Joe Harris was taken early in the second round of June's NBA Draft, without the guarantee of an NBA contract coming his way. Within weeks it was clear that Harris, even if he made the team, would find himself somewhere near the bottom of a group of shooting guards competing for minutes that included presumed starter Dion Waiters, free agent signee's Mike Miller and James Jones, as well as Matthew Dellavedova and potentially Ray Allen.
Less then a month into the young season, Waiters has seen his role and minute load reduced, Dellavedova has been hurt, Ray Allen bides his time, Mike Miller has struggled, and James Jones' success has been limited to three point shootouts at the end of practice.
Joe Harris did get that guaranteed contract, and has found himself in the rotation, getting minutes, making an impact. Asked by Fear the Sword about the whirlwind journey from draft night until this point, Harris is earnest, saying, "You always have to be ready, regardless of the circumstances. A couple guys got banged up. Whatever your role is with the team, you have to do that."
Harris' clear role, and his ability to fulfill it, is probably the easiest way to understand why he has earned David Blatt's trust in such a short time. His traditional metrics are, quite frankly, not good. He entered Wednesday night's matchup with the Washington Wizards shooting 32.4% from the field and 30.8% from three point range. Despite his struggles shooting the ball early, though, the Cavaliers have excelled as a team with Harris on the floor. With the Virginia product on the court, the Cavaliers are outscoring opponents by over 26 points per 100 possessions according to 82games.com. Small sample size caveats aside, this is impressive.
With scorers like LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love, the Cavaliers need floor spacers around them who will defend, keep the ball moving, and space the floor. Harris has physical limitations defensively and is still learning, but effort hasn't been the issue on that end. Offensively? He knows his role:
Over 75% of Harris' field goal attempts are from three point range. You can compare that figure with Dion Waiters, who has attempted field goals from three point range less than 25% of the time. Obviously you'd like to see Harris shoot a higher percentage from that range, but there's reason to believe from his four year career at Virginia (where he was a career 41% shooter) that he will improve.
Harris comes from a program at Virginia that is known for its commitment to ball movement. Fear the Sword asked him about what made that movement possible and what might extend to his pro team. Harris said sacrifice was a key theme at Virginia: "I came from a program in college where the focal point for everything was team-oriented and guys didn’t really care a whole lot about their stats, and that’s why we moved the ball so well."
Harris, unprompted, brought up the issue of pace, something the Cavaliers have struggled with up to this point. Heading into Wednesday night's game ranked 19th in the NBA in pace, Harris said it's something the team needs to keep working on. After noting that the longer shot clock in the NCAA allows for a slower game, he said "I think here, when we play with pace the ball seems to move a bit more effortlessly. When we aren’t playing with pace sometimes that’s where we get stagnant, and the ball kind of sticks in some places instead of moving around. And that’s been a focal point with the coaches, veteran guys with the team, we got to play with pace."
Of course, it's a lot easier to get out in transition when the defense does his job, and Harris recognizes that as well. "[Pace] also comes from defensive stops. The defense will transition into pace, and that should lead to better ball movement."
Joe Harris might be an unlikely key contributor for this Cleveland Cavaliers team, but if he continues to throw himself into defending and stick with his three point shot, he might be just what the team needs off the bench. He's self-aware, and knows what he doesn't know, doesn't do what he doesn't know how to do. That's important, and it's been good for David Blatt and the Cavaliers.