MINNEAPOLIS — Who on the Nets is hotter than Joe Harris right now? The answer is no one, and that raises the question of whether or not Harris is playing himself out of the Nets’ organization with less than two weeks to go before the Feb. 8 trade deadline.
Signed out of the G League as a development project before last season, Harris has improved to play a major role off the bench for the Nets. Heading into Saturday night’s game against the Timberwolves at Target Center, Harris was averaging 10.3 points and shooting 48.1 percent overall and a sizzling 41.0 percent from three-point range, which is tied for 23rd in the league among qualifying players.
But in January, Harris has been even better, averaging 12.3 points per game and hitting 54.7 percent of his three pointers. He had a streak of eight straight over two games before missing his final three-point attempt in the Nets’ loss Friday night in Milwaukee.
Because Harris is making only $1.5 million and will be a free agent after this season, he is a prime trade target for any contender looking to add three-point shooting. And the bonus is that the 6-6, 219-pound Harris lately has shown he can be a physical, hard-working defender, too.
“He’s really becoming a complete player,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said recently. “I felt like last year, we would get him out for defense. You know, we have to get somebody else out there if it was a defensive matchup or something. Now, there’s no fear, putting him on anybody, putting him on wings. I think he’s just an all-around improved player. He’s not just known as a shooter now. He’s kind of developed in the whole game. It’s great to see.”
Before this season began, Harris set a goal of lifting his three-point shooting into the 40-percent range to put him among the league’s elite in that category. He flirted with that mark earlier in the season, but his recent hot streak has elevated him into that company. He has scored in double figures in 28 games, including 11 of his past 12 games.
“I’m just trying to be as efficient as possible,” Harris said earlier on the Nets’ current road trip. “My job is to create spacing on the floor, allow our ballhandlers to have room to work and then knock down shots when they’re there and be opportunistic when you have driving lanes. Really my job is to create space for everybody else and then play tough defense and rebound the basketball.”
Atkinson loves big, physical guards, and before facing the Timberwolves, he said Harris is big enough to play tight end in football. Would a player like that be hard to replace?
“Sure its hard to replace,” Atkinson said. “But we have other guys that are developing. Caris [LeVert] is going to get stronger. And we have a great performance department. Guys have made [gains] . . . how much stronger guys have gotten and how much better they’ve gotten physically, I trust that. So, the next guy that comes along, he’s going to improve. But Joe’s having a heck of a year so far.”
That’s the dimension Harris could bring to any playoff contender looking for a player who can help spread the floor but also drive to the rim and defend. Because he’s on an expiring contract, the most the Nets likely would be able to get is a second-round pick for him.
“The decision with Joe has to be that, if they don’t want to trade him, are they comfortable paying him probably $5 million to $6 million as a free agent?” said Bobby Marks of ESPN’s NBA Insiders. “If they are, there’s no need to move him for a second-round pick.”