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In Dallas, Avery Johnson called Devin Harris the best on ball defender in the NBA. Harris speed, quickness and anticipation made him a defensive game changer. In 2006-07 Harris ranked 2nd in the NBA with 77 offensive fouls drawn.

However, when Harris arrived last year in Utah he struggled miserably defensively. He looked lost. Harris would close out on a player and he would blow right by him and no help defensive would arrive.

So what happened to one of the best on ball defenders in the NBA?

A change in system is how Harris explains it. With Avery Johnson in both Dallas and New Jersey they forced the ball handler to the baseline. Under Jerry Sloan and Tyrone Corbin, the Jazz were 1 of only 2 teams that forced the ball to the middle, the other being the Orlando Magic and Dwight Howard.

Harris says he never adjusted. “I would close out to the wrong shoulder out of instinct. It is all I had ever done in the NBA. I had been trained otherwise.”

The good news for Harris is he won’t have to learn a new system this year, because the Jazz are make significant changes to how they play defensively and are joining the rest of the NBA in forcing the ball handler to the baseline.

With the proliferation of three point shooting in the NBA, forcing a ball handler middle still allows them a complete view of the floor and all of the shooters. By forcing baseline, the hope is you limit the passing options and make defensive rotations easier to complete.

For Harris and many of the Jazz players this makes who rotates and where they rotate to a much easier equation. Last year, the team had constant confusion on who was rotating where and how they were rotation. By forcing baseline, the rotations are shorter and more direct.

Harris still believes he can be a strong defender. It may not be in the same fashion, but it can still be productive. “I am smarter now. Not sure I can take the charges I used to, not sure my body can handle that. But it is angles and I am smarter. “

More importantly, it will be in a system that makes sense to his instincts.
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7 comments
 
i remember this from watching his time in Dallas. Last year he appeared to get crossed up closing out on defenders which took a toll on the rest of the team defensively. Locke, do you think this will also help Favors and Big Al become better help defenders as this is more what they have practiced on previous teams?
 
I take that back. Defensively, yes. Offensively, looks like he got a little better in 2008 and remained at that plateau the last few years.
 
Considering Millsap, Miles and Hayward have not forced baseline before in their NBA careers, are they now going to be the ones "lost" on defense? What might Harris' excuse be this year if he continues to get beat?
 
Hayward is young...he will more than likely adjust quickly, and it would seem it plays to his strengths with his length. Millsap is a definite question mark
 
Even if it is not what Millsap is used to, you have to remember that this defensive scheme involves less thinking. So one could assume that it is that much easier and will be quickly adapted to.
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