The Philadelphia 76ers should get more out of their $180 million man next season.
Tobias Harris is the favorite punching bag of many in the Philadelphia 76ers fandom. He’s an easy target for criticism. His $180 million contract is a gross overpay, and his performance last season left much to be desired as the Sixers’ third wheel.
With that said, Harris has been a mostly productive player during his time with the Sixers. Is he worth his contract? No, of course not. But when you separate Harris from Philadelphia’s checkbook, he’s a generally useful offensive talent who provides much-needed variety in the halfcourt.
Last season, Harris averaged 19.6 points and 6.9 rebounds on 47.1 percent shooting from the field. He hit 36.7 percent of his 3-point attempts, but that number climbed to 39.4 percent over his last 20 regular season games. Sharing the court with a fair amount of ball-stoppers, those are not bad numbers.
The Sixers have gotten solid production from Harris, and will continue to get solid production from him in the future. He did struggle rather egregiously in the postseason — he will need to get better in that setting — but on the whole, Harris has produced.
On the other hand, one can point to Harris’ time in LA — which essentially “earned” him a $180 million contract — and contend that Harris has underperformed in Philadelphia relative to expectations. That’s not wrong. Harris’ 3-point percentage has dipped since arriving in Philly, and his scoring has expectedly tapered off next to Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and others.
Enter Doc Rivers, who coached Harris in the best half-season of his career. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said Rivers’ coaching of Harris in LA factored into Philadelphia’s decision to hire him. It’s clear the Sixers need — and want — more out of their biggest financial investment.
In his 55 games with LA in 2018-19, Harris averaged 20.9 points and 7.9 rebounds while shooting 49.6 percent from the field and 43.4 percent from deep. If Rivers can mine similar production out of Harris, the Sixers will find a much smoother road in the regular season.
Most obviously, Harris should return to the role of “power forward” full-time. The Sixers can label Ben Simmons as the four, but Harris should defend fours, and frankly, should probably find himself defended by fours more often than not. That is code for keep Al Horford far away from the starting five.
Too often last season, the Sixers leaned on Harris iso possessions. While Harris can create his own offense, he’s too sluggish an athlete to consistently create space against more agile wings. He is much more capable of getting a step on traditional forwards, who struggle to keep Harris’ face-up game in check.
Getting Harris matched up on bigger, slower defenders should be a priority for Rivers. He should also aim to use Harris more regularly in the pick-and-roll, where he found great success in LA. Again, Harris struggles to create advantages on his own. His below-average first step and lack of explosiveness have to be accounted for. The solution is to put him in two-man actions, use him as a screener, and get him momentum towards the basket against a scrambled defense.
When used correctly, Harris is a crafty three-level scorer who can provide a serious punch in a secondary scoring role. Rivers is better equipped than Brett Brown before him to get the most out of Harris. That, plus an established working relationship, should lead to a productive partnership between player and coach.
Harris will never live up to his contract. At this point, there’s no use in dwelling on it. The Sixers need to get the most out of Harris, because in all likelihood, he’s going to stick around for at least a few more seasons. He won’t get traded because teams won’t trade for him. Philadelphia might as well task someone like Rivers with getting the most out of him.