Sharpshooter Joe Harris is a great fit for the San Antonio Spurs’ needs and will hit the free-agent market upon the completion of this season.
Expectations are tempered for NBA free agency in 2020 — Especially for the San Antonio Spurs. For the most part, this team is locked into its lineup barring an opt-out from DeMar DeRozan. Besides that, there are some ancillary players whose contracts need tending to with the most pressing being RFA Jakob Poeltl in a market that doesn’t favor centers.
However, the San Antonio Spurs should have a full mid-level exception to allocate elsewhere and Brooklyn Nets sharpshooter Joe Harris is a fantastic target. A 29-year-old perimeter player, Harris combines an unbelievable jump shot with a team-oriented playstyle and high-IQ basketball instincts. He’s not the star athlete that his NBA cohorts are, but Harris is an absolute gunslinger.
During the last four seasons, Harris has averaged 12.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and two assists while shooting 43.9 percent on just over five 3-point attempts per game. Harris was the champion of the 2019 3-Point Contest, beating out Steph Curry and Buddy Hield — Two prolific shooters with name recognition across the league. Though he’s not the flashiest player to add in a position that may be considered redundant for San Antonio, he brings an element of security for whatever route the Spurs decide to take this offseason.
Beyond his shooting, Harris could have a transformative presence for the Spurs’ halfcourt offense.
Next: An impactful scoring wing
Joe Harris puts a world-class shooter on the San Antonio Spurs’ perimeter.
Only two San Antonio Spurs players shot above 40 percent from beyond the arch this season: Sophomore Lonnie Walker and rookie Keldon Johnson. Though this tandem shot the lights out, it’s not something they did with great volume. Combined, Walker and Johnson combined for only 6.1 percent of San Antonio’s total 3-point attempts.
Seven San Antonio Spurs players accounted for 1,723 of the team’s 2021 attempts from deep, draining them at a commendable 37.6 percent clip. Like usual, this Spurs team took a fewer volume of threes than usual but made more of them than most teams. Unfortunately, that’s not enough in today’s game — A high volume shooter on the wing is a bit of a necessity at this point.
The Spurs live in the paint and mid-range, operating in zones that analytics say shouldn’t be utilized. Harris’ 406 3-point attempts at 42.4 percent would easily make him the most reliable shooter on the Spurs. This gives San Antonio another dimension with so many of their players relying on drive-and-kick opportunities to operate.
Plus, the 6-foot-6 wing has great length and size, making him a viable candidate to play positions 2-through-4 in lineups with players who transcend positions. He knows what it’s like to play off of high-volume scorers and put himself in positions to get good shots. It’s something San Antonio sorely missed with Davis Bertans being traded for nothing that can be acquired without completely breaking the bank in the process.
Next: Fitting in on defense
The San Antonio Spurs could use Joe Harris’ effort, length and savvy on defense.
Defensively, Joe Harris is not going to be the answer to the San Antonio Spurs‘ problems. There is a lot for the team to work out during the offseason, but Harris brings size to a roster that could certainly use it. Only two Spurs players are listed as being between 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-8: DeRozan and Rudy Gay.
Standing at 6-foot-7 with a long reach, Harris could help the team to close out on shooters and force them off of the perimeter. While the young core already has plenty of length, that alone is not enough to combat up-tempo modern offenses. Hustle, heart and dedication or what it’ll take for the Spurs to achieve defensive success.
Harris is a hard worker on defense. He is not the best defender overall, but he ranks near the top of the league in contested shots this season. In two playoff games before exiting the Orlando bubble, Harris contested 8.5 shots per game. During the regular season, Harris contested a total of 549 shots including 210 three-pointers.
Across 69 regular-season games, Harris held opponents to 42.4 percent shooting in the mid-range and 34.9 percent on above the break triples. Those numbers rank better than DeRozan, Murray, Aldridge, Lyles and Forbes — San Antonio’s entire starting lineup. Again, Harris is not going to be a game-changer on defense, but his effort and concentration will do dividends for a team that struggled to defend in the regular season.
Next: Addition by subtraction
Replacing Bryn Forbes with Joe Harris would transform the San Antonio Spurs.
An unrestricted free agent this off-season, Spurs guard Bryn Forbes is someone they need to consider letting go of. Moving away from players who have built names for themselves in the system can be difficult. Popovich has a strong relationship with Forbes, as does assistant coach Becky Hammon. He seems to be a cheerful guy and he’s one of the hardest workers on the team, but the San Antonio Spurs were much better without him this year.
Being a small shooting guard in the NBA can cause big issues. Forbes has difficulties guarding just about anyone at his position. He has the worst on/off numbers of any player on the team this year besides the G Leaguers.
If Harris were to sign with San Antonio on a one year deal using the mid-level exception (MLE), the need for Forbes is eradicated. Instead, a large chunk of his minutes would be distributed between Harris and the young guards. Forbes’ primary goal in the team’s offense is to shoot the ball, but his jumper did not fall consistently the season. Replacing him with a sure-fire 40+ percent shooter from deep assured an improvement.
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Additionally, Harris is nearly five inches taller than Forbes, giving him a better chance to shoot over the top of defenders while disrupting their jumpers more easily. There is a job for Bryn Forbes in this league, but I’m not sure it’s with the Spurs anymore.
This alone wouldn’t be the difference between making and missing the playoffs. Popovich needs to do a better job of allocating minutes and getting his talent involved. To be quite frank, we do not know what this team looks like next season. Potential changes are limitless, but operating under the assumption that San Antonio will run it back after an unlikely offseason, adding Joe Harris to the lineup would be sufficient.
If San Antonio drafts a small forward for the future at 11th overall in the 2020 NBA draft, they can take Harris‘ role after the season. That way, the player can come off the bench, to begin with, and get acclimated to the NBA pace. This is a low-risk, high reward transaction for the San Antonio Spurs. The only question to ponder is ‘Will the mid-level exception be enough to sign Harris?’
We’ll have to wait for the 2020 free agency to find out.