This offseason, the Brooklyn Nets weren’t shy in announcing what their top priority was: re-signing Joe Harris. “Joey Buckets” reciprocated the Nets’ sentiment, telling Brian Lewis of the New York Postthat his “No. 1 priority was to try and come back to Brooklyn.”
Following four years of developing him into the chiseled, dynamic offensive threat that he is today (again, he’s more than just a shooter), it only made sense that the Nets go all in and bet on Harris.
He’s improved with every passing season since arriving in Brooklyn and there’s no reason to suggest that won’t hold true in year five as Brooklyn targets the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Now that Harris will be a Net for the next four years, it’s worth noting how he got here. He wasn’t some heralded prospect out of high school or college; instead, he’s a prime example of a slow-burn player whose unwavering dedication to his craft turned him into one of the highest-paid and most-appreciated complementary pieces in the NBA.
Growing up in Chelan, Washington, Harris has basketball in his blood. His father, Joe Harris Sr., was the head coach at the local Chelan High School. Harris consistently followed his dad around to practices and games and fell in love with the game from a young age. According to Danny Schmidt’s story about Harris in 2014, Harris began setting goals for himself to play college basketball, make it to the NBA, and win a title at age ten.
Once Harris was a freshman in high school, he was already well on his way. A four-year starter under his father, Harris set a Washington State Class 1A scoring record with 2,399 points in his high school career.
He won the AP Class 1A State Player of the Year award in back-to-back seasons in his junior and senior years as he racked up a McDonald’s All-American nomination, became the 2010 Washington Mr. Basketball, and won the 2010 Gatorade Washington Boys Basketball Player of the Year award.
All that success yielded significant interest from a number of top-tier Division One programs including Notre Dame, Georgetown, Washington, Portland, San Diego, and Tony Bennett’s Washington State.
Early on, Harris saw Washington State as the best destination for him. He really resonated with Bennett’s pitch, and the success Bennett had with Klay Thompson — an incredibly similar player who Bennett likely compared to Harris — made his decision that much easier. But before Harris was completely ready to commit, Bennett left Washington State for the job at the University of Virginia.
Nonetheless, Harris felt that he still fit best under Bennett and decided to take a visit to Virginia the summer before his senior year of high school and see if it was worth it to follow Bennett to the East Coast. After getting a feel for the Charlottesville area, the school, and the program Bennett was planning to build, Harris committed later that summer.
When Harris arrived in Charlottesville in the fall of the following year, the Virginia basketball program was squarely set in rebuilding-mode in Bennett’s second year at the helm. Harris was a part of Bennett’s first recruiting class at Virginia dubbed the “Six-Shooters” and was a critical piece in his first year. He finished the season averaging 10.4 points per game on 41.7% shooting and even supplanted a number of veterans in the starting lineup.
That team struggled, especially following the season-ending ankle injury for the Wahoos’ best player, Mike Scott (now on the Sixers). Virginia finished the year 16-15 overall with a disappointing 7-9 ACC record. They lost in the first round of the ACC Tournament and didn’t qualify for any National tournament. Following that year, three guys from Harris’ class transferred out from Virginia.
Despite the mediocre season and the loss of those three high-ceiling guys, hopes were high that, with Scott and Harris returning the following year, there was potential for the program to take a step forward.
That it did, as, with the arrival of first-year Malcolm Brogdon (now the Pacers’ starting point guard), and the further development of Harris’ game, Virginia would climb as high as 16th in the National polls.
They beat #14 Michigan in non-conference play behind Harris’ 18 points, seven rebounds, and four steals. Even though he’d impressed as a first-year, that was his best college performance to date and indicated that there was more to come. He averaged 11.3 points per contest that season, and despite a dip in overall efficiency—he still hit on 38% of his three-point attempts.
