The Brooklyn Nets got some terrible news on Monday, with head coach Steve Nash announcing that sharpshooter Joe Harris is undergoing surgery due to an issue with a bone particle in his injured left ankle. The Nets' all-time leading 3-point shooter is expected to return this season, but there will be an update following the procedure.
ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski added that the eighth-year pro is looking at an absence of four to eight weeks as he recovers from surgery, with optimism from the team he can return on the shorter end of that timeline.
3 ways Joe Harris' ankle surgery affects Brooklyn Nets
3. Patty Mills should continue to start and won't get to buoy Nets' second unit
Harris first suffered the ankle injury in mid-November when the team played the Oklahoma City Thunder. Since then, it has been former Sixth Man of the Year candidate Patty Mills filling in with the starters. So, Mills, on an absolutely torrid shooting pace, should continue to see starts for at least the next month or two while Harris recovers.
Mills has made an astounding 64 of 128 triples, good for 50 percent. He fills in some of what they lose in Joey Buckets. But he's a considerably smaller player. Steve Nash is replacing a 6-foot-6, 220-pound small forward in Harris with a 6-foot-3, 181-pound guard in Mills, so they will continue to give up some much-needed size. The Nets have been outrebounded in all but six of their losses. This loss won't help them clean the glass.
But the bigger loss here is that Mills was the ideal player on their roster to round out their second unit. Having Harris with the starters and Mills off the bench ensured they always had at least one sniper out there besides their top dogs in Kevin Durant and James Harden. That duo had been playing 27.2 minutes per game with each other together before Harris went down. Their minutes on the floor together have actually increased since then, up to 30.3 minutes per game since.
If Nash is going to continue to tether KD and The Beard's minutes as much as he has without Harris, the team will need to find other sources of reliable bench help.
2. Cam Thomas gets his chance
20-year-old rookie Cam Thomas got the chance to contribute recently. The 27th overall pick in the draft dropped 11 points in 15 minutes in a comeback road win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. After the game, Nash talked about how Harris not being around opened the door for the LSU product.
“Without Joe,” said Nash, “we were down a shooter, a spacer, and so we gotta go with some different lineups and different guys and Cam was great. … Tonight he really hung in there, made some big shots for us, and I thought was really aware defensively and I was proud of him tonight.”
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They know that given his age, Thomas will have his ups and downs. But we can expect them to give him more chances now over the next couple months. The rookie with some precocious scoring chops will need to adopt the next-man-up mantra and stay ready when the team's stars pass him the ball.
He's certainly not lacking for confidence:
"Me and KD just be trash talking…I say 'I think I'm a better scorer than him at my age than he was' and he doesn't believe that. Then he never wants to play me 1 on 1. Cause we played 1 on 1 in shoot around 1 time…I beat him. Don't tell him that. I beat him."
-Cam Thomas pic.twitter.com/46kzT3Vim4
— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) November 23, 2021
1. Kyrie Irving's absence grows even louder
The team was already desperate for Kyrie Irving (unvaccinated) to return. Last season, even with their three superstars only appearing in eight games together, the Nets had the best offense in basketball. This year their offensive rating ranks just 12th. It has been a struggle for them at times to find ball movement. With an extended absence for another key scorer and floor spacer, it only makes Irving's absence feel even more prominent.
Nash talks about the team's offseason “continuity plan” having been upended with the Irving news every few games. This team was built top-heavy, so there's a huge drop-off when they replace their third All-Star with even the most pleasant of surprises like LaMarcus Aldridge or DeAndre' Bembry.
But with some teams like the Miami Heat right on Brooklyn's heels in the standings, losing Harris turns up the heat on the Irving situation. Does it make sense to begin shopping him? Would any team take the gamble that Irving play for them? Would they worry it would only be a rental as he's set for free agency next summer? Would Kevin Durant be more willing to sign off on certain swaps, including his friend Irving, if the team really struggles without Harris?
There are plenty of angles to keep a close watch on.