he’s not necessarily the kind of player you build your entire roster around.

Looking at some advanced statistics, Harris is actually currently playing at a lower level than he did when the Nets first acquired him from Dallas in 2008. Headed into Tuesday’s game, his Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is at 16.39, only a little above average, compared with 17.63 in 07-08. While his usage rate is up to about 26.2 possessions per 40 minutes (compared to 22 in 07-08), his assist ratio is 21.5, down from 27.2 and his True Shooting Percentage, which takes into account three-pointers and free throws, is a pedestrian 49 percent, down from 57.3 percent two years ago.

In reality, it’s Devin’s shooting that is most concerning and is the likely root of his regression. For a small point guard with durability issues, Harris has always been a fantastic finisher at the rim, shooting 56 percent on shots at the rim last season, and 60 percent the year before – spectacular numbers for a point guard. This season, he’s shooting 50 percent at the rim, while his free throw rate remains on par from the season before, and higher than it was in Dallas. So he’s attacking the basket with the same veracity, but on plays when he doesn’t get fouled, he’s not finishing as well. Harris is also scuffling on shots less than 10 feet from the rim. Last season he averaged about one of those shots per game, and shot 53 percent from that distance. This season, he’s settling for more short range jumpers, about 1.3 per game, and is shooting only 29 percent within 10 feet.

Meanwhile, while Harris has never been much of a long-range jump shooter, his field goal percentage on threes and long twos is even lower than it’s been in the past. He’s shooting 28 percent from 16-23 feet this year, compared with 39 percent last year, and 37 percent the year before, according to Hoop Data. On threes, his effective field goal percentage is 32.6 percent, compared with 43.7 percent last year and 48.0 percent the year before.

It’s also worth noting when Devin is shooting. Because he’s the first option on offense, he’s getting the ball with more consistency with the shot clock is winding down. According to 82games, 14 percent of Devin’s field goal attempts are coming with 4 seconds or less left on the shot clock, compared with 11 percent last year.

Now, a lot of this has to do with Devin’s teammates. Obviously, having a wingman like Vince Carter last season, and having guys like Dirk Nowitzski on in Dallas, took a lot of the opposition’s focus off of Harris. Now that he’s “the guy,” defenses know that if they stop Devin, the Nets can only turn to Brook Lopez, or hope someone like Courtney Lee or Chris Douglas-Roberts can emerge as a consistent weapon on offense. It hasn’t happened yet, and as a result, Harris is going to struggle more often than not.

Still, these numbers give pause to the idea that Devin Harris is an organizational centerpiece, aka “superstar,” that he appeared to be a year ago. Hopefully the past two games are the start of something good for Devin. If not, the Nets have to reevaluate if he’s really the cornerstone building block he was made out to be this past summer, when the organization traded the last of their all-stars away.