Saying Goodbye to Devin Harris

We'll miss you Devin, and appreciate you trying to set things up in the half-court for us; even if that wasn't your strength. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

[Ed. Note: The Deal was announced and finalized days ago, I’m getting to this now. Hey, it’s my first day.]

The Jazz traded away Devin Harris to the Atlanta Hawks for Marvin Williams. The principals to this trade have been agreed upon, and the final details don’t differ much from that original offering.

Devin Harris is gone . . .

Except in the case of Rickey Green being followed on by John Stockton, the Utah Jazz usually have a gap year or two in terms of their point guard play. When the Jazz moved Deron Williams for parts, one of the parts they received from the New Jersey Nets was Devin Harris. This was another opportunity for the Jazz to receive that very rare "two consecutive good point guards in a row" roster continuity. Of course, there were challenges to this right from the onset. Devin Harris was a shoot first point guard, and our system required a pass first point guard. Devin Harris came in to the middle of the season, and our offense needs at least one training camp to pass before the tricky nuances can be picked up. (Nuances like, uh, when to pass the ball into Al Jefferson, I guess?) That said, the marriage of Harris and the Jazz had the potential to be quite harmonious. We needed a guy who could break down defenses, get buckets in transition, and possibly play at a near All-star level. He needed a team that wanted him. And now he is gone.

My thoughts on this after the jump . . .

Devin Harris: pre-Jazz years

Devin Harris was the 5th overall draft pick in 2004. In his second season in the NBA he played 22.8 mpg for a Dallas Mavericks club and he was showing a lot of promise. He averaged 9.9 ppg and went to the line 4.2 times a game as a second year player. His game was built around penetration and creating havoc. In the next one and a half seasons he had improved enough to the point that in order to get Jason Kidd, the New Jersey Nets demanded Harris in return. (Wow, that’s like a glass half-full or half-empty thing, with being traded for Kidd and Deron in the same career. Is he good enough to be their peers, or is it bad for his ego to always be traded away for a better point guard?)

In Dallas he was a rising star. In New Jersey he became an All-Star in his first full season as a Net. In his All-Star year he was a 21.3 ppg scorer who dished out the rock for a score 6.9 times a game, got to the line 8.8 times a game, and stole the ball 1.7 times a game. That was his zenith in Jersey, but it was flanked by a number of very solid seasons for a starting PG. He got way better after training camp and after the dust settled. He was a 15 and 8 guy for the Nets the season he was traded to the Jazz. He was in a shooting slump, but still getting it done. Maybe a change of scenery would propel him in the next stage of his career?

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The Utah Jazz Devin Harris Joined

That post-Carlos Boozer/Ronnie Brewer/Kyle Korver/Wesley Matthews team was, well, different. The Jazz picked up Al Jefferson to work in the paint. Paul Millsap was ready to be the starter. Andrei Kirilenko was in a contract year. And Mehmet Okur was going to come along slowly post-rehab. You notice that none of those guys were guards. The Jazz team Harris joined was one that had a big, wide, gaping hole at "guard". Deron Williams’ departure left big shoes to fill in terms of on court production and leadership. When in "non-pouty Deron mode" Williams was one of the best Jazz players, ever. The team Harris was joining was one that did not have an identity (after Jerry Sloan’s departure), and did not have much going on in the back court. Harris would have to do a lot, and on the fly. Helping him out, though, was the fact that he was moving into a situation where he would have plenty of chances to learn on the fly. His contract was locked in for two more seasons. And he was going to a franchise that had been pretty good to point guards over the years. If anything, the Jazz were patient with their points because point guard was the most important position on the floor for the offense we ran. (Irony)

The Utah Jazz team that Devin Harris joined was one that was incomplete and needing direction. Harris had been on successful clubs before, and cellar dwellers both. That is the type of frame of reference you’d want in a leader – at the very least, he would know which direction to lead us in.

