• Erik Slater

Joe Harris establishing himself as a clutch player for the Brooklyn Nets

Joe Harris is establishing himself as a clutch player for the Brooklyn Nets.

Harris is having a career year and has emerged as one of the most important pieces in Brooklyn’s success.

A former second-round pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014, Harris was relegated to the D-League before being traded to the Orlando Magic and was waived upon acquisition.

Similar to Spencer Dinwiddie, Harris caught the eye of Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks. One of several castoffs scooped up by Marks, Harris has completely transformed his game in his time with Brooklyn.

Harris has emerged as one of the league’s premier sharpshooters this season, posting a career-high 48.3 percent from beyond the arc, the third-best percentage in the league.

Harris has developed a quick release that allows him to get shots off in extremely tight windows. Quickly curling off of screens with an understanding of his surroundings, Harris has consistently knocked down difficult catch and shoot threes with several hands in his face.

“Everybody just does a good job moving the ball, giving up good shots for great shots, it makes it an easy game,” Harris said on the YES Network broadcast following Wednesday’s 126-121 win over the Pelicans.

While Harris has been a lethal threat from deep, he has become much more than a shooter for Brooklyn.

In his first year with the Nets, Harris was strictly a 3-point shooter. He rarely drove to the basket, seldom grabbed an offensive rebound and was frequently beaten on the defensive end.

The University of Virginia product showed enough improvement in these areas last season to warrant being re-signed to a two-year, $16 million free agent contract in July.

Now in his third season with the Nets, Harris is excelling in each of the areas that were once absent from his makeup as a player.

He now drives to the basket with confidence, finds easy layups off of quick cuts through the lane, consistently hustles for key offensive rebounds and is no longer a liability on defense.

Harris worked extremely hard with the Nets’ strength and conditioning coaches to revamp his body to add much-needed quickness. This newfound first step allows Harris to blow by defenders off of overzealous closeouts and gain separation when running off screens for open threes.

The third-year Net has also developed crafty moves around the rim that allow him to finish consistently from all angles. Harris has a dexterity when driving to the hoop that enables him to create shots in a variety of ways.

Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson have preached the importance of building a culture and identity since their opening days in Brooklyn. That identity would be a team that plays their hardest each night and constantly works to improve, never being satisfied.

Harris embodies this identity.

The 27-year-old plays every game as if it were Game 7 of the NBA Finals. He consistently makes hustle plays in the closing minutes of tight games that are often overlooked.

A constant theme for Brooklyn this season has been their lack of a closer. While Harris is not a star, he has fearlessly taken the role of the closer on numerous occasions for this young Nets team.

In a Dec. 26 double-overtime win over Charlotte, Harris nailed game-tying 3s on back-to-back possessions in the final 1:13 of the fourth quarter. He also came up with the game-winning steal and layup with 3.4 seconds left in the second overtime.

In Wednesday’s win over New Orleans, Harris halted a 15-1 Pelicans run with a layup off a beautiful cut at the 4:50 mark. The guard then grabbed a key offensive rebound for a putback layup with 3:30 remaining.

With 35.6 seconds left, Harris drove to the rim to put the Nets up seven and close the game out.

These three plays were vital in holding off a surge by the Pelicans that cut a 21-point second half lead down to five. The shooting guard finished with 21 points on 9-of-16 shooting from the field.

Harris has played a huge role in the Nets’ recent success, averaging 15.6 points per game in Brooklyn’s last 11 contests.

Despite being a 3-point shooter, Harris’ biggest plays are often made on drives to the basket, cuts without the ball or offensive rebounds for putbacks. Nets fans have become accustomed to these under-the-radar hustle plays at key moments in close games.

The nature of Harris’ game often does not garner widespread recognition. There is nothing flashy about Harris as a player. He does what it takes to win and he does it on a nightly basis.

Harris has made his way from a D-League player to one of the best 3-point shooters in the league and a key component in the Nets’ success. He is yet another shining example of the outstanding work being done by Brooklyn’s front office and player development staff.

Wednesday’s win brings the Nets to 18-21 and they remained a half-game out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

Brooklyn will look to continue their move up the standings as they travel to meet the Memphis Grizzlies Friday night.