It is no secret that Tobias Harris has recently been struggling on the court. Since the month of December started, the Sixers’ starting forward is averaging 16.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. It isn’t the numbers that have been so discouraging but the inefficient matter in which they occur that has been so frustrating. Harris is shooting just 41.5% from the field on 13.8 attempts per game from the field and 25% from beyond the three-point arc on 3.4 attempts during this same time frame.
While Harris has had his ups and downs during his time in Philly, it certainly feels as if he has hit a low point. During the latest blowout win over the Houston Rockets, Tobias ended with 14 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists while shooting 6 of 15 from the field and 0 for 3 from beyond the arc. Philly fans voiced their displeasure with Harris’ recent play and let the boos shower down throughout the matchup.
Despite the attempt to lean into the criticism, it rarely goes well when a player acknowledges criticism from Philly fans in this fashion. Philadelphia is a ruthless place for athletes to compete and is an awesome sports destination due to the passion of the fans. While typically I have no issue with the booing of a player (and frankly would be scared to suggest otherwise), Tobias is in a unique situation in which more context is necessary.
Context of the Contract
Following the half of a season he spent with the Sixers team that fell to the Raptors on a miracle shot in the Eastern Conference Semi-finals, Tobias Harris signed a five-year $180 million extension to stay in Philadelphia. At the time this was the richest contract the Sixers had ever offered and the fifth-largest contract in the NBA. This deal made Tobias Harris overpaid at the time and looks even worse when reflecting on it now.
The fact of the matter is if the contract wasn’t such a lucrative amount no one would be so passionate about Tobi’s recent performances. The 29-year-old has been pretty solid during his time with the Sixers and even looked to be performing up to the monetary standards during last season when he averaged 19.5 points, shot 39.4% from beyond the three-point arc, and became a legitimate late-game option for the Sixers. While you could argue he should be better prepared for the pressure that comes with it, you cannot be mad at Tobias Harris for signing the contract that the Sixers put in front of him.
The Sixers Had to Pay Tobias
The steep price is a difficult pill to swallow, but the extension was one that the Sixers needed to make at the time. The timeline to win had quickly shifted and the emergence of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons led the Sixers to make some drastic “win-now” moves. This entailed emptying just about all their assets in order to trade for Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris to end the 2019 season.
Traded away in Jimmy Butler deal:
Jerryd Bayless, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, 2022 second-round pick
Trade away in Tobias Harris deal:
Landry Shamet, Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, 2020 first-round pick, Miami Heat’s 2021 first-round pick
While none of these players traded away have flourished into anything unexpected, these moves emptied the Sixers of trade assets for the time being. Shipping out their young talent for half a season of Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris was a risk the front office was aware of when they pulled the trigger. When Jimmy Butler elected to take his talents to South Beach, the Sixers were fairly handcuffed to make sure that Tobias Harris remained with the team. Coming off a career year and just entering his athletic prime, it was not that difficult for the Sixers to talk them into the contract that was a shade under max value, and allowing both players to sign elsewhere would have been a terrible look for the organization.
Usage of Tobias Harris and Future Outlook
In the four seasons that Tobis Harris has spent with the Sixers, the roster has been through a ridiculous amount of changes. Joel Embiid, Furkan Korkmaz, Shake Milton, and Ben Simmons (if you count him) are the only Sixers still with the team from that 2018-19 season in which Tobi came to the Sixers. With so much roster turnover, the role of Harris has also been altered a great deal.
When he first came to the Sixers, Harris was a part of a “Big Four” in which it was perfectly fine for him to take a back seat to Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler, or Ben Simmons. After Butler’s departure and the hiatus of Ben Simmons, the Sixers can no longer afford for Harris to be passive in his role. There has been more and more thrown onto the forward’s plate and he is still the same Tobias Harris. While we would all love to squeeze more out of their second-highest-paid player, you cannot be mad at a guy for being (for the most part) exactly who he always has been.
This is not to say that Tobias Harris has not played poorly of late. He absolutely has. Joel Embiid knows that, Sixers fans know that, and Tobias Harris absolutely knows that. This may seem like the ultimate low point (because it probably is) but Harris has struggled for periods of time before. Each 4 for 14 shooting performance tends to bring confidence down, but the potential for Harris to snap out of it and come alive is absolutely still there.
At the end of the day, there are bigger concerns on the Sixers’ end than the string of bad performances from Tobias. If the Sixers get past the trade deadline without finding a trade partner for Ben Simmons, even a red-hot Tobias Harris likely isn’t enough to push the team into the true contender conversation. While it would be nice if a Tobias Harris trade was a legitimate option, it is tough to imagine there are many GMs targeting an old-fashioned basketball player without a clean positional fit- playing his worst basketball while on a bad contract.
There are many flaws in the play of the 10-year veteran that do not benefit the 76ers. If the Sixers could find a realistic trade partner that would compliment Joel Embiid better they absolutely should jump on it. But it must be noted that Tobias continues to show up to compete on a nightly basis. It is not a lack of effort or a lack of care, but rather Harris being asked to fill a role he is not capable of. At the end of the day, you can not be mad at a guy for not being able to fit in shoes that aren’t his size.
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire