Finally, after playing two seasons in his return to Dallas, Devin Harris will finally be the player we fell in love with all the way back in 2006. No, not only because of his on-court play, but because he has finally taken back his rightful jersey number of 34 (RIP Brandan Wright) this season.
In his first stint with the Mavericks, Harris was the highly drafted golden boy point guard before being traded for Jason Kidd. Since returning to the team, Devin has settled into a less prominent but arguably more important role as a veteran leader off the bench. However, with shooting guard Wes Matthews still lacking a concrete timeline for when he will make his season debut, Harris could even be asked to jump into the starting lineup this season if Rick Carlisle's original Matthews replacement doesn't perform efficiently.
Either way, it's reassuring to remember that Harris is an option in the backcourt. Here's how we're looking at his upcoming season.
What is expected from Devin Harris this season?
Whether technically playing point or shooting guard, Harris will be expected to keep the offense moving for the Dallas second unit. This is the role he served last year and he did it fairly well. He averaged about nine points a game on 42 percent shooting and hit 35 percent of his shots from range. He directed the offense fairly well when asked to, and his average of three assists per game is reasonable given his frequency playing off the ball. Also, while I wouldn't call Devin a lockdown defender, he was arguably Dallas's best defensive guard last season. Ultimately, it isn't unfair to expect Devin to bring pretty much everything he brought to the table last season.
Devin played off the ball even more once Rondo joined the team and it will be interesting to see whether he does the same with Deron Williams. (For what it's worth, Harris said he expects to play off the ball even more this season than last. When that was mentioned to Carlisle, he laughed, saying, "Even more!?", seeing how much he had already played the position last year.) With Matthews unlikely and Parsons questionable for opening day, Harris would make sense in the starting lineup. From our past sample size with Carlisle, though, it's more likely Harris stays in his role off the bench while Justin Anderson or John Jenkins steps into the opening introductions.
Best case scenario
Harris fills in for Wes Matthews serviceably, moving the ball well, hitting threes at a good rate and playing quality defense despite what will probably be a size mismatch many nights. His play off the bench puts him in Sixth Man of the Year talk, averaging 12 points and five assists a game and continuing to play opportunistic (but still solid) defense.
Devin also succeeds in developing a connection with Jeremy Evans similar to the chemistry he developed with Brandan Wright, and the two proceed to form a pick-and-roll, alley-oop dunking machine of death that is a true joy to watch two or three times a night.
All while staying healthy.
Worst case scenario
Harris gets injured early, further exacerbating what is an already terrifying lack of wing depth. Dallas is forced to start Deron Williams and JJ Barea for a couple of months and every night is a wild shootout with defense nowhere to be found. Lack of depth combines with Carlisle's lack of trust in young players to create a situation where Dallas's veterans start to get worn out by the heavy workload and quick pace of games, and the whole thing starts to snowball. By the time Parsons and Matthews are at full strength, Dallas is already well out of contention.
Which leads me to the next point.
Can Harris stay healthy?
I know, I know, you're sensing a bit of a theme here. Look, there's no getting around it: Devin Harris has always been a bit fragile. Devin played more games last season than he had in any season since 2006-07. He's only played 70 or more games in a season four times in his career, and even in his lone All-Star season, he only played 69 games. Since he returned to Dallas, injury has clearly been on the forefront of the Mavs' thinking. Rick has always sought to limit Devin's minutes, as he averages 20 to 22 minutes per game despite often being the most reliable guard off the bench. (This preseason, Carlisle once again talked about keeping the 32-year-old's minutes down.)
But as I discussed above, Harris is going to be important to holding the backcourt together until Matthews makes his debut for the Mavs. Will this mean more minutes or just an altered role? If youngsters like Justin Anderson and John Jenkins struggle initially, will Rick Carlisle do what Rick Carlisle always does and lean more heavily on his vets? If so ... I would be very worried that a bad injury situation could get even worse. A Williams-Harris-Anderson-Barea backcourt rotation is serviceable (maybe), but a Williams-Barea-Anderson-Felton rotation is extremely worrisome. Dallas needs Harris to be healthy.
If it's any consolation, Harris started the season off with torrid shooting last year. If he can duplicate that, then a falloff later in the year would be much easier to stomach with the team at full strength.
What is the over/under on how many 2-for-1 jumpers Harris takes this season?
Ah Devin, how you love the 2-for-1 pull up jumper. Even though it never seems to go in. And is needlessly predictable and frustrating for anyone who has watched you play any games the past two seasons. For the uninitiated, a 2-for-1 occurs at the end of a quarter, with usually around 30-40 seconds left. The team with the ball will take a shot far too early in the shot clock, in the hopes that (1) the shot goes in and (2) the team can then get a stop on defense with enough time left in the quarter to run a final possession and score again.
Devin Harris loves these situations more than life itself. I could not find any reliable stats on exactly how many times he took a 2-for-1 jumper last season (much less how often he hit them), but I'm gonna take a stab in the dark and guess it was probably once every couple of games. And it really felt like each time he did it, he took a really absurd pull-up jumper off the dribble, either from too far away or from a weird angle.
It became a sort of fun game for fans who were paying attention to Devin's tendencies. And whom am I to say that Devin should calm down on this strategy? It may not be particularly effective, but it's a fun little quirk. And basketball is all about fun in my book.