When the Sixers made the decision to pull the trigger on a big trade for Tobias Harris, they had expectations for both him and the rest of the team for the remainder of the season. For the most part the partnership between Harris and the Sixers has worked out, as the shooter has come in and shored up the last remaining question mark in the starting lineup at power forward.
From his first game as a Sixer, Harris looked like the sure-handed scorer the team has needed next to the dominance of Joel Embiid, the craftiness of Ben Simmons and the late game heroics of Jimmy Butler. In his first eight games in Philadelphia Harris averaged 21.8 points per game, shooting 55% from the field and 42% from deep as the fourth option on a top tier offense, but questions started to pop up as the season turned to its most important point.
As the season wore on and the regular season turned to the playoffs, the teams new weapon endured a rough patch of play at the worst possible time. The numbers each month of his Sixers tenure have grown worse than the month before, after February’s impressive numbers both March (44% from the field, 30% from three) and April (39% from the field, 18% from three) have tailed off to the point of concern. The Sixers gave up a solid package including Landry Shamet and the 2021 Miami Heat first round pick in order to secure Harris’ services, and if this trend continues he won’t be any kind of upgrade compared to last years options during the playoffs.
Tobias Harris has played fourth fiddle for most of his time in Philadelphia, but now that the playoffs are here he could have to play a different role. Ben Simmons has had the tendency to disappear in games due to the slower pace of the playoffs and how defenses adjust to his game in half court sets, this is where Harris needs to become a bigger threat. Instead of playing passively and waiting to be spoon-fed shots, Harris needs to make his presence felt and command the ball in positions of strength. While he is better off the ball, he is also a threat with the ball in his hands looking to make a play, the Sixers need to take advantage of that.
For the Sixers to reach their maximum potential in the playoffs Tobias Harris needs to turn things around in a hurry. We saw flashes in Game 2 against the Nets of what Harris brings to the table when shots are falling, now he just needs to channel that energy over an entire series. He has never been one to command tons of shots or iso possessions, and he may never be that type of player, but for the Sixers to be at the top of their game Harris may need to step out of his comfort zone and become the aggressive player he is not right now.
Fans may see that extra aggressiveness out of Harris if coach Brett Brown decides to play him at his more natural position of small forward down the stretch. In Game 2 Harris played next to power forward reserve Jonah Bolden sparingly, and yet in the short time they were on the court together it felt like Harris was more confident. Harris was able to score 5 points in 5 minutes next to Bolden, and while that number doesn’t jump off the page Harris was moving around more and had a commanding presence that he doesn’t always have when playing power forward. Does this mean Harris should play small forward for the entirety of the series? No, but it may be another small wrinkle in the Sixers game plan that helps get them over the hump.
Tobias Harris was brought in to be the final piece of a puzzle that has taken years to complete. He hasn’t always been the sexiest addition, but if he plays his role how many have expected him to the Sixers will finally have a team at maximum potential at the most important juncture of the season.