Now that Joe Harris is officially a Cleveland Cavalier, I thought it was as good a time as any to post this. I was pretty clueless as to who Harris was before the Cavs drafted him out of Virginia, but I immediately realized I had a friend who could help me out. Chris Sevedge is a third year law student at the University of Virginia, one of the premier public law schools in the country. He's also a huge fan of basketball and the NBA in general.
He was nice enough to answer some questions us about Harris, a guy he watched up close during his career as a Virginia Cavalier.
You've been at Virginia a couple years now and seen a lot of Joe Harris. Is he an NBA player? What skills do you think he has that will translate to the league, if any?
Chris: Joe's capable of contributing offensively in the NBA. His off-ball movement is as efficient and effective as I can remember ever seeing at the college level, he has perfect form and a quick release on the shot, and he has a knack for knowing what he can get away with and playing within those limits. His defense is a little harder to forecast at the next level. Obviously he doesn't bring elite athleticism; his lateral speed will constrain his effectiveness on the wing, and we saw that with his personal foul percentage rising as he was asked to do more. But he's 6'6, he's a lot stronger than you think, and he was an integral part of Tony Bennett's pack line defense instead of being an offense-only guy they had to hide. I think he's got a role coming off the bench in the NBA. (By the way DZ, I've been here not a couple, not three... six years.)
Apologies on the timeline. Chris went to undergrad at Virginia as well. One of the things that impressed me when looking at his college-basketball reference page was seeing his assist rate consistently tick up during his time at Virginia. What were some other things you thought he got better at as time went on?
Chris: His assist rate moved in the right direction, but that might have more to do with the team's spacing getting better. To the extent it was caused by something Joe was doing better, it's probably the development of his offensive counters. His mid range game off the dribble has gotten better each year, and by his fourth year he would consistently counter hard close outs with a deceptively quick first step into a drive with a few different finish options. He did a really good job of using his offseasons to diversify the offensive portfolio so he wasn't an easy guard, and whenever he made the defense think he usually found what they gave up. The new lanes he started exploiting seem to have turned looks that were potential hockey assists his second year into high percentage shots for the recipient his fourth.
His defense also went from a liability to a slight asset, probably because he got stronger, though he also seemed to get more out of his lateral quickness on that end of the court as time went on. So he's already done some things you would expect a college guy to only start doing now, and even though none of those things grade out as even average NBA skills I think having that foundation in his back pocket makes him a good bet both to find some minutes quickly and to focus his development on the things he'll be asked to do.
Is there a player in the league you'd compare him to? Tell me why he isn't Jon Diebler.
Chris: Not Diebler - much stronger, better defensive fundamentals, more versatile offensively. Let's get the Klay comp out of the way, because of the Tony Bennett connection and because Joe's made this comp himself (great branding, Joe!). It's not absurd, as neither of them has median NBA athleticism and both are bigger guards. Klay's longer and was smoother driving and finishing toward the basket, but Joe's stronger and more comfortable with his back to the basket. Klay was a touch more athletic which is significant as you approach the margins, but you can dream a little on that comp if you want.
No perfect comps, but here are a few I like offensively: Overall ceiling is basically Afflalo. Offensively they're similar between the restricted area and 18'. Joe's worse around the rim, upside to be better as they approach the arc. Joe's better at moving without the ball, a serviceable ballhandler but even less effective creating off the dribble than Afflalo. Both are similarly challenged defending quicker players, have similar size, and would likely draw the same defensive matchups. The offensive value of either guy turns more on the players around them than you'd like. Jay Bilas has compared him to a stronger, more athletic JJ Redick; that's a pretty good comp. He's much less assertive dribbling the ball (will that change in the NBA?) but already a more efficient mover without the ball than JJ, especially going around flare and pin-down screens. If he's going to make it, his shot will have to translate like JJ's did. They shot the same in college from 3 but JJ took more/dumber/harder shots, so JJ's shot tool was probably ahead of Joe's from draft night to draft night. Sounds like Joe's been working on it though.
Defensive comps: My best guess defensive comp is Aaron McKie in a less favorable defensive environment for his tools, so more of McKie's old stops will be fouls on Harris, but his positioning will be good and he'll surprise you with the occasional disruptive play on defense. "36-year-old Ray Allen?" is a sneakily good worst-case-scenario comp on defense. Joe works well in a defined role of an effective system, does not have great quickness so he will get blown by, but is strong enough to slow faster guys down just enough for help to come. So yeah, Aaron McKie and Ray Allen comps, exactly what you expected.
I know it's not a huge deal, but is there an explanation for him only shooting 64% from the free throw line last year? Random variance?
Chris: No idea what was up with the free throws. Here are three possibilities: 1) Random noise; 2) Less-random noise, e.g. distracted by the dozens of catcalls lobbed in his direction every time he does anything within 100 miles of Charlottesville including buy milk at the grocery store; 3) Extra muscle threw him off some, and knowing Joe, he'll be back at 75%+ next season. Anyway, congratulations on picking up an insanely likable kid. We love the guy in Hooville. Fear the #Swoon!