Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Once More, with Feeling?

I have a fond memory of Devin Harris. I remember when his lanky 6-3 frame came into the American Airlines Center for the first time. It was my last season being a season ticket holder for the Mavs, which was Harris' rookie season.

I specifically remember one play about halfway through his rookie season, against the revamped and Steve Nash led Suns. Harris stole the ball with the Mavs down three, late. He sprinted past a backpedaling Nash, leaped towards the rim and contorted his body as Joe Johnson smacked him to the ground. Harris splash landed a row or two into the baseline seats as the ball did a victory lap or two before rolling into the basket. And one. Tie game. Holy cow. I was sold.

Harris might not have been the prototypical passing point guard, but he was the only other paint presence that the Mavericks had from 2004-2008 besides Dirk Nowitzki. Harris averaged 4.2 shots at the rim per game from 2007 to 2008 (farthest Hoopdata goes back to tracking his time in Dallas) and I can take an educated guess that the number stayed the course before that to his rookie season. Harris was a slasher, score first point guard in the mold of Tony Parker. Except he was bigger than Parker - more athletic with an ability to defend elite guards. Who can forget Harris' insertion to the starting lineup in the epic 2006 playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 2? Harris scored 20 points, got the the free throw line nine times, and seemingly flipped the momentum switch back in the Mavericks favor, essentially neutralizing Tony Parker and helping Dallas win the series.

Harris fell out of the loop during the 2006 Finals (and we'll speak no more of that series, thank you.) After the embarrassing first-round flameout to the Warriors in 2007, the 2008 season started with a rather blah feeling. Well, at least to Mark Cuban. And when Cubes is feeling antsy, no one is safe. Harris was shipped away along with the Mavericks near-foreseeable future assets to bring in Jason Kidd. After a rough opening stint, Kidd has emerged as the Mavericks second-most important player, bringing up the games of everyone around him (including Tyson Chandler, Dirk, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, etc.)

But now there are reports that the prodigal son might return. The fabulous reporting Mark Stein says that if Carmelo Athony heads to New Jersey, Harris could make it to Dallas. To get Harris from Denver (if the Melo trade even goes down) Dallas would almost assuredly use Caron Butler's expiring contract as Denver is desperate to get under the luxury tax. There are plenty of questions to consider: How would Harris (who requires to be the primary ball-handler to get to the rim and control his offense) mesh with Kidd in the same back court? During Harris' best year in New Jersey - 2009 - Harris had a 28.4 usage percentage. To put that in perspective, Dirk's career average of usage percentage is 27. So, for Harris to be at an "All-Star level" (and I use that term loosely), Harris has to be in control of the ball more so than Dirk. Remember, when Harris was first here, the team's primary point guard was Jason Terry, who we all know is much more effective the less time he's using the ball.

Another thing I wonder is what kind of Devin Harris would the team be getting? Since his All-Star season of 2009, Harris has been plagued by injuries and sputtered to averaging a little under 17 points last season and this season. His highest field goal percentage in New Jersey has been 43.8. He still hasn't learned a three point shot. He apparently doesn't make his teammates any better (although that's tough to do in New Jersey these days.) The one thing that makes Maverick fans sleep well at night is his free throw attempts. Harris has averaged a clean seven free throw attempts per game so far in New Jersey, including a career-best 8.8 attempts per game in 2008-2009. In that same season he also shot a smidge under six shots at the rim per game, a great number for a guard or anyone else that isn't Dwight Howard or Tim Duncan. Heed that stat, however - that number has decreased all the way to 3.8 - a seemingly average number that almost has to deal with his injury woes.

One last nugget about our former friend: his defensive rating hasn't been anything to write home about. Harris has always had the reputation for being a great individual defender, but it's a reputation that is thrown around loosely. Remember, Caron Butler was supposed to be a "rugged, tough" defender, and his defense has been barely average in his time in Dallas. I wanted to take into the account that Harris has played on some bloody awful defensive teams in New Jersey. So I compared his individual defensive rating to his overall team's defensive rating during his seasons in New Jersey and here's what I found:

Devin Harris Defensive Rating             New Jersey Nets Team Defensive Rating

         2008-2009: 111                                                  2008-2009: 111

         2009-2010: 112                                                  2009-2010: 110

         2010-2011: 110                                                 2010-2011: 108

Interesting. New Jersey's defense as a whole was worse when Devin Harris was on the court, not off it.

Now, this isn't to say Devin Harris would make Dallas a worse team if he was brought over (as long as Caron Butler and J.J. Barea were the only trade casualties and not Roddy Beaubois) , but to say that there are better options out there for the Mavericks if they decide they need to take an opportunity of a shrinking championship window.

(Advanced stats courtesy of


Be our friend! Join The Rice of Passage Facebook page! 

Want to tell me how dumb I am? Follow my dumb thoughts? Then check me out on Twitter

1 comment:

  1. I don't really see what Harris does for this team that Roddy can't do. I guess it makes them slightly taller.

    I enjoyed Harris's play during his time here. I'll be the first to admit his torching of Tony Parker is one my fondest sports memories. But he's like you said, a scoring guard. At this point of his career, at least, he's no different from Roddy.

    But nonetheless, great post Josh. It's at least an interesting subject in an otherwise gloomy time in this Mavs season.