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NBA PM: 10 Underrated Moves That Are Paying Off

A look at 10 offseason moves that initially flew under the radar, but are looking very smart now.

Alex Kennedy

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Over the offseason, the transactions that received the most attention were moves like LeBron James and Kevin Love to Cleveland, Pau Gasol to Chicago, Chandler Parsons to Dallas and Luol Deng to Miami among others. These acquisitions made headlines, and understandably so since they involved marquee players joining talented teams.

However, there were many other solid moves that flew under the radar at the time, but ended up being key transactions that have made a big impact this season. Here are 10 offseason additions that were underrated and are looking very smart today:

Tyson Chandler, Dallas Mavericks – Coming off of a down year with the New York Knicks in which Tyson Chandler missed 27 games and was less productive even when he was healthy, the big man being dealt to the Dallas Mavericks wasn’t seen a huge move. He wasn’t even the most talked about Chandler to join the Mavs, as Dallas’ biggest acquisition of the summer was signing Chandler Parsons away from the Houston Rockets and that transaction overshadowed their other moves. However, the 32-year-old center has been excellent for Dallas so far this season, delivering one of the best seasons of his NBA career. He’s averaging 11.1 points, 11.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks while shooting 68.3 percent from the field (which ranks second in the NBA and is a career-high for him). Chandler’s 22.3 efficiency rating is by far the highest of his career, as his previous high was 18.9. He has been outstanding thus far and it certainly seems like the Mavericks got the better end of the trade with the Knicks, considering they only had to give up Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Shane Larkin, Wayne Ellington and a pair of second-round picks.

Trevor Ariza, Houston Rockets – When the Houston Rockets decided not to match Chandler Parsons’ offer sheet from the Dallas Mavericks and failed to steal Chris Bosh away from the Miami HEAT, Daryl Morey was criticized and the Rockets were deemed one of the losers of the offseason. Without Parsons, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin entering this season, Houston’s roster seemed to have less talent and depth than last year’s squad. However, that hasn’t been the case. The Rockets have been one of the best teams in the Western Conference, and their depth is a big reason for that since they continued winning even after injuries to starters Dwight Howard, Terrence Jones and Patrick Beverley. Trevor Ariza has been huge for the Rockets, averaging 13.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.7 steals while providing excellent perimeter defense. Houston hasn’t missed Parsons because Ariza has been so productive, and his four-year, $32 million deal allowed the Rockets to keep their cap flexibility (while matching Parsons’ deal would’ve capped them out). Ariza has been a great fit alongside James Harden, who has elevated his game and entered the Most Valuable Player conversation. When the move was made, some people felt that Ariza would be a step down from Parsons and that he’d come back down to earth after playing so well in a contract year last season with the Washington Wizards. Instead, his numbers are virtually identical to last year’s and he has been an important piece for the Rockets. Houston’s offseason didn’t go exactly as they hoped, but Morey’s back-up plan has worked nicely.

Evan Fournier, Orlando Magic – When the Orlando Magic traded Arron Afflalo to the Denver Nuggets for Evan Fournier, the deal was widely regarded as a win for the Nuggets. Many people felt that Orlando should’ve gotten more for Afflalo, especially since the team was rumored to want a first-round pick in exchange for the veteran shooting guard. Now, after seeing Fournier thrive so far this season, it seems that the criticism was unwarranted and Magic general manager Rob Hennigan knew exactly what he was doing. Fournier has been outstanding for Orlando, emerging as the team’s starting shooting guard and having the best year of his career. He is averaging 14.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists and .6 steals – all of which are career-highs. He’s shooting 44.4 percent from the field and 39.6 percent from three-point range. Meanwhile, Afflalo is putting up almost identical numbers in Denver: 14.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists, .4 steals, 43.1 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from three. Afflalo can become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, while Fournier has one more year on his deal and then he’ll enter restricted free agency, so Orlando can match any offer he receives. It’s also likely that Fournier’s best basketball is still ahead of him since he’s only 22 years old. It seems that Hennigan traded Afflalo at the perfect time and added a key piece to the Magic’s young core, just like when he traded J.J. Redick in the final year of his contract to the Milwaukee Bucks for Tobias Harris.