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The Expectations

Devin Harris can win games by himself. He would help us win games in a team concept. We needed scoring from the back court, and he is just the right guy to do it. On this team, with the talent it had outside of the guard spots, Harris should have the support he needed to possibly play at an All-Star level again. When given the keys to the Jazz by the coaches, he could replicate or even surpass his Nets numbers (after all, we’re a better team than the nets). Devin should be able to score 16-20 points a game here, and up his assists per game totals as well. The key was his ability to push the pace, or break down defenses in the half court, and get to the line.

Devin would do well here in Utah, especially when he’s motivated to prove he wasn’t just a ‘throw in’ in the trade. And our team would do well, as well.

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The Reality

Devin Harris wasn’t a 20 point guy for the Jazz. He did not live at the line. He did not get a chance to, because he couldn’t push the ball up the floor and get to the rim in transition. Why? Because he was paired up with a veritable anchor in Al Jefferson. In all of Jazz basketball I have not seen such a miss matched pair of headliners. Al couldn’t play up-tempo, but Devin could slow things down. Guess who made the compromise? Devin did. And his game suffered, considerably. Devin had the ball in his hands, and could have pushed it – but it was a top down decision from the coaches that they were going to slow things down. We saw this when he first came here, and even saw it last season when we played the Los Angeles Lakers on their 3rd game in three nights, and never ran. We should have ran. We did not. We could not. We had to keep dumping it into Al instead of using our youth and speed advantage.

In the 17 games he played for us after the trade he averaged 15.8 ppg, and 5.4 apg. He got to the line 5.6 times a game and shot 35.7% from deep. Those were good numbers, but I think we were expecting Devin to play better. He didn’t seem to know when to pick his spots. He didn’t know how to play with Big Al. And many of these things would have been fixed in the off-season when they’d have training camp and preseason.

Nooope. Chuck Testa Lockout.

After the most useless training camp and preseason ever, the 2011-12 season started. And started with that ‘chained by the leg to Al Jefferson’ offense that was both predictable and inefficient. (We talk about our offensive rating and PPG a lot. We did good. Not because we were good, but because of all the offensive rebounds. We did good because we had more chances than the other team. We won through volume, not skill or proficiency. This is a big lie we tell ourselves. We were the Persian Immortals at Thermopylae. Not the well trained, disciplined, efficient Spartans.) Devin was a team player and he sublimated his game even more this time around. He finished the season averaging 11.3 ppg, and 5.0 apg. His minutes went down, as did his shot attempts (by nearly -3 a game), and went to the line only 3.3 times a game. The last he shot fewer free throws than the 209 he shot in 2011-12 was his rookie season in Dallas.

One first blush it looks like Devin was passive this year. He was not. He was super active always trying to initiate things, but deferred quite a bit to our game plan of feeding the bigs. He was not a pass first PG, but heck, he really tried to be one this year. He took less shots, made a higher fg% this time around, and tried to be what our team needed. He has a career points per shot (PPS) value of 1.33, and that is mostly boosted by high FTA counts. Last season his PPS value was 1.32 – still way higher than league average. It was right there, because he was changing his game and attempting to be more efficient; because that was the type of point guard the Jazz needed.

As a point of reference, though, Big Al’s PPS values were: 1.18 career, and 1.12 last season. Guess who took more shots per game? Devin changed his play style to fit what we were doing, he tried to do what we needed. Did Al? Our offense was built for a strong scoring forward to get to the line, from Adrian Dantley, to Karl Malone, to Carlos Boozer. Did Al do what the Dick Motta offense was built to do? Nope. But Devin did what a PG is supposed to do – defer while being the primary ball handler.

The reality is that Devin didn’t replicate his All-Star year in a Jazz uniform. The style of game we played was vastly different. And Devin played a vastly different style because as a professional who put the team first, he changed what he did on the court, even if that meant playing out of the style that got him to the NBA. He was a speedy shoot first PG who could drive to the basket and cause havoc. Instead in Utah he was a jog the ball up the court guy who stayed out of the paint because that’s where Al operated. The results were not what we wanted; but honestly, the conditions were suboptimal. I was really hoping that this next season the Jazz brass would have let Devin be Devin a bit more. He paid his dues here. He would be allowed to be more decisive and pick his spots. It was going to work out.

Really, it was.

