When asked to describe the season-best 31 points win against the Pistons ten days ago, Tobias Harris answered “For us, that’s what we’re supposed to do. Handle our business, do it in great fashion… Stick with what’s working and just be professional…” That statement could very well be the definition of Tobias’ season. Nothing funky, and yet, he’s having the best impact the Sixers could have hoped for.
The Harris-Sixers partnership has never been the most satisfying. A low all-start-level campaign in 2020-21 in an otherwise monotonous and stark stint, this is not the type of assessment you would like to make 3 years into a 180 million/5 years agreement. That underwhelming development (or non-development) fueled the fans’ desire to ship Harris and his gigantic contract away from the city.
James Harden and Tyrese Maxey’s unfolding most certainly unlocked the 30 years old situation in Philadelphia. The problem with Tobias’ deal was that it directly forced him to be a major creator on the team. When Maxey emerged while still being on a rookie deal, it balanced the bad and good contracts out and reshaped Harris’ tasks here, eventually leading to great things for him and Philly.
This season, with Embiid’s scoring prowess, Harden’s manufacturing the offense and Maxey’s arising, the team didn’t need Tobias to be some type of initiator at all. Instead, they needed him to be a play finisher and a high-volume shooter. Tobias has proved to be that, and more.
At 16.3 points, the New York native is having his lowest scoring season in six years, but he’s doing it on a career-best efficiency. Tobias was never a great creator, and betting on him to be that was a mistake from the front-office. His current place as a play finisher in the offense avails him and the team. The incredible offensive print of the Embiid/Harden/Maxey trio creates the easiest looks for him and he’s spacing the floor for them, shooting threes at the highest rate of his career and making 37.6% of them.
"Tell a friend to tell a friend that I'm a sharpshooter" 👀
– Tobias Harris pic.twitter.com/FjHd80by7g
— Sixers Nation (@PHLSixersNation) December 20, 2022
Harris is probably the best offensive after-thought in the East. No teams have a 6’7’’ fourth option who can attack closeouts and finish plays as proficiently, step smoothly into an initiator role if the stars are out and hit some timely self-created buckets when the clock is ticking —he’s shooting an impressive 51.8% on shots taken with between 0 to 4 seconds left on the clock. Harris is also a transition-opportunities seeker that the team very much needed.
— 99th percentile (@99thBasketball) January 21, 2023
The most satisfying aspect from Tobias’ renewed impact isn’t even offensively, his usual area of expertise. The power forward made some huge strides keeping the ball in front of him since arriving in Philadelphia, results of a rigorous work and focus over the course of the offseasons.
Switching as much as possible is currently the ideal defensive approach in the sport. The Arizona alumni spends 40.5% of his time assigned to guards, and this improved mobility gives the staff plenty of flexibility and allows the Sixers to apply some sort of switching defense. In the recent stretch of games, he showcased his versatility by repeatedly starting on a guard, before being assigned to a bigger wing or power forward as the game unravels.
When Tobias Harris signed that deal in 2019, the ultimate goal for both sides was very clear: bring a chip to Philadelphia. This year, away from all the spotlights (except those from the post-game conference rooms, where he is one of the most frequent speakers), Harris excelling in his expanded 3&D role might be what makes this team a true contender.
AP Photo/Matt Slocum