That team would go on to finish fourth in the ACC with a 22-10 overall record and a 9-7 final tally in the ACC. UVA, once again, lost in the first round of the ACC Tournament. But, they made the NCAA tournament as a #10 seed marking the program’s first appearance in the Big Dance in five years. They proceeded to lose to Florida—a team that would make it all the way to the Elite Eight — 71-45 in the first round.
Entering his third season in Charlottesville, Harris stepped into a definitive leadership role in the Virginia program. With Scott’s departure and a foot injury that forced Brogdon to redshirt his second season, Harris was clearly the best player and the leader of the 2012-2013 Virginia squad. With a promising first-year class coming in and a few other key veterans returning, the UVA roster again seemed to have tournament potential. Notably, former Net Justin Anderson arrived at Virginia that fall and was an immediate contributor alongside Harris.
That season, the ‘Hoos struggled out of the gate, starting 1-2 with losses to George Mason and Delaware. But, Harris managed to rally the troops and UVA went on an eight-game win streak leading into ACC play. From there, the team struggled as a result of a lack of experience on the offensive side of the ball outside of Harris.
He had to carry the team at many points that season, finishing the year with career-high numbers of 16.3 points per game and 42.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Even though the team was disappointing in ACC play, they still finished fourth with an 11-7 record and an incredibly impressive victory over a #3 Duke squad made up of future NBA players including Seth Curry, Mason Plumlee, and Quinn Cook.
In fact, that game is considered Harris’ best performance in his collegiate career as he went off for a ridiculous thirty-six points on 12-20 shooting from the field in Virginia’s 73-68 win. Especially in Bennett’s methodical offensive system, thirty-six points in thirty-five minutes of play against a top-five team is something else.
From then on, the rest of Harris’ junior season went downhill. The Wahoos lost two of their last three regular-season games, lost in the first round of the ACC Tournament (again), and settled for a #1 seed in the NIT after barely missing out on the NCAA Tournament. After two wins in the NIT, they lost in the third round to Iowa, thereby ending Harris’ third year as a Cavalier.
The following year, expectations were actually incredibly high for Harris and Virginia to return to the top of college basketball. Brogdon’s return from injury, Justin Anderson’s development, and Harris’ rising stardom made the Cavaliers a surprising preseason media darling.
Despite those lofty expectations, Virginia didn’t get off to a good start in 2013. In fact, they lost in an unflattering fashion to Green Bay, while also dropping games to top-25 teams including Wisconsin and VCU.
However, the worst loss that season came on December 30th on the road against Tennessee. The Volunteers absolutely whooped Virginia by a final score of 87-52. At that point, the Virginia faithful were beginning to lose hope of a program revival under Bennett.
But the following day, on December 31st, Joe Harris drove his old, beat-up pickup truck over to Bennett’s house to talk through how they could turn that team around.
After a few hours of conversation, Harris’ message to Bennett was clear: hand the offense over to UVA’s young backcourt of Brogdon and first-year London Perrantes. Through those first thirteen games, Harris had been the go-to guy on the offensive side of the ball as the ‘Hoos ran their offense through him. But, after starting 9-4, Harris realized that, for the team to reach its full potential, he needed to take a step back.
After that lengthy meeting in Bennett’s home study, the Wahoos proceeded to win sixteen of their final eighteen games, seize the ACC Regular Season Title, conquer the ACC Tournament, and make the NCAA Tournament as a #1 seed for the first time since 1983 when Ralph Sampson roamed the Grounds of UVA.
Despite taking that step back on the offensive side of the ball, Harris still finished the year second on the team in scoring at 12 points per game and shot 40 percent from deep. Most impressively, Harris won MVP of the ACC Tournament as he led the Cavaliers to a win over Duke in the ACC Championship.
After dominating the ACC, Virginia turned its sights to the national stage as they looked to make a run at the Final Four. After beating Coastal Carolina and Memphis in the first two rounds, they, rather unfortunately, ran into a Michigan State team that was significantly under-seeded as a few of their best players returned from injuries just in time for the tournament.
