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Tobias Harris’ offensive fit with the Sixers

A look at how Brett Brown could utilize Tobias Harris on the offensive end

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Miami Heat Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

During the pre-sunrise hours of the morning on Wednesday, a Woj bomb detonated and brought Tobias Harris to the Philadelphia 76ers. Producing just short of All-Star-caliber play this season, Harris will slide in as the team’s starting power forward. Adding Harris into the fold rounds out a dynamic lineup next to Ben Simmons, JJ Redick, Jimmy Butler and Joel Embiid.

Experiencing a career year, Harris is averaging 20.9 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists on 60.5 percent true shooting (.496/.434/.877 slash line). Thirty-one players are dropping 20-plus points a night and Harris’ true shooting mark ranks eighth within that group. He’s cashing 40.8 percent of his catch-and-shoot treys but off the dribble, he’s been even better — his 48.6 percent clip is tops among a 74-player class with 60-plus pull-up 3s attempted.

But just what is it exactly about Harris’ skill set that can elevate the Sixers’ offense to tantalizing heights? Why was General Manager Elton Brand willing to send out three players and four draft picks to land him (along with Mike Scott and Boban Marjanovic)?

Most notably, it’s Harris’ versatility. Unlike Philadelphia’s other splashy addition this season in Butler, Harris comfortably operates both on and off the ball. That’s not to say Butler can’t play without the rock but it’s apparent he’s far better dominating the events. Harris does a little bit of everything offensively and a survey of his Synergy profile highlights that:

In Los Angeles, Harris maneuvered around screens and thrived as a ball-handler in pick and rolls. Among 54 players with at least 200 pick-and-roll possessions this season, Harris’ 0.993 points per possession ranks 11th. He prefers to work the intermediate regions of the floor, pulling up for jumpers around the foul line or arcing floaters in lieu of getting all the way to the rim:

Harris is converting 46 percent of his shots from midrange (90th percentile, per Cleaning the Glass) — an area that composes 43 percent (95th percentile) of his total volume. On a Sixers team lacking dynamic floor-spacers, Harris’ ability and willingness to stop short of the basket and have a counter for clogged lanes is particularly valuable.

Despite missing dynamic athleticism and quickness to teleport through small openings in the paint, Harris can remain effective. And if or when the Sixers nab some reinforcements to stretch the floor — Wesley Matthews, Wayne Ellington or Terrence Ross, anyone? — he’ll enjoy more melodic court alignments. With Philadelphia sure to stagger its stars, Harris’ point-forward tendencies will prove more useful in bench-heavy lineups.

It won’t be surprising to see Harris execute “Loop,” a play commonly run for Butler, which involves making a zipper cut or curling around a pick from the paint before carrying out a high screen and roll:

Even if Harris sees his pick-and-roll usage decrease in Brett Brown’s ball-screen-averse offense (spoiler: it will), he still boasts the versatility to provide significant value as a fourth banana. At 6-foot-8, 230 pounds, Harris can shift to a more traditional forward role, serving as a screener and roll/pop man. Just as Wilson Chandler acted as an off-ball screener before spotting up, so too will Harris, though he’s far more dangerous on the catch.

With the Clippers, he was regularly involved in double-drag action, bouncing out beyond the arc while another big man rumbled inside. Philadelphia has run something similar with Butler, Simmons and Embiid, though Simmons’ lack of elite size as a roll man and Embiid’s inability to truly space the floor has muted some of its impact.

Now, Harris can flare out while Embiid embraces the paint. If Butler is commandeering the offense, his presence as an off-the-bounce threat only further complicates things for the defense. Here’s an example from Butler’s debut back in November:

Envision Harris, a 43.4 percenter from deep this year, taking that open shot instead of Embiid.

Best of all with Harris is the Sixers finally have a big who can shoot from deep and put it on the floor with some zeal. During his brief tenure, Mike Muscala was an adequate pick-and-pop partner for Butler or Simmons but he can’t roast closeouts like Harris. In a similar vein, Embiid can shoot off the dribble but doesn’t command fierce closeouts. Harris blends the positive attributes of both while avoiding Chandler’s ambivalence off the dribble.

