The NBA’s 30 best go-to players (#23: Devin Harris)

By: 09.24.09
Devin Harris

Devin Harris

Every NBA team has a go-to guy, and there’s really only room for one. And it’s not strictly who takes the last-second shot. It’s the guy who regularly gets the ball when things are getting tense in the fourth; the guy expected to calm things down when teammates are getting sloppy; the guy called upon to snuff out an opponent’s rally, or spark a rally of his own; the guy who’s not just supposed to make shots, but make the right decisions.

Bottom line: Who do you want the offense to run through when everything is on the line? From #30 to #1, these are the League’s best go-to guys…

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#23: DEVIN HARRIS, New Jersey

In the tradition of many successful NFL quarterbacks, champion boxing prospects and NBA point guards, it’s all coming around in nicely-paced single steps for Devin Harris.

Four seasons after he was a Top-5 Lottery pick, Harris became a full-time starter. In Year 5, his first full stint in New Jersey, he had his breakout as an All-Star and one of the League’s top point guards. Now going into his sixth campaign, Devin gets his first crack at being a team’s go-to guy.

Last season, Devin averaged 21.3 points (14th in the League), 6.9 assists and 1.6 steals, all career-highs. But when it came to the Nets needing to identify somebody as their rock, that job still fell to Vince Carter. But with Vince now in Orlando, this is Devin’s team, and the 26-year-old appears ready for the spotlight.

Harris had his standout crunch-time moments last season. He hit a game-winner against Sacramento and another against Indiana on plays designed for him to clear-out and get whatever shot he could. He had games where he dominated from start to finish, most notably when he ripped Phoenix for 47 points, Dallas for 41 and 13 dimes, and Chicago for 42 points. And while Devin’s most memorable play — a halfcourt desperation game-winner against Philly — was more luck and circumstance than anything, it was still the kind of shot that allows teammates to have unwavering trust that their go-to guy can make something happen when they need a miracle.

Harris is explosive off the dribble, which sets up his mid-range pull-up jumper when he gets his defender cheating backwards. He gets to the line better than most players in the League — his 8.8 free throw attempts per game were fifth in the NBA — and when he passes the ball, has a dependable interior scorer in Brook Lopez on his side. According to, Harris scored 34 points per 48 minutes of “clutch time,” better than Danny Granger, Manu Ginobili and Deron Williams (and slightly below Vince Carter). And his 6.2 assists per 48 of clutch time was equal to Brandon Roy and better than Derrick Rose and Kobe Bryant.

What Devin can’t do is make threes. He hit 29 percent beyond the arc last season, and for his career is a 31 percent shooter. And while he ranked ninth in the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring (6.1 ppg), his 40% shooting from the field in the fourth was the lowest among the Top-15.

Other than that, Devin’s biggest liability as a go-to guys is simply that he hasn’t really done it before as a pro. Even when he was the one enlisted by Lawrence Frank to win games last season, defenses were still primarily concerned with Vince. No longer part of that dual-threat backcourt, we’ll see how Devin handles his latest promotion.

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24. Kevin Martin
25. Al Jefferson
26. O.J. Mayo
27. Stephen Jackson
28. Nate Robinson
29. Boris Diaw
30. Rip Hamilton

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