Lou Williams, Toronto Raptors – During Lou Williams’ two-year stint with the Atlanta Hawks, the scoring guard was limited by injuries and never played to his full potential. His time in Atlanta ultimately ended with a trade to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for John Salmons’ non-guaranteed contract. This move now looks like a steal for Toronto, as Williams has returned to form and looks like a serious Sixth Man of the Year candidate once again. He is averaging 14.6 points off of Toronto’s bench, which is the second-highest scoring average of his 10-year NBA career. Williams is looking much more like the player who was a key contributor for the Philadelphia 76ers earlier in his career than the player who struggled on the Hawks. This year, Williams has a 20.6 efficiency rating, which is a career-high. Toronto really needed to improve their bench scoring and Williams has helped them do that, emerging as their third-leading scorer and stepping up when DeMar DeRozan went down with a groin injury. The trade for Williams was overlooked since he hadn’t been very effective over the last two years, but it was an excellent move that’s paying off for the Raptors, who are the top team in the Eastern Conference. Considering it only cost them Salmons’ contract (which was subsequently waived) and they also landed prospect Lucas Nogueira, the deal looks extremely lopsided in Toronto’s favor.

Darren Collison, Sacramento Kings – When the Kings decided to let Isaiah Thomas leave as a free agent and sign Darren Collison to a three-year deal worth $16 million instead, the front office was largely mocked and questioned. Thomas had put up impressive numbers for the Kings and wanted to stay in Sacramento, while Collison had previously struggled when used as a starter on the Indiana Pacers and Dallas Mavericks. However, Sacramento liked what they saw from Collison last season as a reserve on the Los Angeles Clippers and felt comfortable handing him the reins to their team. The 27-year-old has rewarded their faith in him by having the best season of his career. He’s averaging 15.9 points, 5.8 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals – all of which are career-highs. While the decision to go with Collison over Thomas could’ve blown up in the Kings’ face, especially since Thomas was a fan favorite in Sacramento, Collison has played well and done a solid job running the team.

Rasual Butler, Washington Wizards – Two years ago, Rasual Butler was out of the NBA. He was training at Impact Basketball in Los Angeles, working out alongside draft prospects and overseas players to stay in shape. He sat out the entire 2012-13 season since no NBA team showed interest in signing him, and then decided to play in the Orlando Summer League in an attempt to show that he could still make a difference for an NBA team. He suited up for the Indiana Pacers’ summer league squad, and he earned an invite to the Pacers’ training camp. There, he played his way onto the final roster on a non-guaranteed deal and ultimately stuck with the team for the entire season. He appeared in 50 games with Indiana last season, averaging 2.7 points. Even though his numbers didn’t jump off of the page last season, he played well enough to get signed by the Washington Wizards this past summer. Now, with an increased opportunity in Washington, Butler has taken full advantage and is playing some of the best basketball of his career. He’s averaging 10.8 points off the Wizards’ bench while shooting an amazing 52.4 percent from the field and 51.2 percent from three-point range. He has earned the trust of his teammates and has emerged as a veteran leader for the team since he’s in his 12th season in the NBA. Butler has bounced around the league throughout his career, playing for seven teams and often playing a limited role, but he has been a huge contributor for the Wizards and helped them emerge as an elite team this year. Butler has been one of the best stories of the 2014-15 NBA season, going from being out of the NBA to becoming a key contributor for a contending team.

Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls – The Bulls spent the offseason courting Carmelo Anthony and signing Pau Gasol, so it’s no surprise that the addition of Nikola Mirotic didn’t receive a ton of attention. Many Bulls fans had been patiently waiting for Mirotic’s arrival since Chicago acquired him in a draft-night trade back in 2011, and the team finally managed to bring him to the U.S. this summer with a three-year deal worth $17 million. Nobody was sure what to expect from Mirotic in his first NBA season since the Bulls had a loaded frontcourt and Tom Thibodeau isn’t known for giving rookies a lot of minutes, but the 23-year-old has been excellent so far. He is averaging 8.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and .8 blocks in 18.3 minutes per game, while shooting 44.7 percent from the field and 40.7 percent from three-point range. He has had a number of very impressive games, including a 27-point, eight-rebound outing against the Memphis Grizzlies in which he went 6-6 from three-point range and a 24-point, 11-rebound performance against the Portland Trail Blazers. Mirotic’s 18.8 efficiency rating is by far the highest among all rookies (the next best is Jusuf Nurkic at 14.2). He’s also leading all rookies in estimated wins added at 1.9 (with the next highest being K.J. McDaniels at .6). Mirotic is getting some Rookie of the Year consideration, which is incredible considering this class was supposed to be stacked with stars and Mirotic’s signing barely got any attention when it happened over the summer.

Chris Kaman, Portland Trail Blazers – Last season, one of the biggest issues with the Blazers was their bench. The team had one of the best starting lineups in the league, but there was a significant drop off when their starters exited the game. Portland’s general manager Neil Olshey realized this and focused on improving their depth over the offseason, signing veteran contributors Chris Kaman and Steve Blake. Both players have performed well this season, but Kaman has really stood out. The 12-year veteran signed a two-year, $9.8 million contract with only $1 million guaranteed in the second year and he has been worth every penny thus far. Kaman has been excellent for the Blazers, averaging 9.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and a block in 19 minutes per game. He has even gotten some Sixth Man of the Year consideration early in the season due to his strong play. With Robin Lopez out several weeks with a broken hand, Kaman has become even more important for Portland and has seen his minutes increase on some nights. With an improved second unit, the Blazers have emerged as one of the best teams in the NBA. They currently have the second-best record in the league, behind only the Golden State Warriors.

K.J. McDaniels, Philadelphia 76ers – McDaniels is the only 2014 draft pick on this list, but he qualifies since he is a new addition. The 2014 NBA Draft featured one of the most hyped up classes in years, with potential stars like Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker who had been on the NBA radar since they were 15 years old. However, most of the lottery picks in this class have either been hurt (Parker, Julius Randle, Joel Embiid, Aaron Gordon, etc.) or disappointments so far. That has opened the door for a player like McDaniels to shine and receive Rookie of the Year consideration. McDaniels was the 35th overall pick in the draft, going to the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round. He was projected as a lottery pick in Basketball Insiders’ mock drafts, but slipped due to some poor performances in pre-draft workouts. This season, McDaniels has averaged 9.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and one steal. He has led all perimeter players in blocks per game this season, and he has emerged as an excellent two-way player for Philadelphia. He is certainly making some teams regret passing on him and has been a pleasant surprise for the 76ers in a season where they haven’t had much to be excited about. For more on McDaniels’ excellent rookie season, check out this recent Basketball Insiders article about him.

Anthony Morrow, Oklahoma City Thunder – While some contending teams decided to make drastic changes over the summer, the Oklahoma City Thunder decided to stand pat for the most part. They brought back their same core and their biggest acquisition was the signing of Anthony Morrow to a three-year, $10.03 million contract. The move didn’t get much attention, but Morrow has emerged as a key contributor for the Thunder and really made an impact on the team this season. He’s averaging 10.4 points, 2.8 rebounds and one steal in 25.8 minutes per game for Oklahoma City. He’s shooting 41.1 percent from three-point range on nearly five attempts per game, which spreads the floor for the Thunder and prevents defenders from leaving him to help on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The 29-year-old also stepped up when Durant and Westbrook were injured, delivering a 28-point performance in a win over the Boston Celtics last month and scoring in double figures 14 times this season. Morrow is having one of the best seasons of his seven-year NBA career and was a nice under-the-radar signing. He should be even more productive once Durant and Westbrook are completely healthy, as he’ll likely get plenty of open catch-and-shoot opportunities.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: Are The Kings Destined For The Playoffs?

As the season starts up again after the All-Star Break, Jordan Hicks looks into the Sacramento Kings and what it will take for them to end their playoff drought.

