Tobias Harris is one of the most curious cases in the NBA. Harris averaged 20ppg with 7.9 rebounds while shooting 39.7% from three, but seemed to slump after a mid-season trade. A well-traveled player, Harris came to the 76ers on February 6th, 2019. Being known for his ability to score since his early career, Harris has expanded his game and become one of the league’s premiere stretch forwards.
This summer, the 76ers signed Harris to a five-year, $180 million contract. This contract will put Harris in a five-way tie for the 10th most expensive contract this season. Many feel this is an overpay by the Sixers. However, by retaining Harris and manipulating the cap to sign Al Horford and trade for Josh Richardson, the Sixers now have arguably the best starting lineup in the entire NBA.
What Went Wrong Last Year?
Harris had a streaky end to the year with the Sixers. He saw his points per game average dip to 18.2, and his three-point percentage fell to 32.6%. Harris never seemed to find a rhythm in the offense. He often was relegated to the corner while either Simmons or Butler ran the pick and roll with Joel Embiid.
While ultimately Harris is the one taking the shots, Coach Brett Brown admitted that much of the responsibility should be his in regards to Harris’ offensive struggles. In April, Coach Brown was quoted saying “You know, I will own that. I got to find ways to help Tobias”. Coach Brown is absolutely right. The offense that was run during Harris’ first year with the Sixers limited his offensive game. This isn’t exactly uncommon though when a team is lavish with talent.
A remedy won’t necessarily be easier as Harris will most likely play most of his time at Small Forward instead of Power Forward. Harris has been primarily a Power Forward for several seasons now so a switch may prove challenging. Though a roster change may have work in Harris’ favor.
With Jimmy Butler essentially being replaced by Horford and Richardson, Harris will hopefully find his shot. Whether attempting to replace J.J. Reddick in the catch and shoot role, or in pick-and-roll/pop situations, Harris theoretically should have more touches. The sooner Harris gets his touches, the sooner he has the chance to catch fire.
What Role Will Harris Play?
Now that Ben Simmons doesn’t have to share the ball with Jimmy Butler, we can expect he’ll be the primary ball-handler. Simmons reestablishing his role will open up the floor for the rest of the offense. The Sixers thrive in a pace-and-space style that we so often see teams attempt but so few perfect.
Harris will have the chance to be the third, if not the second option offensively. Obviously, Joel Embiid is and will be the first option as long as he continues to dominate. Spots two and three? Well, they could be interchangeable between Harris and Simmons. This most likely depends on how aggressive Simmons will be this season.
Harris has an opportunity to make a name for himself, to further establish his career and perhaps be an All-Star. To do this, he’ll have to play to his strengths and play within the flow of the offense. Harris can an offensive stud and he’s had flashes over his career, with the right coaching and attitude he can be a special player on a special team.
What if it Doesn’t Work Out?
While I firmly believe in Tobias Harris and Coach Brown, it would be foolish to assume everything will go according to plan. Harris is a great player and by all accounts an even better person. But, while he may be talented, the Sixers could test his trade value if this experiment doesn’t go as planned.
Harris should have some serious trade value. He is a fringe All-Star on a multi-year deal who plays a premium position in today’s NBA. Harris is also on the “right side of thirty” which increases his trade value. The only detractor is the amount in which he will be paid. Still, we see that players make more and more every year and as other stars reach free agency, Harris’ contract will become easier to stomach.
Have No Fear
My full expectation is for Harris to be here for the long haul. He will take a step forward this season as will the rest of the team. This is a special squad, one that can potentially be favorites to win the East. Many consider them that already. If this team is going to reach it’s max potentially they will certainly need Harris to perform.
I believe in Harris. I believe in Coach Brown. Most importantly, I believe in this team. They seem to have come to a realization of what they can accomplish and have surrounded themselves with people who understand hard work and have a winning attitude. The next few years will be exciting as a Sixers fan and I’m hoping Harris is here for the long haul.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports