The most amazing part of the free-agent coup in which Nets general manager Sean Marks signed stars Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and DeAndre Jordan while adding several other veteran role players is that he was able to maintain the key elements of the youthful core group he developed over the past three seasons. That includes budding star Caris LeVert, sixth man Spencer Dinwiddie, young big men Jarrett Allen and Rodions Kurucs and last, but far from least, 2018-19 NBA three-point percentage champion Joe Harris.
Despite the fact Durant might miss the entire season rehabbing his surgically repaired right Achilles tendon and Irving has been limited by facial fractures, the Nets have a deep cast that was on display as they completed a two-game preseason sweep of the Lakers with a 91-77 victory Saturday in Shenzhen, China. In those two wins, they converted 43.4 percent of their shots from three-point range (33-of-76), and it seems clear Harris, who made 47.4 percent from beyond the arc last season, will be a major benefactor.
“Throughout this offseason, it’s probably the most confidence I’ve had as a player,” Harris said before the Nets took their two-game trip to China. “My first year here in Brooklyn, I was trying to figure out what my role was, establishing sort of a niche in the NBA. Now that I’ve gotten to that point where I see myself as a very solid and productive role player on what I’m hopeful will be a very good team, that’s kind of where I’m at as a player. I’m self-aware enough to know where my strengths lie and really trying to harness those to become even better to solidify myself as a premier role player in this league.”
Harris was making his second trip to China in less than three months. During the offseason, he was selected by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to join the U.S. Men’s national team for the FIBA World Cup. Harris averaged 8.0 points in eight games, scored in double figures three times and, most impressively, shot 50.0 percent from three-point range (13 of 26).
Describing the thrill of receiving the call from Popovich, Harris said, “Yeah, it was just a surreal moment. Pop calls and asks if you want to be part of the national team. I was just extremely thankful to have the opportunity to wear USA across your chest.”
Harris described the chance to play for Popovich as “an amazing experience. He’s obviously one of the greatest coaches of all-time. Just to have that experience and get to know him on a personal level, you can see why everyone loves playing for him.”
Some top players bypassed the chance to play for the national team, but the Nets were all in backing Harris. They sent a member of their training staff to monitor his workload during the trip to Australia for warmup games and the tournament in China. Nets owner Joe Tsai, Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson all made the trip to support him in China. Since returning, Harris has been under a load-management protocol to prepare for the regular season, but he said Atkinson told him the chance to play for USMNT was “no better offseason program for individual development.”
The Nets return from China on Sunday and will have Monday off before training camp practice resumes on Tuesday. It’s uncertain whether Irving will play in the final preseason game against the Raptors Friday night at Barclays Center or whether he will be ready to start the regular season against the Timberwolves Oct. 23 at home.
But one of the underrated aspects of signing Irving is the fact that he and Harris developed a friendship when they were together on the Cavaliers for slightly more than one season from 2014-15. Whenever they do take the court together, they should have a symbiotic relationship because Irving’s driving ability will open up the perimeter for Harris and all of the Nets’ three-point shooters.
“Obviously, I played with him in Cleveland, but most of the guys have been playing with him from the moment he signed with us, whether it was out in L.A. or here,” Harris said of Irving. “So, the continuity and all that stuff is going to be pretty seamless with Kyrie coming in.
“I obviously have an insane amount of respect for him as a player, but then, as a person, too. I know this culture, this environment is going to be really good for him as a basketball player, and I think it’s going to help elevate his game, which is going to help everyone around him.”
Harris is at the top of that list.