Tobias Harris didn’t have the best start to the first half of the season. He returned to some of his more indecisive ways, cooling off from three-point range with fewer attempts. Since then, there have still been inconsistent routes, but he started warming up from early 2022. And following the All-Star hiatus with James Harden in Philadelphia, Harris has begun to settle into the kind of role the new-look Sixers want him to play.
Now that Harris is the clear fourth option on the team, with Harden nearby and Tyrese Maxey thriving in a bigger role, the Sixers don’t need as much of Harris. You need less creation from dribbling and more determined drives, attacks from the catch and especially three-point attempts.
In the last 24 games after the All-Star break, Harris averaged 14.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and three assists, shooting 47.7 percent overall and 40 percent from three, for a true shot average of 57, to score 2. While his performance has understandably declined with his reduced role on offense, his way of working is key.
Part of the success was seeing Harris come back to his best with certain shots from within the arc, particularly with how he used quick post-ups against smaller defenders and how efficiently he attacked the basket. He’s sometimes hesitant about catching the ball, but more often he’s quick to find avenues of attack, using his strength and trademark good finish to get to the basket for layups or short swimmers. After not being quite as reliable on the rim early in the season compared to previous years, Harris ended the regular season, ending it with a very respectable 69.9 percent shot mark within three feet of the basket. He’s even shown some quicker plays when passing closeouts.
Since Harris’ overall field goal attempts have declined alongside Harden, he has eliminated some of those more inefficient mid-range pull-ups. His midrange attempts have been on the decline, falling from two per game before the All-Star break to just 1.3 since then. Using snappier drives and threes has helped his efficiency and given the Sixers more of what they need from Harris in their new offense with Harden.
Harris’ rise in three-point shooting was his most valuable development. His accuracy from beyond the arc has been trending up for some time after a slower start to the season, shooting 40.7 percent from deep since early January. But after Harden’s arrival, Harris seemed more comfortable playing the ball, firing confident threes with a quick trigger. After the All-Star break, Harris averaged 4.6 three-point attempts per game, compared to just 3.4 before the break.
Since arriving in Philadelphia, Harden has been trying to get his teammates to be aggressive and play to their strengths. Whether that’s cheering Maxey on the sidelines during games or, when it comes to Harris, encouraging players to start three-pointers when they’re open.
“Yeah, all the time,” Harden said after the Sixers’ win over the Knicks on Feb. 27, speaking of Harris should keep shooting three-pointers. “All the time. There are occasions where Tobias has had four or five catch and shoot chances that he missed and was trying to dribble past someone. That’s the thing I’m going to stay tuned into him for. “He’s got those opportunities, I don’t care if he missed 20 of them. Those are shots you have to take because more often than not, you’re going to make those shots. As long as I can build that trust in each and every one of our guys, our team as a whole will become.” be better.”
Now that Harris is more comfortable on the Harden offense (and possibly spurred on to shoot thanks to his new teammate’s encouragement), he’s taking more of the threes he needs. Remnants don’t bother him that much. From instant triples on kickouts to pick-and-pops with Harden to trailing looks in transition, Harris has noticeably made it fly more.
The Sixers would still benefit from Harris getting his three-point attempts to at least five or six a game, but he’s making a clear step in the right direction. Shooting without hesitation, he punishes defenses that collapse and sends extra defenders on Harden and Joel Embiid, rather than giving opponents a chance to recover when he pauses and dribbles too hard, or settles for a less efficient one Try from the middle decides. More than any other change in his game, this is the improvement that needs to last and build on.
The Sixers’ first-round playoff series against the Toronto Raptors is going to be tough. The Raptors, with their abundance of wings and forwards, will frequently throw well-timed doubles teams at Embiid. More than any other team in the league in recent years, Nick Nurse and his Raptors have understood how to disrupt Embiid.
If Harden doesn’t break out, it won’t be easy for him to come downhill and score via the outstretched arms that await. And as for Harris, the Raptors have several strong, fast, and long defenders they can throw at him to slow him down while dribbling — from impressive rookie Scottie Barnes to OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam.
It will be important to Harris and the Sixers’ success in this matchup to unhesitatingly attack any open lanes to the basket and continue to be a reliable three-point outlet with solid volume. If the Raptors are up front and Embiid on doubles team, Harden will be able to thread sly passes through gaps to open shooters and Harris will need to capitalize. The same is true when Harden drives, a second defender comes in to dig the ball, and Harden sends passes back into the arc. If there’s a time for Harris to start some more threes (and hopefully make a fair percentage of them), it’s now.
Harris deserves credit for adjusting his game and giving the Sixers more of the offensive approach they need from him. Now time will tell how effectively he can carry it into the playoffs.