Philadelphia 76ers: Tobias Harris keeping true on offseason promise

Tobias Harris | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Tobias Harris | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia 76ers’ $180 million man has kept his promise.

The Philadelphia 76ers knew what they were getting when they acquired Tobias Harris from the Los Angeles Clippers last season. Harris was known as a reliable scorer that could put the ball in the basket from anywhere.

What they also knew, however, is that they would be getting a player with limited capabilities. Harris had never been a particularly good defender in his career and, as a result, had never posted a net rating greater than plus-0.7 in any full season, per Harris’s net rating was negative for most of his seasons. In other words, he often allowed more points than he scored per 100 possessions.

With the departure of J.J. Redick and arrivals of Josh Richardson and Al Horford in the offseason, Harris assumed the “weak-link” label of a starting lineup with enormous defensive potential. Coming into the 2019-20 NBA season, Harris was determined to shed that label.

And, thankfully, he has.

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With Horford’s arrival, Harris became the team’s starting small forward — which is not his natural position. Small forwards are generally quicker than power forwards, so there were real concerns about Harris’ ability to guard the position effectively. Our Lucas Johnson wrote that Brett Brown needed to mask Harris on defense because of his new role.

Despite widespread concerns about his defensive abilities, Harris has flourished in this new role. He currently boasts the fourth-best defensive rating amongst the starters, just behind defensive stalwarts Richardson and Horford. Not only that, but Harris is also second on the team in defensive win shares and 13th in the league among players who have played at least thirty games and average thirty minutes per game.

These numbers largely come from defending players that Harris was deemed too slow to guard. He’s shown that he can defend multiple positions and hold his own when guarding smaller, quicker players. His improved defense is a major reason his net rating stands at plus-4.3, by far the highest of his career.

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While the Sixers’ record stands at an underwhelming 26-16, Harris is not the reason for the team’s struggles. His offensive output has been consistent as always, and he has created a new label for himself as a legitimate two-way player.