Player Evaluation - Devin Harris
Emmanuel Mudiay’s minutes with the Denver Nuggets had an inverse relationship with his turnovers. Eventually it got to the point where coach Michael Malone couldn’t stomach watching them any longer and relegated his once future face of the franchise to the bench for good. That left the Nuggets with no point guard to speak of off their bench and forced them to use Will Barton in a position that was not where he was most effective. It was less than ideal. Enter trade deadline acquisition Devin Harris. With Mudiay on his way to New York and the savvy veteran headed to Denver the Nuggets had their veteran point guard to bring consistency, or so it seemed. The problem was Harris was playing almost entirely off ball with the Dallas Mavericks, so his transition back to a point guard role, and one where you oftentimes have to play with an enigmatic phenom like Nikola Jokic, was clunky to say the least. Down the stretch though Harris found his groove, both with Jokic on and off the court, and gave the Nuggets valuable minutes in big moments.
Key stat: 2.5 turnovers per 100 possessions
Harris’ transition to the Nuggets offense could have gone smoother but the number one reason they brought him in was to take care of the basketball and he did that for the team. His 2.5 turnovers per 100 possessions was the best among any of the regular rotation guards, we’re not counting Malik Beasley or Torrey Craig here (Craig really played most of the season as a small forward). For comparison, Gary Harris averaged 2.6, Will Barton averaged 2.8, Jamal Murray averaged 3.3 and Emmanuel Mudiay averaged 4.7 (yikes). The turnover number highlights the number 1 reason why the Harris trade was good for the Nuggets at least in the short term: he didn’t actively hurt the team when he was on the court.
Best moment: The Devin Harris game
With the Minnesota Timberwolves in town for the fourth to last game of the season and the Nuggets facing a must win situation, it was Harris who not once but twice turned to momentum in Denver’s favor single handedly. First, with thirty seconds left in the first quarter he buried a three to get a 2 for 1 opportunity and then he made good on it by getting fouled behind the three point line with 4 seconds to go and knocking down all three free throws. It was the third quarter that made everyone take notice though. Down 72-68 with a minute and a half to go, the Nuggets were in trouble of letting the game get away but Harris wasn’t having it. He scored 9 of the Nuggets next 11 points and they entered the fourth up seven and closed out the crucial win.
Areas of strength
As stated, Harris’ veteran savvy and ability to protect the basketball are some of his biggest strengths, but another one to consider is his versatility. In this day and age players who can play multiple positions are an asset and Devin is capable of playing 1 through 3. His ability to play off ball worked very well once he found his groove with Jokic. Harris is a superb cutter which played right into what the Nuggets try to do on offense. He also still has a dynamic enough game to be an effective player with the ball in his hands as well. He shoots threes at just a shade below league average, finishes at the rim effectively and can create for others. Another strength of his has been his ability to adapt to the modern NBA. As said, he’s become versatile enough to play three positions, but he’s also adapted his shot selection to the new NBA as well. 83% of Harris’ shots while with Denver came from either within three feet or from beyond the three point line.
Areas of weakness
The obvious weakness is age. At 35 Harris is no spring chicken and he certainly doesn’t have the quickness and explosion that made him an All Star earlier in his career. That also doesn’t help him defensively. Devin in general has the size matchup in his favor when playing the point but his lack of speed and lateral quickness leaves him susceptible to allowing dribble penetration. On the offensive end, he’s never been a true point guard and perhaps the Nuggets would have been better served with a more pure point in that bench role, especially when Jokic is off the floor. There’s plenty of other “weaknesses” to his game as well, but those all come with the age thing. At this point if anybody is expecting him to be more than he is, a veteran backup combo guard whose presence is valuable on and off the court, then I’m not sure what to tell them.
Will he be back next season?
Harris made no mention of considering retirement but he is an unrestricted free agent and free to sign with whomever he pleases, or will have him, this offseason. The Nuggets aren’t likely to have a lot of cap space available to them so there’s almost equally a chance they could bring him back because he’s a cheaper option as there is they let him go because he doesn’t bring enough to the table to justify the added salary. Either way, Harris is likely to be playing under a veteran minimum or possibly a little more than that next season. Obviously a player of Devin’s stature isn’t going to command enough money to make it too cumbersome to find space in the salary cap and Denver has his bird rights so they can exceed the cap to retain him but if they stray into the luxury tax Harris effectively would cost double. Whether or not he is back will depend largely on whether or not he wants to be and also what happen with Will Barton’s impending free agency. If Barton leaves for greener pastures, Harris could make for an emergency one year stopgap while the Nuggets work to find a more long term solution to their backup backcourt.