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Sixers Playoffs: Tobias Harris seeing more pick-and-rolls

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Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets - Game Three Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After no-showing in Game 1 of the Sixers-Nets playoff series, Tobias Harris has since upped his contributions. Over the last three games, Harris is averaging 24.0 points on 51% from the field and has a 61.9% true shooting mark. The scoring surge is exactly what Sixers fans envisioned getting from Harris when Elton Brand acquired him at the deadline.

But the increased scoring activity out of Harris hasn’t simply been a matter of hitting shots at higher clip, though he has shot better recently compared to his regular season play in Philly. Brett Brown has prescribed an increase in pick-and-roll possessions for Harris and it has allowed Harris to increase his effectiveness in the Sixers’ playoff offense.

In the regular season for the Sixers, Tobias Harris operated about 3.4 possessions a game as a pick-and-roll ball handler. That’s a significant drop from the 5.1 PnR B/H possessions he received through his first 55 games of the 2018-2019 season as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers. It was a disappointing shift for Harris, as before joining the Sixers, he ranked 9th in the NBA in points per play (0.99) out of all players who ran at least 3 PnRs a game and played at least 50 games.

Fortunately for Harris, his playoff pick-and-roll occurrences not only exceed his L.A. numbers but also nearly double his regular season Philly numbers at 6.3 PnR possessions a game through four playoff appearances so far. What’s more encouraging is that Tobi is scoring out of the pick-and-roll at an above-average rate of 1.00 point per play.

In Game 4, Tobi’s rolling partner was often none other than his best friend, Boban Marjanovic. Boban laid some crushing screens, which allowed Harris to get deep into the lane and utilize his touch around the rim:

But for as productive as Harris has been out of the pick-and-roll, a deficiency in his game as a whole has pervaded his pick-and-roll as well. I’m talking of course about Tobias’ penchant for midrange jumpers. While Tobi occasionally finds success in the midrange, you can’t help but feel he could drastically increase his efficiency if he would strive to eliminate 18 footers from his repertoire. Below we see three different plays in which Harris settles for a midrange shot after dribbling around a screen:

In the first play of that sequence, Jarrett Allen is playing mostly lackadaisical defense, but easily bothers Harris’ attempt simply by sticking his long arms in Harris’ grill. The second play shows Harris attempt an elbow jumper again in front of Allen as D’Angelo Russell checks Tobias with a strong trailing contest. While Harris is comfortable with both those looks, he has a huge frame and solid finishing and there’s a case to be made that he should be willing to take Allen to the rim every time. (Recall the first clip in which the 2nd play is Harris driving on Allen.)

The third play in the above clip was frustrating for a different reason. After Tobias uses the screen from Ben Simmons and drives toward the baseline, Joe Harris recovers pretty well to cut Tobias off and Jarrett Allen is hanging just under the rim to provide backup. Tobias Harris fights against his momentum and hoists a contested, off-balance shot. But before Tobias ever drove baseline, check out the space he had coming off the screen:

Tobias could have easily stepped into a three at this point that would have had at least as good a value proposition as a smothered fade-away jumper.

I don’t want to cloud a positive development with negativity. It is very good news that Tobias Harris is getting more pick-and-rolls. And I expect this theme to continue as defenses will only become stronger the further the Sixers advance in the playoffs. It’s encouraging to have a player who just needs a little bit of space off a pick to feel comfortable pulling the trigger. But Tobi has to — has to — improve his shot profile. His selection is just way too early-2000’s NBA. If Harris can become more willing to step into threes off the dribble and take on mismatched bigs, it adds a late-season dynamic to the Sixers’ offense that could alleviate other burdens, such as Joel Embiid overextending himself, JJ Redick’s cold streaks or the reliance on Jimmy Butler in the 4th quarter.