Joe Harris will have arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle on Monday, Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash told reporters. Harris will be out of the lineup for the next four to eight weeks, agent Mark Bartelstein told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. Nash said that the surgery will remove a "little bone particle" that is stuck in Harris' ankle.
The Nets have been without Harris for the last two weeks, and they've gone 5-2 in that span, with the losses coming at home against the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns, who have the two best records in the NBA. There's no shame in losing to those teams, even for a Brooklyn team that has title aspirations, but the way the Nets lost is telling.
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After the loss to Golden State, Nash said that the Nets had gotten "too stagnant" when faced with a triangle-and-2 (against Kevin Durant and James Harden) and a box-and-1 (against Durant). After the loss to the Phoenix, Nash said that they didn't move the ball enough or take advantage of the defense packing the paint. Without Harris -- one of the most accurate 3-point shooters in NBA history -- spacing the floor, it's much less risky to play zone against Brooklyn and load up on its stars.
Harris' value, however, has always gone beyond standstill shooting. He outlasted everybody from the Kenny Atkinson era because he is the kind of player who can supercharge an offense. Particularly against elite defensive teams, the Nets miss his movement off the ball, his screening and his cutting. He can attack close-outs, too, and, other than Durant, Brooklyn doesn't have another player on the roster who brings spot-up shooting, size and off-ball defense to the table.
Until Harris returns, Nash will have to continue to tinker with his rotation, balancing shooting and defense as he sees fit. The Nets made a game of it against the Suns by going small, switching 1-through-5 and living with subpar spacing in the halfcourt. If Harris had been available, they could have closed the game with one of DeAndre' Bembry and James Johnson on the floor, rather than both.
The problems that Kyrie Irving's absence has created -- mainly an increased playmaking workload for Durant and Harden, and a worse offensive environment in which they must make those plays -- are exacerbated by Harris' absence. Things would be much more dire, however, if the front office hadn't managed to sign Patty Mills, who leads the league in 3-point percentage (.500), and, like Harris, juices the offense with his movement and basketball IQ.
Mills has started the last six games, so Harris' surgery is a blow for his Sixth Man of the Year candidacy. It is also an opportunity for rookie bucket-getter Cameron Thomas to earn a consistent role in the rotation. Thomas, the No. 27 pick in this year's draft, has logged double-digit minutes in the Nets' last three games.