Welcome to the 2020 Hornets Free Agent Forum where each week I will profile a potential 2020 free agent target for the Charlotte Hornets. Most of the players I’ll highlight will be unrestricted free agents (list here) whose ages and skill sets fit nicely with a young, up-and-coming Hornets roster. Feel free to engage in the comments because what makes free agency so fun to debate is it’s not just about the player, it’s also about roster construction, cap usage, and culture.
Player: Joe Harris, SG/SF
Standing reach: 8’4”
2020 stats: 30.8 MPG, 14.5 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.1 APG, 48.6% FG, 42.4% 3PT
Estimated market value: $12.2 million (per Bobby Marks, ESPN)
Joe Harris is among the most deadly three-point shooters on the planet. After leading the NBA in 2018-19 by hitting 47.4% of his three-point attempts, he finished seventh in the league this past season at 42.4%. If Charlotte wants to double down on spreading the floor with shooters, the 2019 NBA All-Star Three-Point Contest winner would be an ideal fit.
The six-year veteran is an extremely efficient scorer from the wing. Last season he averaged 14.5 points per game for the Brooklyn Nets with an effective field goal percentage (which accounts for the fact that three pointers are worth more than two pointers) of 59.6%, a number that far exceeded any of the Hornets backcourt mainstays including Miles Bridges (48.9%), Devonte’ Graham (49.5%), Terry Rozier (51.4%), and PJ Washington (52.8%). Harris can get buckets as efficiently as almost any wing in the league.
Defensively, Harris graded out as a slightly above average defender among small forwards based on ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus/Minus metric. Last season 50 small forwards averaged at least 20 minutes per game and Harris’ DRPM of 0.24 ranked 23rd at his position, a result that was slightly better than Miles Bridges who ranked 25th with a DRPM of .08. Basketball Reference’s Defensive Box Plus/Minus stat graded Harris at -0.6, which also slightly outpaced Bridges -1.5 last year. While Harris isn’t a lockdown defender, at least some advanced metrics indicate he’s not a liability, either.
From a roster construction standpoint, adding him could make a ton of sense if the front office plans to use the No. 3 pick on a center. Acquiring Harris would mean moving Terry Rozier to the bench where he could flourish as a lead scorer for the second unit while also getting some run with the starters at either guard position. There are plenty of roster combinations available to ensure Rozier is still playing around 30 minutes per game, including some Graham-Rozier-Harris-Washington combos that could rain down some major threes, so Rozier wouldn’t be wasting away on the pine. This could also help solve the challenge of starting two 6’1” players in Graham and Rozier. Adding Harris and investing the No. 3 pick in a big man would give the Hornets the following roster:
Starters - Graham, Harris, Bridges, Washington, No. 3 pick
Second Unit - Rozier (playing ~30 MPG between both guard positions), Malik Monk, Cody Martin, Jalen McDaniels, Cody Zeller
Assuming Bridges and Washington continue to develop and the No. 3 pick is NBA-ready, that’s a team that could compete for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Harris just turned 29 so he’s on the older end of what I’d like to see in a free agent as the Hornets rebuild, but shooters tend to retain that elite skill set for a long time in today’s NBA. Last year the NBA’s top three most accurate three-point shooters were all on the other side of 30 in George Hill (34), JJ Redick (36), and Seth Curry (30). Throw in sharpshooters like Klay Thompson (30), Steph Curry (32), and Kevin Durant (32) who each had injury issues last year, and you get the point. Charlotte is still on a three-to-four year rebuild plan, and I have a feeling Joe Harris will still be scorching the nets from deep by the end of that timeframe.
At an estimated salary of $12.2 million per year, Harris wouldn’t clog up Charlotte’s salary cap. The team would still have plenty of flexibility in 2021-22 after the combined $42.5 million cap hits for Nic Batum and Cody Zeller are off the books.
While Joe Harris is an unrestricted free agent, there are indications he would like to stay in Brooklyn and play alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. The question is whether or not the Nets are willing to pay upward of an estimated $50 million luxury tax after including a $12.2 million deal to retain Harris.
My view is Joe Harris would be a strong addition on a $12.2 million deal provided the Hornets land a solid big man at No. 3. I would like starting him alongside Graham and Bridges then bringing in Terry Rozier off the bench with a green light to score. That would give Charlotte a solid starting five and a second unit that could get the job done.