Jordan Hicks

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Sacramento Kings fans should be incredibly happy regardless of how this season ends.

For the first time in what seems like forever they have a promising young team that is not only winning games, but maintaining a certain form of consistency doing so. With the foundation of youthful stars like De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Marvin Bagley III, how can Kings faithful not be hyper-optimistic?

The Kings are geared for success over the course of the next few years, but could their time come sooner than that? Do they actually have a shot at making the playoffs this season? The trade deadline acquisitions of Harrison Barnes and Alec Burks, two vets that can make an instant impact, make it seem like they believe their time is now.

Breaking things down, the question becomes – what actually needs to happen for the Kings to make the playoffs this season? The simple answer is to win games.

What have they been doing thus far to put more ticks in the W column? Shooting the three efficiently jumps out. They are currently fourth in the league in three-point percentage at 37.7 percent. While this number is oddly similar to last season’s percentage, they are shooting about seven more threes per game.

Sacramento is also playing incredibly quick basketball. They are second in the league in pace (the number of possessions per 48 minutes). Some could argue that this doesn’t always translate into a positive outcome, but for Sacramento it does. They are leading the NBA in fastbreak points at 21.7 points per game and are sixth in the league at points in the paint. Their defense is translating into offense as well, as they are second in the league at points off turnovers.

While their strengths are definitely elite, they clearly have weaknesses, too. They sit in 18th for both offensive and defensive rating, good for a -1.2 net rating. They are an abysmal 28th in free throw shooting.

Apart from Willie Cauley-Stein – who likely isn’t a major part of their future – they lack an elite rim protector. This leaves their defense prone to giving up more points in the paint. They are currently 26th in the league at opponent points in the paint. The lack of rim protection clearly correlates with their inability to grab defensive boards. They are tied for last in the league at opponent second-chance points.

One would assume that if the Kings simply tighten up their defensive focus that they would be able to close out strong and make the playoffs. They are currently ninth in the West, only one-and-a-half games behind the Clippers who just traded away their best player in Tobias Harris and two-and-a-half games behind the Spurs, who are somehow putting together a strong season despite losing Kawhi Leonard via trade and Dejounte Murray to injury.

As the season gets deeper, however, the Kings won’t be the only team tightening things up for a final playoff push. Every other team will likely be doing the same thing. While the Kings are just a small shot from the playoffs, both the Lakers and Timberwolves are nipping at their heels as well.

The Warriors, Nuggets and Thunder have done enough to separate themselves from the pack, to a degree at least. So that essentially leaves eight teams fighting for the remaining five slots. You can likely write off the Clippers, as they traded away their star player for future assets, and quite possibly the Timberwolves, as they may not have enough depth on their roster. This leaves the Kings and Lakers. If history has taught us anything, it’s that LeBron James likes to play in the postseason.

Sacramento has 24 games left to play this season. Their next two are at Oklahoma City and Minnesota. If they can somehow manage to squeak out one win in that stretch that will keep them above .500 and still fighting for a spot. After that stretch, 11 of their final 22 games are against teams projected to make the playoffs. Apart from two games against the Knicks, one against the Suns, and one against the Cavaliers, none of the remaining 11 games not against playoff teams will be “gimmes.”

Their final three are away against Utah, home against New Orleans and away against Portland. For sure they will be battling with two (and potentially three) of those teams for playoff positioning.

As far as the Lakers – who after their head-to-head win Thursday are a game behind Sacramento and two games out of the playoffs – their schedule isn’t much easier. 15 of their final 24 games are against projected playoff teams. That victory over Sacramento at Staples could actually end up being incredibly important for who makes the playoffs and who loses out.

Whether or not the Kings make the playoffs is anyone’s guess. If Fox and Hield play elite ball to close out the season, that will definitely increase their chances. Strong play from deadline acquisitions Burks and Barnes will also play a huge role in the Kings’ final push.

Like previously mentioned, Kings’ fans should be happy either way. This is the brightest the team’s future has been in well over a decade.

But the Kings likely won’t settle for “promising” or “up-and-coming.” They want success now, and making the playoffs will give them the reward that they’ve been working so hard for.

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How The NBA Became The Most Betting-Friendly League In American Sports

Basketball Insiders

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The NBA has become synonymous with betting conversations during the Adam Silver era, with the league frequently being at the forefront of those discussions. Compared to the other professional sports leagues in the United States, the NBA has not only appeared to be the most progressive with regard to the topic, but it has also looked like the league that is the most likely to get further involved in the industry.

Of course, the league has placed a focus on sports betting, given that they have a vested interest in the continued legalization of that. They have mentioned that they would like a cut of NBA wagers placed, with the industry’s growth in the United States being something that the league could see improving the bottom-line.

Whether or not the NBA gets a piece of the action from a financial perspective, it is still surprising to see a major professional sports league in the United States willing to entertain the conversation at all. By comparison, the NFL has been largely afraid to discuss sports betting, while Major League Baseball has banned its all-time leading hitter for life for gambling-related offenses.

And it isn’t as if the NBA is only interested in gambling in the context of betting on NBA games. The league has relationships in the daily fantasy sports industry as well, with visibility for brands in that space seen in NBA arenas as well. And the NBA-subsidized WNBA is also a part of this betting-friendly basketball landscape, most notably in the form of a team named after a casino.

The Connecticut Sun is that team, as they play in the home of a popular casino in their area. Both the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury play in a venue named after a casino as well. And it is the casino industry that the NBA may conceivably expand into as their relationships in the betting industry appear to be growing in both quality and quantity. With the growth of online casinos, it isn’t impossible to envision the NBA encouraging its fans to compare the best casino bonuses to increase its market share in this growing industry.

Of course, with the betting renaissance that is going on in the United States at this time, the league is making sure that everyone knows that its integrity is not to be questioned. The league has made clear that they are going to ramp up the enforcement of its betting policies, to make sure that players aren’t compromising the game’s integrity. That move by the league is a smart one, as it makes sure that fans know that there is no reason to question the sport even if the league embraces betting.

The NBA is seeing progress across the sport, from its on-court evolution that prioritizes ball movement and long-range shooting, to its off-court stances on betting. Unlike the other major American sports, that willingness to evolve is part of what has caused the popularity of the NBA to skyrocket in recent years.

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NBA Daily: Three-Point Champion is Just a Regular Joe

Joe Harris had his league-wide coming out at All-Star weekend when he shocked fans across the globe in upsetting three-point shootout favorite-Steph Curry.

Drew Maresca

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Joe Harris’ fortunes and those of the Brooklyn Nets appear to be traveling on the same trajectory. Harris’ personality and approach embody the softer side of the Brooklyn Nets’ team persona: he is loyal, hardworking and humble. And while Jared Dudley and DeMarre Carroll provide veteran leadership and Spencer Dinwiddie and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson offer personality, Harris provides a grounded approachability.

No one would blame him, though, if he develops a small ego. After all, Harris just received his formal introduction to the world, having won the NBA’s three-point championship last weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s hard to deny that his star is rising.

And yet, Harris seems unaware that his status is rising.

“To be honest, I am solid in my role. That’s what I’m about,” Harris told Basketball Insiders before the Nets’ January 25 game against the Knicks. “I’m pretty realistic with where I view myself as a player. And I have the self-awareness to realize that I’m not a star player in this league by any means. I mean, I’m good in my role and I’m trying to take that to another level and be as complete as I can in my niche role that I have.”

While Harris’ comments could be misinterpreted as a humble brag, they shouldn’t be. He is simply a hard-working player who perhaps doesn’t quite realize everything he adds to his team. But let’s be clear, Harris’ presence absolutely improves the Nets’ play.

Harris boasts the second-best three-point percentage in the NBA (.471) through the first four months of the season; he trails only Victor Olapido and J.J. Reddick for top three-point percentage of all 48 players who have at least 10 “clutch” attempts from long-range and he’s ranked tenth in points per clutch possession (1.379).

He helps space the floor for teammates D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie, who take advantage of his long-range acumen by attacking an often less congested pathway to the hoop — and drives account for 53.4 percent of the Nets’ points (third in the entire league).

It is no surprise then that the Nets are currently in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.

“At the end of the day we’re just trying to go play good basketball.” Harris said. “The wins are a byproduct of that. It’s about staying locked into this process and how it’s gotten us here regardless of who is on the court.”

Harris’ dedication to the team and its process is becoming more unique each year as players hop from franchise to franchise more frequently than ever before. While Harris only joined the Nets in 2016, he was immediately seen as a key player by the Nets’ leadership, albeit one on a minimum deal – according to Kyle Wagner of the Daily News, Coach Kenny Atkinson saw a lot of Kyler Korver in his game and GM Sean Marks wanted him to study Danny Green.

And while Harris’ 2018-19 stats reflect similar production to the career highs of both of Korver and Green (13.2 points per game with an effective field goal percentage of .622 for Harris versus 14.4 points with an eFG% of .518 for Korver and 11.7 points with an eFG% of .566 for Green), at only 27 years old, he should only continue to improve.

A lot has changed in the two and a half seasons since Harris signed a free agent deal with the Nets, but one thing that hasn’t changed is his character.

“We had various deals that were shorter for more (money),” Harris said. “And some were longer and roughly the same, but this is where I wanted to be and I’m happy it ended up working out.”

Harris ultimately signed a two-year deal for approximately $16 million, which can be viewed as both cashing in, given where he was only two years ago (out of the league), and betting on himself, considering the short-term nature of the contract and his relative youth.

And what’s more, Harris will probably go down as a value signing for the Nets considering his versatility. After all, he is not merely a one-dimensional shooter. In fact, he is actually shooting slightly better than 60 percent on 3.2 attempts per game from the restricted area – which is better than All-Star teammate D’Angelo Russell (53 percent on 2.8 attempts). Further, Harris shoots a fair amount of his three-point attempts above the break, which is to say that he does not rely heavily on the shorter corner threes – which tend to be a more efficient means of scoring (1.16 vs. 1.05 points per possession league-wide from 1998-2018) as they are typically a spot where specialist players lurk awaiting an opening look.

The question is, how much more can we expect to see from Harris in the future? If you ask him, he’d probably undersell you on his ceiling and allude to steady progress that ultimately looks similar to what he’s done recently. But the only thing similar about Harris’ career production is that it has steadily improved – and that’s partially due to his process-oriented approach.

“We talked about it in the midst of the losing streak,” Harris said. “What are you going to change, what are you going to do (when you’re in a slump)? Not that we were going to do the exact same thing, but we felt like we were very process oriented. We felt like we were right there. Our whole thing was about being deliberate and doing it as consistently as possible.”

Harris sees the validity in repeating what works. And he’s figured that out, partially with the help of his teammates. Harris clearly values veteran input and team chemistry.

“You look at our team right now and we have really good veteran presences with Jared and DeMarre and Ed (Davis),” Harris said. “That’s the voice from the leadership standpoint. I’m learning from them just like DLo is. And all the other guys in the locker room are. They’re the guiding presence of what it is to be a professional and they keep everything even keel. They don’t go too low when things are tough, and they don’t let us get too high when things are going well.”

Harris is clearly a little uncomfortable taking credit for his team’s success, and he shies away from the spotlight a bit. He seems to prefer anonymity. But Harris should probably get used to the attention he’s received this season because it will only increase as his profile continues to rise as we enter the 2019 NBA Playoffs.

“He’s not just a shooter,” Atkinson told NBA.com last April. “He’s worked on his drive game, he’s worked on his finishing game. I think he’s worked on his defense. So just a complete player who fits how we want to play. He’s one of our most competitive players. Not a surprise watching, from the first day we had him, how locked in he was, how hungry he was. On top of it, he’s a top, top-ranked human being.”

So expect to see more of Joe Harris this April and beyond, but don’t be surprised by his humility. It’s one aspect about him that won’t change.

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