A couple of months ago, I wrote about Brooklyn’s other “Big Three:” Joe Harris, Jeff Green and Landry Shamet. They were all performing well, contributing to the team during the absences of their most talented players.
Not too long afterward, however, things changed.
Specifically, they changed with Harris. Even though he helped the Brooklyn Nets secure the second seed in the Eastern Conference this past season, he was unable to help them past the second round of the playoffs. The Nets were favorites to win it all but they were defeated by the Milwaukee Bucks in seven games. So what happened? What role did Harris fail to play in this and what happened to his utility?
Harris’ Playoff Track Record
Unfortunately, not everyone is made for the pressure and urgency of the playoffs. Even some of the best players struggle to play when so much is on the line.
This hasn’t necessarily been the case for Harris, however. Before he joined the Nets, he spent two years in Cleveland with the Cavaliers. In 2015, he saw some limited play as Cleveland made their deep playoff run–ultimately losing to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. During this playoff run, Harris saw the most playtime during the Eastern Conference Final. In this series, he averaged just 4.1 minutes per game and 3.5 points per game. Harris was only 23 years old, so it was a precursor of things to come.
Since joining Brooklyn, Harris has played in four different playoff series: the first round in 2019, 2020, and 2021 and the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals in 2021 as well. During the 2019 series, he saw some decent usage, averaging 29.9 minutes, 8.8 points and 4.2 rebounds. The year after, however, his usage jumped significantly. In 2020, he averaged 36.2 minutes, 16.5 points and 10 rebounds. These stats slightly decreased to 34.9, 13.4 and 3.2, respectively, during the first series this year but they changed once again against the Bucks–especially his offensive production. In this series, Harris averaged just 9.6 points.
Slumped at the Wrong Time
If Harris has had success in the playoffs in the past, what happened this time? What went wrong?
In short, his offense declined immensely. Harris is known for being a consistent scorer–especially from behind the arc. As a matter of fact, in this past regular season, he led the NBA in 3P% with 47.5%. On top of that, he had a 50.5 FG% and averaged 14.1 points per game.
He carried this efficiency into the first round of the playoffs against the Boston Celtics. In the five games of that series, he had a 51.5 3P% and a 47.1 FG%. However, the second round saw a different Harris. In the seven games of that series against the Bucks, both of those stats dropped dramatically; his 3P% went down to 32.7% while his FG% went down to 34.7%. Both of these drops occurred over the course of three more games and almost two more minutes of game time per game.
It’s not like Harris hasn’t proven himself in the playoffs before. In fact, in the 2020 first-round matchup against the Toronto Raptors, he had a 58.3 3P% and a 52.2 FG%. He just went into a slump at the absolute worst time–especially when Kyrie Irving was out with an injury and James Harden was playing at less-than-perfect health.
Strong Defense Didn’t Help
While a good part of this narrative is just an ill-timed slump, a lot of it also has to do with the matchups. In the first round, the Nets played the Celtics and won in five games. This was Harris’ better series and it makes sense; the Celtics are ranked in dead last in defensive rating among all of the playoff teams with 128.0. Which playoff team has had the best defensive rating so far? None other than the Bucks, with 104.1. They played the Nets in the second round and, despite making it a seven-game series, they were still able to use their defense to neutralize one of Brooklyn’s best shooters. In fact, over the last five games of that series, Harris hit a measly 8-33 from behind the arc for a minus-51.
Does Harris Have a Future in Brooklyn?
Even though some fans may not think so, the answer is yes.
Harris still has three years left on his contract and, despite buckling under the pressure of the postseason, is still one of the best shooters in the NBA. He has consistently performed for the Nets during his tenure and has complimented the team well. He was crucial to keeping the team’s hopes alive when some of their best players were injured and deserves to stay.
As for his playoff performances, it’s something that he will just have to work on. He has had flashes of brilliance in the playoffs before, he just slumped at the absolute worst time this year. Now, with a limited window of contention and win-now mentality, Brooklyn may not want to wait for Harris to improve. Nevertheless, he is a great piece to have and is still just 29 years old. He should definitely continue to drain buckets over the course of his contract.
It’s easy to put a target on Harris’ back after Brooklyn were eliminated from the playoffs. Heck, he missed a crucial three-pointer with one minute left of overtime in Game 7 that led to the Bucks winning. Despite this, the blame shouldn’t be placed entirely on him. Slumps happen to everyone and we have to remember that players are human. If Harris can put this ill-timed slump behind him and work even harder, he should be able to dismiss these playoff demons.