Thirty teams, 30 burning fantasy questions. Throughout the preseason, we put one of these questions to an ESPN.com analyst for an in-depth look at the most interesting, perplexing or dumbfounding fantasy facet of each NBA team. Be sure to check out the 30 Questions Index to see them all.
Is this the year Devin Harris breaks out and becomes a fantasy commodity?
You always follow the other guy when your NBA team makes a big trade. When my Washington Wizards acquired Antawn Jamison from the Dallas Mavericks in 2004, Harris was the bait. Jamison's professionalism transformed the Wizards' locker room. In essence, the trade put Washington back on the NBA map.
In return, Dallas got a very promising point guard: a lottery pick with the speed to penetrate and break down NBA defenses, phosphorescent-hot defensive intensity and a decent outside shot. Harris also was a Final Four-branded leader, a "coach on the court." In short, he arrived NBA-ready. All of these superlatives were confirmed when Harris was named the Mavericks' starting point guard as a rookie. A hot November made him an early favorite for rookie of the year. Surely, fantasy prominence was on the horizon.
Cut to three years later. We're still waiting in Fantasyland. Harris has been a part of some great NBA teams, but in fantasy, he has been a bust. Every season, Harris is touted as a breakout candidate and a sleeper pick. Every season, fantasy owners make Harris an end-game gamble, banking on glowing preseason reports that he has "turned the corner." And every year, you find Harris sitting on the waiver wire in shallow leagues by the All-Star break.
It's not that Harris has been bad on the court; he just has been statistically inconsistent on the offensive end. When you watch him play, you see superlative defensive execution. Last year's playoffs aside, he has become a shutdown point guard defensively. Someday soon, he'll become a member of the All-NBA Defensive Team. But sadly, ESPN has yet to devise a "defensive intensity" category in its fantasy games. You need more than steals to be a quality fantasy point guard. That's where Harris becomes a source of frustration.
And the most frustrating thing about Harris: The propensity to follow up a 20-point, 6-assist gem with a 6-point, 1-assist clunker. Will he address that inconsistency? Early indications point to yes, and here's why:
1. Harris is entrenched as the starter: Harris has been the starter in name, but he really has been just another cog in the Mavs' backcourt rotation. His minutes-per-game average (26) last season was not a prescription for fantasy goodness, and that was a career high. Now entering his fourth season, Harris reportedly has been given more offensive responsibility by coach Avery Johnson. If only Johnson could come out and guarantee Harris 35-plus minutes a game.
It looks as if Eddie Jones will be the starting shooting guard, ahead of Jerry Stackhouse and Jason Terry (a classic combo guard who can slide over to the two). Terry will be the sixth man, with Stackhouse and Devean George also figuring into the backcourt mix. There's still a logjam, but of all of Dallas' guards, Harris currently has the most defined role.
If Jones is the starter, he'll be in for his defense, which means that Harris should get more looks on the offensive end. Those looks historically have been hard to come by, since he has been, at best, the fourth option in the Mavericks' attack. This year, things could be different, since according to reports ...
2. Harris has refined his outside shot. "Exhumed" might be the more applicable term. At Wisconsin, Harris was a fairly reliable mid-range shooter, but that hasn't been the case at the NBA level. His shooting percentage has gone up every year (49.2 percent in 2006-7), but it's been something of a red herring, in that most of Harris' points have come off of transition and penetration. When defenses collapse on Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard, Harris hasn't been able to make them pay. Harris attempted only 50 3-pointers all of last season; he makes Andre Miller look like Reggie Miller by comparison.
There was a story in the Dallas Morning News this weekend in which Harris swore he has fixed his shot. If you're looking for a reason to believe him, look no further than his free-throw percentage. In 2006-07, Harris dramatically increased in this area, surging from 71 percent to 82 percent.
Maybe this will be the year he makes the jump from the field. If it is, then this will be the year Harris becomes a fantasy factor. Not a force, mind you, but worthy of a roster spot. I'd say his fantasy upside resides somewhere north of ESPN's projections (12 points, 4 assists and 1.5 steals per game), but they're a good baseline from which to draft. If Harris mildly surprises and surpasses those numbers, he'll be a fantasy commodity in all but the shallowest of leagues.
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.