Joe Harris arrived in Brooklyn in 2016 a castaway, a former second-round pick who’d been waived by the Cleveland Cavaliers after a season-ending injury. During his first year with the Nets, Harris started only eleven games, and the Nets finished with a league-worst 20 wins. Since then, Harris has turned himself into quite possibly the best sharpshooter in the NBA. The Nets, meanwhile, have loaded up with Hall of Fame talent and all-league personalities in Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden.
Harris might be the greatest beneficiary of that shift. In a league charmed by analytics and three-pointers, Harris has carved out his niche—and reaped the benefits, signing a four-year, $75 million contract last fall. And with three all-world scorers occupying the defense’s attention, he’s taking even greater advantage than before: hitting more than 48% of his three pointers, the unassuming Net is on the brink of the greatest shooting season in NBA history.
GQ: You’re hovering around 50% from three on the season. How often are you looking at that percentage?
Joe Harris: I never look at it.
So you’re not aware of it at all?
You see stats on the ticker before games. Especially at home, our names will pop up with our stats. And I get it—I know it’s a very stat-focused league, and people like to see tangible evidence on how players are doing. But I’ve never really paid that much attention to it. I know when I’m playing efficiently and when I’m not, but I don’t really need to look at the stat sheet to see that.
It’s interesting to me that you don’t look at your stats at all when your success is so predicated on that number, almost like a baseball hitter.
Yeah, I probably paid more attention to it in the past, when I was first coming up in the league. But at the same time, I kind of found myself being overly concerned with it, when it’s not as big of a deal.
Okay, I know you’re supposed to say you only care about winning games, but wouldn’t it just be cool to shoot over 50% from three, as a basketball fan?
Oh yeah. It’d be awesome. You definitely join a rare club of guys. I think [Kyle] Korver and Steve Kerr, and then maybe Tim Legler are the only people that have ever done it. [A few other players—Detlef Schrempf, Jason Kapono, and Jon Sundvold—have managed the feat.] So yeah, that would be incredible. But two years ago I led the NBA in three-point shooting percentage and I got a trophy from the NBA. I don’t even have it. I don’t even know where the hell that thing is.
Wait—you actually don’t know where it is?
I don’t know. I think it’s in our facility—maybe in my locker or something.
Under a pile of practice jerseys.
Yeah. It definitely would be cool for sure, and there’s a legacy aspect to it. But at the end of the day, I don’t think like people really care that much.
In my eyes you’re much closer to a guy like Klay Thompson than, say, Steve Novak on the shooter versatility spectrum. Does it bother you when people put you in the category of a guy who can only shoot?
No, not really, because I think the people that are ultimately making decisions see value in me outside of just shooting the ball. I think casual fans assume that that’s all I do, which is totally fine, I get it. I would do the same thing if I didn’t consistently watch Nets games.
Do you find humor in the fact that you were waived in 2016, but now you’ve become the reason teams take chances on undervalued shooters?
Honestly, it’s the NBA in a nutshell. There are different players that people are modeled after, but I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily this prototype. I think there are a lot of players that are similar to me that now people associate value with, whereas when I was coming into the league that wasn’t the case. I was just trying to find my footing, and was playing on a really good championship team, and didn’t have opportunities to make mistakes and learn through them and grow confidence that way. My first couple of years in the league were very slow in terms of overall development, but then my growth got expedited when I got to Brooklyn.
I feel like you are the blueprint, though, because a lot of teams wrote you off—but then you developed into a success. And because of that, teams are giving second looks to shooters.
There definitely is some aspect of that. The NBA is such a challenging place because guys get written off so quickly, and I’ve never really understood it. A kid might come in who’s 19, 20 years old, who struggled to find his footing early on. And then teams are off him when he’s 22, 23 years old, when there’s still a lot of time left to develop him. I even talked about this the other day with some of the Nets assistant coaches. Typically the best talent and prospects are guys that are sitting at the end of NBA benches or playing in the G League. There’s a lot of attention and focus put on guys in the draft—rightfully so—but you’re just speculating on those guys. The young guys sitting on the end of the benches are the best prospects that just need an opportunity.
What’s it like having one of the greatest shooters ever as your head coach? Are there instances where Steve Nash is going over a play or giving feedback and it’s very clear that he was a shooter himself?
It’s the little stuff. Maybe I’ve missed my first few shots in the game, and we have a dead ball and he’s drawing up a play for me, and not going away from me. He’s constantly thinking about how we can get certain people looks. And on our team, guys like Kyrie and James are so good at creating shots for themselves, so a lot of times ATOs [“after time-out” plays] and different sets and draw-ups are for guys like me and Landry [Shamet] or other guys on the court to get a clean look.
You, James, and KD are three of the best shooters of the decade playing on the same team. Is there anything to be said for shooters understanding shooters? Are there certain nuances that you guys might be able to pick up from each other on the court that a lot of players might miss?
Yeah, James is an excellent shooter himself, but he’s also got a point guard mindset. He’s constantly trying to get guys involved. There are times in the first quarter where he might only take like one or two shots, but he’ll have seven or eight assists because he’s getting everybody involved. He sees it from a shooter’s perspective, and tries to get guys’ rhythms going early.
You and KD, and especially you and Harden, have developed great on-court chemistry. Have you been able to get to know each other off the court as well?
With everything going on, it’s sort of a unique situation where we’re traveling and on the road. But like every other NBA team I’ve ever been on, these are the people that you spend the majority of your time with. We’re no different now than we were four or five years ago. The Nets are pretty big about team dinners and letting guys be able to hang. Even last night after the game we had a catered meal in the hotel and were all able to sit down and have dinner with one another.
Have KD and Harden hit you up for recommendations on where to eat when you’re in the city?
No, those guys kinda got their spots that they stick with. And to be honest, they’re not necessarily gonna hit these low-key joints in, like, Prospect Heights.
They’re not at Mekelburgs?
[Laughs] They’re not eating at Mekelburgs.
What has surprised you about playing with James?
His ability to pass the ball. We played against him a couple different times and he dropped high 50s, and I think he had 60-something against us one year, too. So I knew that he’s obviously one of the best scorers in the league, but after playing with him I see he’s a lot more than that. I would argue that his passing ability is just as good as his scoring ability, which is saying a lot.
On the other hand I’ve got the feeling that maybe James and KD came here and heard you can shoot, but didn’t realize how complete your game was. Have either of them come up to you and been like, “Damn, Joe, I didn’t know it was like that?”
Actually, it’s kind of funny that you say that, because playing with them at the beginning of the year, there was little stuff defensively where they’d be gassing me up. Whereas in the past, it wasn’t necessarily like that. You wouldn’t expect these guys to come in and have a good feel for what your game was about. But they instill a lot of confidence in me in other areas besides shooting the ball.
If we average the price of every player’s pregame outfit this season, where do you think you would rank in the league?
I’d probably be towards the bottom
How towards the bottom?
I mean, probably like very close to the very, very bottom because a lot of the stuff that I wear is usually for free from Nike.
Do you ever think of just showing up in full Gucci or Prada one day to throw everyone off?
Oh, I’ve one hundred percent thought of that. I want to go shopping with [DeAndre Jordan] and have him pick out an outfit for me and I’ll pick out an outfit for him. I kind of want to throw some chains and stuff on when I walk in.