Sixers: How Tobias Harris must improve as the No. 2 option

Tobias Harris, Sixers Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Tobias Harris, Sixers Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

The NBA season is a week away  and the pressure is on Tobias Harris to truly embrace being the No. 2 guy next to Joel Embiid, to help the Sixers remain as one of the top teams in the NBA and in the Eastern Conference. Harris’ ability not only as a player but as a leader will be crucial and much needed, especially in the return of Ben Simmons and the drama that surrounds his ongoing trade status.

Harris is coming off what I would consider a much improved 2020-21 season in which, under coach Doc Rivers, he averaged 19.5 points per game and shot efficiently — almost adding his name to the illustrious 50/40/90 club with shooting splits of 51/39/89. So far, Tobias Harris has thrived as the power forward next to Joel Embiid, dominating opponents by a margin of 12 points per 100 possessions.

There are three main factors for this upcoming season that Harris needs to improve upon going forward and all throughout the season to really be the guy that can help the Sixers.

How Tobias Harris must improve as Sixers’ No. 2 option: Getting to the line

Tobias Harris has shown in spurts that he can be a closer and a highly efficient scorer and mid-range specialist, especially when it comes to playing at home. Last season Harris averaged 20 points per game on 42 percent 3-point shooting and a 53 percent field goal percentage in the Wells Fargo Center.

This scoring output was nice when Ben Simmons was on the floor, but now with or without him, Tobias is going to have to increase his scoring output to at least 23 points per game and he needs to get to the free throw line more consistently. Going to the free throw line is something that Harris has struggled with since entering the league in 2011. Averaging only 3.3 free throws per game last season, Harris only made 182 free throws total in comparison to Joel Embiid, who made a total of 471.

The key for Harris offense and getting to the line is he needs to be more aggressive, this season he needs to develop a killer instinct when it comes to attacking the basket. Despite being a good shooter and versatile forward, the lack of made free throws and free throw attempts will be a major hindrance for this Sixers offense and for somebody that is making an average salary of $36,000,000 going to the line less than 5.5 attempts per game is a problem.

How Tobias Harris must improve as Sixers’ No. 2 option: Playmaking

I think I’ve said it enough, but Tobias Harris’ main role when brought to the Sixers was to be a go-to guy, a closer, and an efficient scorer from the perimeter to complement Embiid. We have all seen enough in this preseason to see how important playmaking is going to be for this team. To step up as the the No. 2 guy this season, Harris is going to have to potentially take on another responsibility, which will be having to assume more playmaking duties and run offensive sets.

It’s not guaranteed that Ben Simmons will play every game with the team if he even touches the court at all.  I expect Tobias to have to handle the ball more and facilitate for players like Joel Embiid, Seth Curry and Danny Green. Before it was easier for Harris to just give Simmons the ball and go find his spots but now he’ll have to step up and do even more on the floor without him.

Ending the season with a career high in assists at 3.5 per game, Harris will have to boost it up again this year but I believe that he has the ability to do just that especially in a Doc Rivers run system.

How Tobias Harris must improve as Sixers’ No. 2 option: Defense

Last but not least is defense, where Harris made major strides last season.  Even if Simmons does decide to play for the Sixers, I believe it Harris will still have to step up, as there will be more defensive pressure on him this season.

Yes, while the Sixers have both Matisse Thybulle and Danny Green to try and make up for any potential loss of Simmons, Harris will have to take on the responsibility of defending against guards and forwards. As the primary power forward last season, Harris showed improvement when having to switch on pick-and-rolls or isolations attempts used against him by other forwards.

The looming thought of not knowing if Simmons will or won’t play and for how long should put more emphasis on Harris to continue to step up on the defensive end and continue to be a focal point for this team going forward.

Next. 5 possible outcomes for Ben Simmons' return. dark