Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Joe Harris played a total of 58 seconds during the Cavs 97-84 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday. The victory extended Cleveland’s winning-streak to 11 games heading into a home matchup with All-Stars Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers. The appearance against Philly, for Harris, accounted for his 389th minute at the NBA level since being selected by Cavs GM David Griffin with the 33rd pick overall in last summer’s Draft.
As a Clevelander, the former Virginia Cavalier has scattered 99 points over 35 NBA appearances. He’s shooting 38 percent from three-point range, and logged at least 19 minutes for the Cavs during nine games. The 23-year-old sharpshooter from Chelan, WA, has also made one start for a Cleveland team that continues to appear like an NBA championship contender in the Eastern Conference.
Two nights before the win over Philly, Harris continued his professional voyage in Canton during a game with the Cavaliers D-League affiliate. Playing 29 minutes for the Charge, Harris offered a well-rounded performance while competing at the defensive end throughout the contest. He finished with 13 points, 7 assists and 7 rebounds, while helping Alex Kirk (game-high 14 rebounds, 2 blocked shots) and Stephen Holt (team-high 18 points, 3-6 from three) lead Canton to the 101-84 victory over Seth Curry and the Erie Bayhawks.
“I’m coming down here with the goal of just trying to help the team win games,” Harris told SLAM following the victory over Erie. “That’s the main priority. The league itself is used for developmental purposes to help guys get to the next level, or get opportunities elsewhere. But overall, it’s for us to come down here and win games. That’s what gives everybody down here the best opportunity to go and play somewhere else. Winning teams is the common denominator, whether it’s college, high school or whatever, guys get picked up to go to the next level when they win. So that’s what I’m coming down here to help the team do, win games and try to improve on all aspects of my game in the process.”
In addition to the 35 NBA appearances, Harris has also made four more D-League starts for the Canton Charge this season. He’s averaging 18.8 points and 6 rebounds, while helping push Canton (15-14) over the .500 mark with the Bayhawks victory. After starring at Virginia for four seasons, Harris has welcomed the opportunity to continue developing his game while adding what he’s learned thus far from practicing alongside LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving during live-game situations.
“What’s beneficial for a rookie in my position is that I’m also able to get into a rhythm of actually playing full games,” Harris said. “As of late, up in Cleveland, I haven’t had the opportunity to actually play more than 10 minutes or anything like that. So for me to come down here and have a chance to play 35-40 minutes, and actually get into a rhythm of a basketball game—you can’t simulate that in a practice. You can’t simulate that in one-on-one drills with your coaches, or with your player development guys. So this is the best workout or practice I can get when I’m not able to play significant minutes for the Cavs.”
Harris may be playing 75 minutes south of Cavaliers headquarters on the nights he suits up for the Charge, but he’s far from an afterthought in the NBA locker room. Following the Cavs’ 101-90 win over the Sacramento Kings, Brendan Haywood could be heard over the scrum of media inquiring about how ‘Joe’ did in a D-League game for Canton to anyone within earshot. From a few feet away, as a collection of reporters and recording devices surrounded Kevin Love’s locker and all adjacent space, Damon Jones offered a response.
“He scored 26 and had a tough cover defensively,” the 38-year-old shooting expert who spent 10 years in the NBA told Haywood. The 35-year-old 7-footer from North Carolina, who won a Championship with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011, nodded in approval upon absorbing the news.
“There’s close ties between Canton and Cleveland,” Harris said. “It’s not like just because we’re the D-League team there’s a separation between the two. They mesh well together; there are guys who have been affiliated with Canton that are now with the Cavs and vice versa.
“Brendan [Haywood], he’s a little bit more aware because I spent a lot of time with Brendan during training camp and with our pre-game workouts. And just from our time on the bench, too, joking around about being the bench mob, that sort of stuff. So it makes sense that he’d be asking. And Damon, DJ has come down here a couple times with me. My first couple games that I had he was accompanying me back and forth to Cleveland. So it’s like, even though I’m coming down, the guys up in Cleveland with the Cavs are very cognizant of what’s going on. But it’s been like that well before I started playing here.”
On the same night of the highly anticipated college basketball matchup between Duke and Virginia, two proud alums of each program crossed paths at the Canton Civic Center. Neither Harris, nor Curry, guarded each other at any point in the contest. But the competitive respect is shared by each of the ACC legends currently in pursuit of their first big job after college.
“I don’t really know him too well off the court,” Curry said of Harris. “But we knew it was always going to be a challenge playing against them (Virginia) and him (Harris), specifically, every time we played them. They got us once when I was there, but it’s always fun to play against him. I always respected his game, and still do.”
Seth Curry, younger brother of Steph—the leading vote-getter for the 2015 All-Star game—and son of accomplished pro Dell Curry, has spent time with the Memphis Grizzlies and Cleveland Cavaliers at the NBA level. He has also played for the Santa Cruz Warriors and Erie Bayhawks since beginning his professional career in 2013.
During the loss in Canton, Curry finished with a game-best 27 points on 10-19 shooting from the floor. He also connected on five of the 10 three-pointers he attempted, and averages 24 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists on the season. Curry is also shooting 49 percent from three-point range, while ranking second in the D-League overall in total threes made (102).
“Offensively, I’m working on just creating different shots with and without the ball. Finding different ways to get my shot,” Curry noted. “Then the main thing is defensively, just trying to make plays with my hands. Being very active defensively, and just trying to be the best defender I can be. I’m focusing on the small things we do every day to win games, just playing hard and getting better in every practice.”
While signing on for the duration of an NBA season is every D-Leaguer’s eventual goal, it isn’t a thought that Curry keeps in top-mind status. His focus is on taking the necessary steps each day to become the best player possible, and then allowing the proverbial chips to fall out wherever from there.
“The getting signed part, I don’t even focus on that,” Curry admits. “I just focus on what I need to do every day to help my team win basketball games and keep getting better. I feel good right now, defenses are keying on me so my thing is to find different ways to get open looks. I’m trying to get the best shot possible for my team on a consistent basis and not take bad shots. But I feel good, whenever I let it go, it feels like it’s going in. The biggest thing is just trying to find good shots.”
Superstar lineage aside, every player who steps on to the D-League court is under constant scrutiny from NBA talent scouts, coaches and general managers. Among those in the house to watch Harris clash with Curry was Cavs GM David Griffin.
“For me, individually, I know that part of the reason my minutes went down in Cleveland was just little things,” Harris added. “Mental miscues, being in the right position defensively. There are a lot of different nuances and things you’re not familiar with transitioning from college to the NBA right away. It takes a little bit to get a grasp on some of those details, to fully pick them up. So coming down here really gives me a chance to improve those areas, play continuously through mistakes. That’s what’s going to give everybody in this league a chance to play elsewhere, focusing on the little things.”