It feels weird to think about, but Devin Harris is about to start his 14th season in the NBA.
Harris was acquired by Dallas on draft night 2004 in the trade with Washington for Antawn Jamison. At that time, he represented the future of a young team that was still emerging as a true title contender. Indeed, soon after he was a key part of a Finals team, bringing dynamic speed and tenacious defense to a squad previously known for finesse play.
Then, Harris was the jewel of another trade: the one that brought Jason Kidd to Dallas. Devin would make the All-Star team for the Nets in ’06, but injuries stalled his progress there, beginning a journey around the league that would eventually see him return home in 2013. He’s now entering the fifth year of his second stint in Big D, which is his longest consecutive stay with any team.
I alluded to this in my preview of Dennis Smith Jr., but the fact that Devin Harris is still around could be construed as something of a mild surprise.
Harris only had a partially guaranteed salary for the upcoming season, and the Mavs sport a roster now flush with point guards. The inexperienced but mega-talented Smith is the presumed starter, with last year’s rookie sensation Yogi Ferrell and gutsy veteran/longtime favorite toy of Rick Carlisle J.J. Barea backing him up. Throw combo guard Seth Curry into the mix, as well, and you get the reason many (including Harris himself) were unsure Devin would return.
Return he has, but how much time on the court will he actually get? That remains to be seen. Harris isn’t the best shooting guard on the roster (Curry), or the best passing guard (Barea), or the best penetrating guard (Smith), so there isn’t one surefire, bankable skill that gets him in the game over someone else.
The 34-year-old does bring something to the table, however, and while it’s true that he may not have one elite trait (aside from his end-to-end speed, which is still top notch), his versatility and combination of talents give him what I’d like to call “hidden value.”
Look at Harris’ shooting line of 39 percent from the field and 32 percent from three, and you’d probably conclude that he’s a poor shooter and an inefficient scorer. Yet, the volume of threes he takes, along with his knack for drawing fouls, puts his true shooting percentage at 54.9 percent, comfortably above average, and ahead of guys like Harrison Barnes, Wes Matthews, and Yogi Ferrell.
Harris is one of the great examples of why shot location matters. The Harrison Barneses of the world can dazzle with tough, Kobe-esque midrange fade aways, but the league doesn’t award extra points for degree of difficulty. Harris lives in the two highest value areas on the court: at the rim and behind the line, making his seemingly poor percentages deceptive. Even in his advancing age, his point-per-shot ratio was the best of any Mav player who wasn’t a rim-rolling big man (Noel-Mejri-Powell).
Provided he stays healthy, that should continue again in 2017-18. Harris’ smarts, craftiness, and ability to push the tempo with his speed can all be effective once again. Harris knows his role and he knows his teammates, too, having been with the Mavs so long. As an aside, one of the my favorite plays is the Barea-to-Harris backdoor cut, which is built all on timing and seemingly catches defenses off guard at least once a night. It’s a thing of beauty.
Health will always be a looming threat for Devin, who plays a high-intensity style and gives up his body nightly, whether it’s attacking the rim for a layup or stepping up to take a charge at the other end. Eventually, time will run out for Harris, and he’s reaching the age where players can fall off the proverbial cliff.
As we saw last year, Dallas will continue to be opportunistic with their roster spots, and if Harris does miss time or falls into an extended slump, expect the team to audition other guys to run in Rick Carlisle’s multi-guard sets. Don’t forget that before the team “discovered” Yogi, they went through Jonathan Gibson, Pierre Jackson and Quinn Cook.