This is a weekly series where we’ll look back at one player’s performance to see who stood out and why. Whether it’s the best player on the team, someone at the bottom of the bench who stepped up, or anyone in between.
Last week’s results: 107-120 L @ Los Angeles Lakers, 125-108 W @ Sacramento, 114-118 L @ Golden State.
The Philadelphia 76ers’ latest road trip started about as well as it realistically could have. Until typically bad road play and poor defense cost them late in a 118-114 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Saturday, that is.
Without Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Josh Richardson for all but 10 minutes against the Los Angeles Clippers on March 1, the Sixers were always going to have some serious struggles. But behind the emergence of Shake Milton and contributions from others on the bench, the Sixers remained as competitive as you could expect against both L.A. teams and earned an encouraging 125-108 win against the Sacramento Kings.
Tobias Harris is one of the players who’s stepped up his game lately (I chose Milton for this series last time, and he can’t win every week). Following one of his worst games of the season on February 26 against Cleveland, Harris has bounced back in the absence of the team’s stars. In the last five games without Simmons and Embiid, Harris has averaged 25.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4 assists, shooting 51.4 percent from the floor and 43.3 percent from three, making 2.6 triples per game.
Harris started last week with his quietest outing of the three-game stretch. He scored 18 points on 8-of-18 shooting and grabbed 7 rebounds against the Lakers. The Sixers were competitive early on and held a lead for most of the first half, but the Lakers’ massive talent advantage and Anthony Davis destroying Al Horford proved to be too much for Philly to handle. A 30-9 L.A. run to end the first half turned the tide. Despite cutting the Lakers’ lead to single digits several times in the fourth quarter, the Sixers just didn’t have enough firepower without their stars. Harris was only fine in this game — after a strong start, he couldn’t get much going against the Lakers’ elite defense and size once their intensity increased.
Harris had his best game of the week against the Kings on Thursday. He tallied 28 points on 11-of-22 shooting, adding 14 rebounds and 3 assists. By using pick-and-rolls, sealing off his defenders near the basket, posting up, consistently attacking downhill, and shooting 4-of-6 from three, Harris was able to get wherever he wanted. A diverse display of scoring demonstrated exactly what the Sixers need from Harris all the time.
Of course, the Kings and their 18th-ranked defense aren’t the toughest opponent, but Harris is an effective supporting scorer because he can do a bit of everything. He’s at his best when he’s assertive, tapping into all he can do and not settling for too many tough mid-ranger jumpers.
One area of improvement for Harris without Simmons and Embiid has been increased aggressiveness from beyond the arc. While his average of 6 three-point attempts over the last five games is only 1.1 above his season average, it’s more in line with the volume he should be maintaining. More importantly, he’s taken more threes in tight spaces and off the dribble. Harris has passed up decent looks too often this season, either opting to pass or drive inside for more difficult two-pointers. His turnaround from an efficiency standpoint after his early season slump has been ideal (he’s shot 39.7 percent from three since November 15), but his trigger hasn’t always been quick enough.
Harris made a couple of threes off the dribble against the Kings. Firing from three when coming off high screens and pulling up in front of his defender at times is something he needs to keep weaponizing.
Harris got off to an ugly start in the Sixers’ final game of the week against the Warriors, shooting a measly 3-of-14 in the first half after forcing some bad shots. He totally turned around his performance in the second half, though. He scored 16 points (finishing with 24) on 7-of-9 shooting over the final 24 minutes, including 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the fourth quarter. As he got inside to convert a couple of runners, and made a three-point play and buried a triple on consecutive plays with under two minutes left, he almost saved the Sixers.
Harris wasn’t at his best in this game, due to his own defensive shortcomings and ugly first half. As LB’s Sean Kennedy mentioned in his Bell Ringer recap of the game, though, we’d probably be praising Harris’s second half and late-game shot-making if anything went differently in the final minute, or the Sixers’ defense put up a better fight throughout the game.
Debate regarding Harris often comes back to how much he’s cost the Sixers. He’s massively overpaid on his five-year, $180 million deal, and the Sixers gave up too much in their trade to get him in the first place. Some of Harris’s flaws also stand out even more on Philly’s roster, given their lack of perimeter creation and ball handling that’s only heightened in Simmons’ absence. There are weaknesses that Harris should be able to address, too. For instance, being too hesitant from beyond the arc as I’ve mentioned, a low number of pull-up threes, and a defensive decline after displaying noticeable improvement earlier in the season.
However, while it’s fair to criticize him in these areas, he was never going to be able to do enough as a creator this season to cover for the Sixers losing Jimmy Butler in free agency and not adding enough shooters or ball handlers. The front office has diminished the team’s cap flexibility and assets — partly from what they’ve paid out for Harris — and built a poorly constructed roster. There’s no realistic way for Harris to make up for this and avoid blame that, first and foremost, should be directed at the front office.
As overpaid as Harris is, it doesn’t mean he isn’t a good player having a good season. If he keeps increasing his scoring and aggressiveness as he has lately, especially while the Sixers deal with injuries, Harris can prove his value.