Harris and UVA lost a heartbreaker to the Spartans in Madison Square Garden by a final score of 61-59. It’s a game that the UVA fanbase groans about to this day as iffy-refereeing and an unfortunate injury to star big man Anthony Gill in the first half left the Virginia faithful wondering what could’ve been.
While Harris’ career at UVA ended on a sour note, he is the guy that, outside of Bennett, people point to as the one who turned the Virginia program around. In fact, that meeting on New Year’s Eve Day is considered by many to be the turning point for UVA basketball as the program has gone on to have tons of success in the last six years. Frankly, Harris is the godfather of modern UVA basketball.
Following the close of his college career, Harris turned his sights towards his lifelong dream of playing in the NBA. His deadeye shooting ability made him an intriguing prospect to many and his growing game off the dribble only added to the intrigue.
Despite concerns about his athleticism, it was clear that the talent was there. He ended up being picked early in the second round of the NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers who would soon welcome Lebron James home after a four-year stint in South Beach.
Harris’ first year in Cleveland was fairly uneventful but still fairly productive. He saw action in fifty-one games, averaging 9.7 minutes per game and 2.7 points per contest on 36.9 percent three-point shooting on 1.6 three-point attempts per game. He also spent eleven games down with the Canton Charge — Cleveland’s G-League affiliate.
The following season, Harris took a step back as he dealt with injuries early in the campaign. In fact, he only played five games for the Cavs and 10 for the Charge before the trade deadline. After coming to the difficult but obvious decision to have surgery on the foot that had hampered him all season, Harris awoke, still woozy from the anesthetics, on January 12th, 2016, discovered that Cleveland had traded him to the Orlando Magic. To add further insult to injury, only a few hours later, the Magic waived him.
For the next seven months, Harris remained an NBA free agent as he watched Cleveland win the NBA Title he’d dreamed of since age 10. But, that summer, Sean Marks and the Brooklyn Nets decided to give Harris another shot with a two-year minimum deal. Since then, Harris’ career has been on an upwards trajectory.
Success in Brooklyn
In his first year playing at the Barclays Center, Harris established himself as a consistent contributor for a developing Brooklyn squad. He closed out his first year in the Big Apple averaging 8.2 points per game on 38.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc in 51 games that season.
The following season, Harris displayed the development and expansion of his game since arriving in New York as he once again put up career numbers. That year, he played in a personal best 71 games, starting in 14, and cracked double-digit scoring for the first time in the NBA as he averaged 10.8 points per game.
Harris also arrived on the scene as one of the league’s deadliest marksmen that season—connecting on 41.9 percent of his threes. That 2018 offseason, Harris re-signed with the Nets on a two-year $16 million deal.
Harris proved to be a smart investment. In the 2018-19 NBA season, he started in all 76 regular-season games and provided an ideal complementary shooting punch alongside D’Angelo Russell.
In over thirty minutes per contest, Harris averaged 13.7 points and led the NBA in three-point shooting (47.4 percent). He even went on to win the 2019 NBA Three-Point Contest. But what became readily apparent that season was Harris’ burgeoning abilities to be more than just a lights-out shooter. Harris started to take defenders off the dribble as he utilized his persona as a deadly shooter to his advantage and displayed an improved ability as a slasher.
This past season, he once again stepped into a larger role in the team and produced accordingly. He bumped his scoring numbers up to 14.5 per game including 19.2 points per contest in eight total games in an increased role in the NBA Bubble. His shooting did, however, dip that season as he regressed to 42.4 percent (if you want to call that regressing) shooting from deep.
Now, heading into Harris’ fifth year in Brooklyn, the Nets are in a drastically different position than five years ago. Harris’ new, shiny four-year, $72 million contract suggests total commitment from Joe Tsai to win now. For Harris, that’s a perfect situation as there’s only one goal left on his list that needs checking off.