With just a few days remaining until the 2021-2022 NBA season tips off, it is time to take an in-depth look at the UVA basketball alums playing in the league this season.
Today, we take a look at Brooklyn Nets sharpshooter Joe Harris.
Note: stay tuned for previews for Ty Jerome, De’Andre Hunter, and Malcolm Brogdon.
Joe Harris will once again be a key component of a stacked Brooklyn roster, as the Nets take another crack at winning their first NBA championship in franchise history. Harris has flourished as one of the league’s top three-point shooters since joining the Nets in 2016. Harris was the NBA Three-Point Contest Champion in 2019 and is a career 43.8% shooter from three-point range, the fourth-best career three-point average in NBA history and the second-best among active players, trailing only Seth Curry.
Harris has only gotten better since the Nets acquired Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and James Harden, three of the most talented scorers the league has ever seen. As opposing defenses focus their attention on Brooklyn’s Big Three, Joe Harris has been given ample opportunities to sink open shots. Last season, Harris made the most of those chances, leading the NBA in three-point shooting at 47.5%. Harris started 65 games in the regular season last year, averaging a little over 14 points per game and shooting 50.5% from the field.
Unfortunately, the NBA playoffs have not been kind to Harris. His overall playoff numbers have not been bad, but he has an alarming tendency to go cold in the worst moments. Harris shot just under 33% from three in the Nets’ seven-game loss to the eventual NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals last year. Harris shot a dismal 24.2% from three in the last five games of the series and missed a crucial open shot late in overtime in the Game 7 loss which ended Brooklyn’s season.
Still, the Nets have a great deal of confidence that Harris will bounce back, return to his elite shooting form in the regular season, and shake his postseason woes as Brooklyn inevitably makes another deep run into the playoffs.
Brooklyn this Season
The Nets are widely considered to be the favorite to win the Eastern Conference and many have the Nets as the frontrunner to take home the NBA Finals Championship at the end of the season. In taking just a quick look at the roster, it is hard not to agree.
Kevin Durant is a two-time NBA Champion and Finals MVP, was the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2014, has made 11 All-Star Game appearances, and has led the NBA in scoring four times. James Harden was the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2018, has nine All-Star Game appearances, and led the NBA in scoring for three consecutive seasons from 2018 to 2020. Kyrie Irving is a seven-time All-Star, won the Three-Point Contest in 2013, and hit the game-winning shot in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals to win the championship for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
There is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding Irving’s immediate future with the organization, however, as he has become the talk of the NBA for his refusal to receive the Covid-19 vaccine. Current NBA policies leave it up to the states in which each NBA team operates to determine Covid restrictions. So, while Irving cannot currently practice or play with the Nets within the state of New York due to New York’s laws preventing unvaccinated individuals from entering certain buildings, Irving could technically participate in road games with Brooklyn. However, Nets general manager Sean Marks denied that possibility in an announcement this week, saying, “We have decided Kyrie Irving will not play or practice with the team until he is eligible to be a full participant…Currently his choice restricts his ability to be a full-time member of the team and we will not permit any member of our team to participate with part-time availability.”
Even without Irving, the Nets are still the favorite to at least win the Eastern Conference, as long as they can stay healthy, which has been an issue in the past.
Beyond the Big Three, the Nets have a talented and deep roster. In addition to Joe Harris, Brooklyn features former All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge, Paul Millsap, and Blake Griffin, as well as a veteran with NBA championship experience in Patty Mills. The Nets also have several young talents, including Nicolas Claxton and Jevon Carter.
As Steve Nash enters his second season as head coach of the Nets, he will have plenty of weapons on the roster to turn Brooklyn into a championship-winning team, regardless of how the situation with Kyrie Irving ends.
Joe Harris has the best chance of any current UVA men’s basketball alum in the league to win the NBA Finals this season. If that happens, Harris will certainly have earned his ring, as the Nets will be relying on him to be consistent from behind the three-point line, especially in the playoffs, as opposing teams tighten up their defense. If Harris can return to form this year, which seems likely given his 23-point performance in Brooklyn’s most recent preseason game against Minnesota, expect him to be among the league’s leaders in three-point shooting again this season.
But more importantly, if Harris can break out of his playoff shooting slump, there might not be another team in the NBA that stands a chance against the Nets.
The Brooklyn Nets begin their season with a rematch of last year's Eastern Conference Finals as they visit the Milwaukee Bucks on opening night on Tuesday at 7:30pm.