Diagnosing the Sixers’ struggles: Tobias Harris


The Sixers are in the midst of a heated race for playoff position. Battling with the Celtics, Heat, and Raptors for the crucial second seed, the Sixers need to function as a unit to succeed. There is a lot of talent on this team but there are still plenty of issues facing this team: Joel Embiid’s lack of consistency, Ben Simmons’ complacency, Tobias Harris’ problems fitting in the offense, and Brett Brown’s questionable coaching. We already covered the first two topics with Simmons’ being the most recent. If you want to read about why his lack of growth is cause for concern you can find it below.

Tobias Harris

As far as Harris is concerned, the worries stemming from him are not necessarily his fault. Harris’ fit in this offense is questionable at best and the offensive scheme itself is questionable at best.

Around building blocks Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the Sixers need to fill out the roster with complementary players. Yes, talent is important but it needs to be balanced with fit in order to win. Harris can fit with Embiid and Simmons but the roster as is, makes that difficult. The Sixers game plan seems to be “put as many good players on the court as possible”. Not the worst idea but it’s not a winning concept unless you have transcendent players. You would need players who are on the level of a Michael Jordan or LeBron James for that to work and that’s just not the case for most teams.

Harris’ Fit in the Offense

Not all NBA stars can play together nor should they. Sometimes it’s a matter of personalities clashing and sometimes it’s about too many players doing the same thing. The Sixers have an abundance of players who have size, defend well, and can handle the ball which sounds great, but there are some key parts of the game missing. The Sixers are light on both shooting and shot creation, Harris was supposed to do both. In fact, Harris has done both…to a degree.

Harris has done a good job at creating his shot when given the opportunity and can easily knock down an open three. The trouble is that he’s being asked to be the replacement for JJ Redick which is just not possible. Harris and Redick, while both high-quality shooters are built completely differently. Tobias Harris is now officially 6’7″ with the new NBA measurements which makes it much more difficult for him to slip past and through screens like Redick does. That is a huge reason why Redick is so effective. His ability to get lost in the shuffle leads to open shots that Harris just can’t get to.

More recently, Harris has been utilized at the top of the free-throw line where he can dish, post up, or shoot. Starting Harris here is a much better use of his talents. Harris can attack the defense so many more ways when he’s not being pigeon-holed.

Truth is, while Harris is the one taking the ill-advised shots and shooting poor percentages, there is someone else who is more deserving of the blame than him.

The True Culprit

Harris has been essentially handcuffed in the offense and it has derailed his game. In fact, it’s amazing that Harris has played to the level he has in such a mess of an offensive scheme. As I said, the Sixers offensive game-plan seems to be “put as many good players on the court as possible”. There are no real play designs, the Sixers just go back and forth between Embiid in the post, to Harris working screens, to players randomly cutting hoping to find an open look. It’s a terrible scheme that shows someone may be in over their heads.

That someone is Sixers Head Coach Brett Brown who is in his seventh-year coach the team. Being known as a player development specialist, Brown was never expected to be much of an X’s and O’s guy. That seems to have finally caught up to him as the team can’t seem to win against good coaching.

I could go on about Brown and I will, just not in this article. The time will come to focus on Brown but until then we’ll focus on how to fix the issue.


The way I see it, there are three solutions: Trade Harris, change the coach, or find a way for the two to work together.

Harris on the Move

I have suggested trades involving Harris many times, it’s not that I have something against him, it’s quite the opposite. I think Harris has a ton of value but if Brett Brown refuses to utilize that value then trading Harris makes sense. Tobias Harris is a wonderful player but beyond that, he is a wonderful person. Look left, look right, and you will see Harris working wonders in the Philly community. Harris works like few others and gives back when he’s done. I absolutely have no desire to trade Harris but his contract hinders us from getting players who fit Brown’s “scheme”, so trading him may be the route the Sixers go.

Bye Bye Brownie

The next option is moving on from Brett Brown. Changing coaches mid-season doesn’t work so I don’t see it happening during the season. After the season? Well, a big factor in that would be how the Sixers fair in the playoffs. If the team performs and does anything more than getting swept in the Eastern Conference Finals I think Brown’s job is safe for another year. But should it be? Brett Brown took on a tough job when he joined the Sixers and that is something to be admired. Just because he did something doesn’t mean that he should leave the team on his terms. It may sound cold but Brown already has been given many chances, how many more can he expect to get?

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

By far the most unlikely scenario, there is a possibility that Brown can change his offense in a way that lets Harris shine. The roster would most likely have to under some change but could stay intact for the most part. It would most likely involve staggering Harris and either Al Horford or Joel Embiid. Harris is a natural Power Forward in today’s NBA and would thrive returning to that. In addition, running Harris with smaller guards who are versatile like Trey Burke would open the floor for Harris and allow him to shoot or facilitate. None of this is likely to happen though as Brown doesn’t seem to care for making the pieces fit or Trey Burke for that matter.

Up Next

How exactly the Sixers will handle the Harris situation is to be determined. Until then, we still have one more problem to look at. Brett Brown has coached the Sixers through the entire Process and in that time we’ve seen him work with rosters of varying talent levels. As some of his players have grown, we’ve not seen the same growth from Brown. Can Coach Brown turn it around? or is it time for him to turn in.

Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports