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Utah Jazz: No comparison, Devin Harris is his own-style point guard

Published: Sunday, July 5 2015 2:00 a.m. MDT

Utah's Devin Harris passes under the basket as he is guarded by Portland's Gerald Wallace and Wesley Matthews as the Utah Jazz host the Portland Trailblazers at Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City on  Thursday, April 7, 2011.  Mike Terry, Deseret News (Mike Terry, Deseret News) Utah's Devin Harris passes under the basket as he is guarded by Portland's Gerald Wallace and Wesley Matthews as the Utah Jazz host the Portland Trailblazers at Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 7, 2011. Mike Terry, Deseret News (Mike Terry, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Deron Williams was not John Stockton.

The Utah Jazz knew he wasn't.

They didn't expect him to be like the Hall-of-Fame point guard.

Yet, Williams turned out to be a premier playmaker, who used his own skills and style to help the Jazz win a lot of games during his 5-1/2 years in Utah.

To that matter, Devin Harris is not D-Will. He isn't Stockton, either.

Guess what?

The Jazz are OK with that fact, too.

Coach Tyrone Corbin trusts the former All-Star to run his offense. General manager Kevin O'Connor believes in Harris' leadership potential. Fellow point guard Jamaal Tinsley knows from first-hand experience how tough of a competitor the 28-year-old can be.

Utah's Devin Harris passes beneath the basket in mid-air as is he guarded by Denver's Chris Andersen as the Utah Jazz host the Denver Nuggets at the Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City on  Wednesday, April 13, 2011.  Mike Terry, Deseret News (Mike Terry, Deseret News) Utah's Devin Harris passes beneath the basket in mid-air as is he guarded by Denver's Chris Andersen as the Utah Jazz host the Denver Nuggets at the Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, April 13, 2011. Mike Terry, Deseret News (Mike Terry, Deseret News)

From top to bottom, the Jazz are comfortable and confident in their quiet and quick quarterback even if he didn't win the Wasatch Front over last spring.

"Devin's a very talented player," new Utah assistant coach Sidney Lowe said.

Harris, Lowe insists, stands on his own merits — yes, even in Utah, where one legendary point guard has his own street, statue and stellar image, and the other departed superstar still has a stronghold on the hearts of some Jazz fans who wonder what management was thinking to ship him to New Jersey 10 months ago.

"Certainly we don't want to compare," Lowe, a former NBA point guard, said. "You don't want to try to compare him to John, obviously. Not many people can compare to John. But even D-Will is a great player, too.

"They're different — different styles of players," Lowe continued. "But I think in his own right Devin's going to do a great job here."

Devin Harris is only trying to be the best point guard he can be and not John Stockton or Deron Williams. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Devin Harris is only trying to be the best point guard he can be and not John Stockton or Deron Williams. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

Right after entering his first game with the Jazz last February, Harris burst to the hoop with his blazing, world-record court quickness.

Since that favorable first impression in Indiana, however, Harris' time with the Jazz has experienced more sputtering than smooth speed.

The 6-foot-3 point guard had some sparkling moments in the ensuing months, making it easy to see why he was selected to be an Eastern Conference reserve for the 2009 All-Star Game.

But Utah's offense didn't click under his direction like it did with those other two guys who cast such a large shadow in this market for point guards. In a small sample size of 17 games, Harris only averaged 5.4 assists after being traded to the Jazz — or about half of what his famous predecessors dished out per game.

That was partially due to a nagging hamstring injury that plagued him at the end of the 2010-11 season, and also because he was so new to a team that had been jolted and jostled with the departures of longtime coach Jerry Sloan and their first-class point guard.

Utah's Devin Harris uses a finger roll to score against the Portland Trailblazers.   (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Utah's Devin Harris uses a finger roll to score against the Portland Trailblazers. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

In a difficult situation, Harris stumbled at times in the big basketball shoes he was forced to fill.

Ask Utah players and coaches, and they'll tell you that's ancient history. The Jazz are convinced a healthy, full-speed Harris can equal a dangerous and productive Harris.

"I expect great things from him," Corbin said. "We talked about it at the end of last year. (We said), 'You're way better than what we demonstrated last year.'

"He's going to be a tremendous part of us advancing or getting better sooner. He's put in a lot of work this offseason to come back ready physically, and mentally. I think he's relaxed (after) getting traded."

Harris was the first Jazz player to show up to the team's practice facility when the NBA finally unlocked its doors. It might not have been planned that way, but it still works as a symbolic arrival for Harris. He is committed to be at the front of the line, leading the Jazz into a bright future.

"You definitely want to take ownership in it," he said, "and that's something I look forward to doing."

Harris isn't waging a campaign to be named captain, but he knows being a point guard is synonymous to being a leader. It's part of the job. Heck, it is the job.

"As a point guard, that comes naturally with the territory, so yeah I feel like I need to be a leader," Harris said. "I haven't been here that long, but I've been here long enough to understand what needs to be done and how things are here."

Coaches laud him for taking youngsters under his wing. Harris even went out of his way to help NBA hopeful Scottie Reynolds try to get a grasp of the Jazz system after the since-waived Villanova product joined camp late.

Harris continues to focus on learning his teammates' strengths, where they like the ball delivered, where their favorite spots are on the floor, improving his efficiency with the flex offense and in pick-and-roll situations.

"The more practice time we get," he said, "the more chemistry we'll develop."

Tinsley remembers playing against Harris when Indiana and Dallas played. Harris' athleticism made him difficult to deal with on both ends of the floor, Tinsley recalled.

"He's a fast guard, gets up and down the court quick," he said. "He's just a hard-nosed playing guy. … He's doing a great job."

Neither Corbin nor Harris are concerned that the Jazz's starting point guard only tallied three assists combined in two preseason games. Harris is naturally more of a scoring guard than a traditional pass-first Utah point, but he and the Jazz believe they can find a happy medium where he does both.

"He's trying to make the right plays," Corbin said, "and that's the most important thing."

Lowe has reminded Harris that he can get his shots as a point guard. He's the one distributing the basketball, after all. But it's vital in Utah's offense that he gets everybody involved.

The former NBA head coach spent hours in the offseason after being hired by the Jazz breaking down tape and analyzing Harris' execution. Lowe credits him for making better decisions now and for more effectively running the offense. Communication has also increased.

The assistant emphasized how the coaching staff and management feel comfortable with the 28-year-old's ability to lead this revamped squad.

"That's an area where I think he's definitely improving is to create for other teammates," Lowe said. "I think he's getting better and better. I think watching the guys react to him, he's got control of 'em."

It's possible Harris' even-keeled ways might prove to provide a welcomed calming effect on the court for Utah.

Corbin declined to discuss whether Harris' steady demeanor — compared to Williams' occasional surliness — might help Jazz players play more relaxed.

But Harris' health, solid work ethic, willingness to learn and to teach, and an improved grasp on the offense are among the reasons Corbin is excited to see where the eight-year veteran with NBA Finals experience can help lead a Jazz team that needs a leader and identity.

"I think he's been great," Corbin said. "His leadership skills will continue to get better, but I think they've been better so far."

As for those Stockton and Williams comparisons?

Jazz fans might recall it took both of those terrific talents more than 17 games to leave a lasting impression in Utah.

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