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Amar’s idea

While I was never his fan (It’s hard to like someone who used to torch us when he played against us), I did think that he was holding it down to some extent. He was a veteran in his peak, and a proven veteran at that. After his first half season with the Jazz he had two more years on his contract (valued at $9.3m in 2011-12, and $8.5m in 2012-13). In my arm chair (it’s nice outside, let’s make it lawn chair) GM mode I would have let him prove himself as the starter these two years (last year, and the year coming up) before deciding his fate. I would have been fair, and had he played well this coming year I would have advocated for his return. In fact I have a stat post started in spread sheet form of data that would support his return already, but I’ll save you from three stat posts in a row.

Instead Jazz GM Kevin O’Connor traded him out of the blue to the Hawks for Marvin Williams, while a parallel trade brought in the ‘next’ starting point in Mo Williams. I don’t really know if this makes us a better team (but I’ve been trying to convince myself that it will), but on the loyalty side of things I was not happy with how this shook out. To beat a dead horse, Devin came into a suboptimal situation, sublimated his game to the point where he lowered his own potential future earnings, and then was shipped out to try to rebuild his career on a team that also has point guards Lou Williams, Jeff Teague, and Jordan Farmar already on the books.

What the '12-13 Hawks PGs did in '11-12
Player Team Age G MPG PPG APG RPG PER
Lou Williams PHI 25 64 26.3 . 14.9 3.5 2.4 . 20.2
Jordan Farmar NJN 25 39 21.3 . 10.4 3.3 1.6 . 17.4
Devin Harris UTA 28 63 27.6 . 11.3 5.0 1.8 . 16.0
Jeff Teague ATL 23 66 33.1 . 12.6 4.9 2.4 . 15.8

Yes, he’s in an even worse spot now, despite playing on a team that seems to love isolations – particularly when you factor in that the Hawks play an even slower pace than the Jazz, and Harris is built for speed.

I really did not think that Harris’ tenure here as our starting point guard would be so short. And I don’t think he envisioned it finishing with him leaving Salt Lake City averaging only 11.3 points per game. I would have given him all of next year to grow into the role here and play more of ‘his’ style (which conceivably could also be the style that a number of our younger players thrive in). But it’s a good thing I’m not running things, as I would have drafted Georgetown’s Boubacar Aw just for the "Utah Jazz – Aw yeah!" radio promotion angle. [Ed. Note: I don’t know if I’m joking here.] Harris is gone, and with it the dream of back to back All-Star starting PGs in the Jazz continuum of PG excellence.

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Roster Re-Load

While this may not be that rare for other franchises, I must stress that it seems crazy for the Jazz to replace two starters from a team that made the playoffs the last year, days into the off-season right after that year ended. Last season our starting point was Devin. This season it will be Mo. Last season one of our starting wings was Josh Howard / DeMarre Carroll – and this season, conceivably, it will be Marvin. This roster re-load is exciting and frightening. We shuffled around two spots that did not have log-jams, while doing little (so far) to address the battle of the bigman bulge. I guess KOC will take the ‘wait and see’ method for now with the expiring contracts of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap – the same method he did not take in the case of Devin Harris. Interesting.

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Farewell, Devin

Devin, you were never my guy – but I think you were a good soldier here. You did your job, and put the team first above your needs. You helped us win some games, and you caught fire down the stretch helping us get to the playoffs. Jazz fans love being in the playoffs, it’s what is "normal" for us. In the bottom line you helped bring normalcy back to our team after that one really messed up season (that I won’t go into again). I’ll never forget your selfless, team-first, sacrifices. They did not show up on the box scores, but as someone who has watched you play your entire NBA career, I could tell that you were making many of them. I hope things work out well for you in Atlanta. I saw your first double double game in a Jazz jersey in person. I expected you were going to have a lot more of them in 2012-13. At least you still have millions of dollars and a super hot wife. (Takes you to Google, not Google Images)

Please Jazz fans don’t boo this dude when he plays us.


YouTube video by: Skylerkidd

Have a great career Devin, wanna see you play more of your game next year. Shut the haters up.

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