After the 2016-17 season, Devin Harris wasn’t sure if he would be playing for the Mavericks as the front office was deliberating over the decision to pick up the veteran point guard’s $4.4 million option.
"Ball's in their court,” Harris told members of the media during exit interviews back in April. "I just let the chips fall where they may and try to make the best decision possible with the information that I have."
Harris had battled back from injuries that were supposed to derail him the entire year and was finally heading into an offseason as healthy as he had been in years. Carlisle even said he’d like Harris “to stay here healthy as long as he can” and that the then 12-year guard was “still playing at such a high level.”
With J.J. Barea under contract this season and next, the rise of Yogi Ferrell and Seth Curry, plus a lottery pick in draft class chocked-full of blue-chip point guard prospects, the idea of bringing back an aging combo guard with a lengthy injury history didn’t seem to mesh with a rebuilding team.
But after 25 games, it’s safe to assume the Mavericks are happy with their decision.
Harris’ raw statistics aren’t extraordinary by any means. He’s averaging nine points, two rebounds and two assists in 19 minutes per game thus far. His numbers are a little more impressive on a per-minute basis. He’s averaging 18 points per 36 minutes, which would be the third highest clip of his career, but that’s not what makes Harris so valuable to this team.
The Mavericks are simply better when Harris is on the court. Maybe it’s his veteran savvy, his ability to play and defend two or three positions, or the energy he expends in his limited playing time. But even if his contribution can’t quite be pinpointed, aspects of it can definitely be quantified.
Per nba.com stats, the Mavericks have a 112.3 offensive rating with Harris on the court, five points better than Dirk’s second-best 107.1. When Harris is off the court, the Mavs score 97.6 points per possession resulting in the most drastic differential on the team.
Harris’ impact isn’t limited to offense. Again, when Harris is on the court, the Mavs’ defensive rating is a stingy 95.7, second only to the team-best 92.5 when Dwight Powell is on the floor (these comparisons are limited to players who’ve played more than 300 minutes). No, that’s not a typo. See for yourself. And when Harris is off the court? The Mavs are giving up 110.2 points per 100 possessions.
The lineups he shares the floor with with certainly play a part, as we’ve previously covered. Harris, Barea and Nowitzki have great chemistry with more than 40 years experience among the three. And playing against second units doesn’t hurt. But when four of the five best lineups in terms of plus-minus all include Harris, it’s clear that Harris is a major catalyst and a huge factor in the Mavericks playing well.
Even though Harris is 34, he is still exceptionally quick and has a knack for getting into the paint, whether that’s by design or sheer determination. Per Basketball Reference, 31 percent of Harris’ shot attempts are coming 0-3 feet from the basket. For perspective, that’s similar to 27-year-old Harris in his 2010-11 season. And it’s not as if these are wasted drives—Harris is finishing at a 74 percent clip from that same distance. The season is still young, but that would obliterate his previous best of 68 percent in the 2012-13 season.
This all has a trickle-down effect on the rest of the team. When a player gets to the basket, defenses warp, help and scramble, opening up a Pandora’s box for the defense. Keeping the offense out of the paint is a fundamental principle for successful defense, and Harris is excelling at causing chaos.
Per nbawowy.com, when Harris is on the floor, almost every single player’s true shooting percentage increases compared to when he’s off. For instance, Wesley Matthews’ true shooting percentage rises to 66 percent with Harris on but plummets to 50 with him off the court. Harrison Barnes is at 60 percent with Harris versus 51 percent without him. Same goes for Barea, who drops from 61 percent true to 48 percent when Harris isn’t sharing the floor. Interestingly enough, this is true for every player other than Dennis Smith Jr. and Nerlens Noel.
In the last year of his contract, uncertainty is on the horizon. Whether the Mavericks or Harris would be interested in negotiating a team-friendly deal in the offseason remains to be seen, but frankly, it might not even get to that point. There have been no rumors of any such move, but Harris would be a prime candidate to be shipped to a contender by February’s trade deadline. A productive, experienced veteran on an expiring deal could be the cherry on top of a contender’s midseason moves.
All of that is pure speculation at this point. With the Mavericks’ fighting like hell as long as 41 is competing, Harris will remain a favorite of coach Carlisle. And so as long as the Mavericks continue to give him burn, Devin Harris will continue to produce in subtle yet meaningful ways.
*Stats current as of December 6