No longer will Muscala be scooted off the 3-point line, take one dribble and pass. Nor will Embiid always pop out and pause in the face of mild defensive coverage. Instead, Harris will flash an in-between pull-up game and use his frame to wiggle into space:

While Harris didn’t grade out well on handoffs (0.74 PPP, 24th percentile) — a staple of Brown’s offense — he boasts the size and ball-handling to moonlight in both roles. Spawning from Los Angeles’ motion-heavy, free-flowing scheme, Harris has a history of attacking on the move. With Embiid or Simmons as the trigger man, he can curl around screens into jumpers. Plus, he’s a sufficient ball mover, clever enough to whiz passes on the roll if both defenders lunge his way.

Swapping responsibilities, the Redick-Harris two-man ballad presents intrigue. Harris isn’t a 7-foot-2 hulking giant like Embiid but his shooting touch provides a different wrinkle, commanding gravity in a way Embiid can’t. Concern yourself with Harris’ quick trigger and smooth stroke, and suddenly, one of the game’s greatest shooters is unaccounted for. Engulf Redick on the catch and Harris can drift to the wing and bury open 3s or torch wreckless closeouts.

Harris is the first elite shooter Redick’s played alongside in Philadelphia whose game can directly merge with his on a possession-by-possession basis. Back when Robert Covington was still on the team, the Sixers periodically dialed up plays for their best wing shooters. Tapping into Redick’s impactful screen-setting could manifest in open shots:

I’d also wager Redick and Harris perform some 2-4 pick and pops, akin to the 2-5 action Redick runs with Simmons.

These sets won’t overtake the heralded Redick-Embiid tango but on nights (and minutes) when Embiid sits, Redick will no longer be stranded and thrust into self-creation duties beyond his powers. Because too often, he looks outmatched sans Embiid — and to a lesser degree, Simmons. Harris offers a safety valve and new weapon for Redick.

Harris isn’t necessarily a rim-rattling roll man but he can set a ball screen, force the switch and punish undersized defenders in the post. Having 80 percent of your closing five lineup capable of creating offense on the block — meaning there’s only one place to potentially hide negative defenders — is incredibly resourceful.

In a potential Celtics-Sixers playoff series, Boston’s best option with Kyrie Irving is to put him on Redick, the most active and tireless off-ball roamer Philadelphia has. If Irving is left to chase Redick around, his peak offensive impact is jeopardized. On Christmas Day, Irving stuck to Chandler and the Sixers searched that out. Harris has replaced Chandler and planting Kyrie on him is a disaster waiting to happen.

Among 47 players with 75-plus post-ups this season, Harris is sixth in PPP (1.05), punking fools any way he pleases:

Away from the ball, Harris glides through pindown or flare screens and is a sharp relocator. He identifies slots in the defense to improve angles on kickouts or skip passes. Acquiring a second flexible shooter next to Redick who isn’t a rookie — apologies Landry Shamet — scribbles a few more chapters into Brown’s playbook.

What sets Harris apart from Redick, though, is his ability to flow from one action to the next. If he snakes through a floppy set — he will, these are prominently featured for Redick and Harris is fluid enough to run off them — and receives the ball at the wing, still scanning for a promising look, he can flip the script.

Dribble handoffs. Pick and rolls. Blitzing to the rim. They’re all available. Harris is a peripheral shot creator with the skill set to capitalize on any defensive shortcomings his off-ball motion induces. Elite shooters with Harris’ offensive diversity are rare.

As a spot-up shooter, only a select few are better than Harris, where he ranks in the 95th percentile (1.28 PPP). Actions with him on the strongside wing or in the strongside corner are going to put defenses in a bind. Any time Butler, Embiid, Simmons or others tilt the defense off kilter, Harris is waiting, primed to strike.

Perhaps, like this:

There will likely be prolonged periods when Harris isn’t a focal point of the offense (especially early, be patient). The beauty of his talents, however, are that mere floor-spacing, malleability as a shooter and knack for bullying switches will foster a positive imprint.

Maybe it’s an overpay for a guy who potentially fades into the background on a consistent basis. But a pliable fourth option whose game empowers the Sixers’ other core pieces, stands as a considerable upgrade over his predecessor and propels the franchise closer to the NBA Finals might just be worth it.

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