Next man up: The Sixers need Tobias Harris to shine

Tobias Harris, Sixers
Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris (12) drives against Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Oct. 31, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The Philadelphia 76ers have been hit by the injury bug hard. Luckily and a little surprisingly, Joel Embiid has been able to avoid the injury report, although it appeared that the MVP candidate had to play through some apparent pain in Philly’s recent loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The most notable absences for the Sixers come from their starting backcourt in James Harden and Tyrese Maxey, both of whom are set to miss an extended period; the Beard is sidelined with a foot strain, and Maxey with a broken left foot.

Tobias Harris also missed the Sixers recent back-to-back against the Milwaukee Bucks and Wolves with hip soreness, but the Sixers desperately miss his presence and secondary scoring with two of their main shot creators out. Not many rosters can run out two talents as massive as Embiid and Harris with two of their best players missing, but the depth behind them is shaky, and the team needs Tobi back sooner rather than later.

Thus far, he’s played his role well as a $36 million 3-and-D wing, showing uncharacteristically agile feet on defense and a new quick trigger on offense that’s led to over two 3-pointers made per outing at nearly 40 percent accuracy. While that level of production is fine, his price tag warrants more from the 12-year veteran.

With the Sixers playing at full strength, Harris is best suited to be the one that takes a backseat role on offense, working mostly off of the ball and spacing the floor for Harden, Maxey, and Embiid. He can also be deployed as a creator when the shot clock is dwindling down or when Head Coach Doc Rivers wants to get creative. Mostly though, much of his offensive bag is shelved when Rivers isn’t staggering his minutes with the other three offensive stars.

Now, with Harden and Maxey out for the foreseeable future, Harris has an opportunity to return to his old shot diet that garnered him such a hefty contract in the first place. While Shake Milton and De’Anthony Melton have stepped up admirably during this tumultuous period, the Sixers and Embiid clearly need Harris to carry some of the offensive load upon his return.

In the 52 games he played without James Harden running the offense last season; Harris averaged 18.3 points on nearly 15 shots a night while slashing 48/34/85. This year, he’s down to 14.7 points on just over 12 attempts per game. With Maxey sidelined as well, he should get some of those looks back, if not more so.

Not only do the Sixers need Harris to step up to keep them afloat while they’re sans Harden and Maxey for nearly a month’s time, but Tobias capitalizing on this period can also have some greater long-term ramifications on the team as well. Either he could remind opposing teams and front offices that he’s a legitimate second or third option on offense and raise trade value, or he can command some more offensive opportunities for himself even when Harden and Maxey do return, giving Philly an even more versatile and lethal attack.