Commentary

Hollinger's PER Diem: Dec. 1, 2008

Devin Harris is quickly branding himself as the new KJ, John Hollinger writes.

Updated: December 10, 2008, 9:44 AM ET
By John Hollinger | ESPN.com

At the time, it looked like a pretty good trade for the Nets.

But now? Last year's deal of Jason Kidd for Devin Harris, with assorted spare parts included on both sides, is looking like one of the great fleecings in recent NBA history.

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This isn't because Kidd has been disastrously bad in Dallas -- matter of fact, he's arguably playing better than he did a year ago, and the Mavs are a respectable fifth in the current Hollinger Power Rankings.

But the Mavs have to be lamenting what they gave away. Harris is quickly branding himself as the new KJ (Kevin Johnson), absolutely destroying opponents with his quickness off the dribble. So dominant has Harris been that after just 16 games this year's Most Improved Player award already appears to be a foregone conclusion.

Last night's 47-point explosion in Phoenix was the exclamation point, but it came on the heels of a 34-point effort in a completely unexpected rout of Utah. In doing so, it gave the Nets two impressive road wins and pushed a team expected to be among the East's worst to 9-7, good enough for a spot in the top eight in the conference.

Additionally, the Nets look much better when you subtract the three games Harris missed. The Nets lost all three, two by double digits. In the other 13 games they're 9-4 -- 6-1 on the road -- including road wins over Atlanta, Utah, Phoenix and Toronto.

It's helped that rookie center Brook Lopez has been a pleasant surprise, and that Vince Carter seems to have relocated some of his mojo. But mostly, it's been because of Harris. He's sixth in the league in PER, averaging 27.9 points per 40 minutes and a whopping 11.9 free throw attempts per game. The latter figure ranks second in the NBA, while his scoring average is fourth.

He's not making mistakes either -- Harris is sixth among point guards in Turnover Rate with miscues on only 7.6 percent of his possessions. And he's hitting big shots, including a game-tying 3 that led to an OT win in Sacramento and his total domination of the final minutes in Phoenix last night.

So quick is Harris off the bounce that a lot of times the Nets don't even bother with the pick-and-roll. Harris' blazing speed means he can reliably beat opposing point guards off the bounce without a screen, and without any big man around to help out defenders are left at his mercy. (It also begs the question: Why didn't Dallas try this?)

And he's become more than just a driver. Should the opposing guard sell out to stay with him, he's also mastered the art of stopping on a dime, taking a single backward dribble and then lofting an uncontested midrange J.

Cynics will note that Harris has benefited from having several opponents just returning from injury when he faced them -- Toronto's Jose Calderon, Utah's Deron Williams and Phoenix's Steve Nash included. But against any opposition, what he's done this season has been amazing. Besides, he's also torn apart some good, healthy defenses as well -- Harris earned 24 free throw attempts in a win over Detroit and hung 63 points (scoring 30 at home and 33 on the road) on Atlanta in a back-to-back sweep.

As a result, the Nets find themselves in the unexpected position of being Eastern Conference playoff contenders -- today's Playoff Odds give them a 59.2 percent shot and project New Jersey as the No. 7 seed in the East.

As for Harris, it appears there will be another trip to Phoenix on his itinerary -- in February, for the All-Star Game. And when the Mavs see him there on the court with Dirk Nowitzki, they can lament what might have been.

John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.