Tobias Harris had arguably the best year of his career in 2020-21. He averaged 19.5 points per game with his best true shooting percentage (59.7) for a season yet, recorded a career-high 3.5 assists, shot a career-high 70.9 percent at the rim, attacked and moved the ball with more decisiveness, and improved his defense with heightened activity at that end of the floor. He didn’t quite make the cut to appear in his first All-Star game, but there’s no doubt he was a worthy candidate.
In his offseason last year, Harris primarily focused on improving his interior scoring. He put in a ton of work to develop his post-ups, his physicality, and ways to take advantage of mismatches against smaller defenders. And it paid off. Harris was noticeably better in those areas last season, and it helped fuel the most efficient scoring year of his career. Fast forward to this offseason, and Harris has shifted his attention to polishing his perimeter play.
Just as we all expected, Ben Simmons’ absence was the main story of Sixers media day on Monday. Harris shared a similar message to teammates like Joel Embiid, explaining that he’s spoken with Simmons, the entire team is responsible for last season’s playoff exit, and he ultimately hopes the situation is resolved. From Doc Rivers and Daryl Morey to the players, the Sixers repeatedly said they’d like Simmons to stay. Apart from answering questions about Simmons, though, Harris discussed what he’s been working on this offseason.
The focus? Developing his pull-up game from beyond the arc.
“The big emphasis in the offseason was obviously continuing to work on my body, health, movements all over the court,” Harris said. “A lot of three-point shooting off the bounce, a lot of moves off the bounce and off the perimeter, like outside the three-point line.
“That’s where I wanted to make the biggest improvements. I think, if you look from the [Orlando] bubble, my biggest improvements I wanted to increase on was efficiency in the low post area, inside the three-point line,” Harris added. “So this summer was that and then adding the outside component of that... Being able to shoot those threes off the bounce and contested three-point shots as well, so those were the huge emphasis of the summer, the main focus for me.”
Harris started last season shooting without the kind of hesitation or over dribbling that had bothered him at times in the past, and his three-point shooting remained efficient all year. He finished the season at 39.4 percent from three — the third-best mark of his career. The only drawback for his shooting was that as he embraced a more physical, interior, bully-ball approach with his improved driving and post play, his three-point attempts dropped to only 3.4 per game — his lowest average since 3.1 in 2015-16.
This change clearly didn’t stop Harris from having a terrific season, but focusing on developing his pull-up game this offseason was a good idea.
While Harris may not have the ball handling prowess to dance around ball screens and bury high-difficulty pull-ups, he’s still shown the ability to hit a few threes off the bounce when he has room to isolate, or has some breathing room when dribbling off a high pick.
A pull-up three is a particularly useful weapon to have when attacking the space left by drop coverage in pick-and-rolls. Rather than having to rely as much on driving past retreating bigs or his mid-range game, a more confident pull-up three would give him another counter.
Last season, Harris only attempted 1 pull-up triple per game, making them at a 30.5 percent rate. 2019-20 was similar — 1.2 such attempts per game at a 31.8 percent clip. It has been a more reliable weapon for him in previous seasons, though. In 55 games with the Clippers in 2018-19, Harris made 47.9 percent of his 1.3 pull-up threes per game, which was good enough to lead the NBA among players who attempted at least 50 such shots. Even if he never comes close to that red-hot stroke he had with the Clippers again, the tools — like his soft touch, a quick and compact release, and a reliable pull-up game inside the arc — are there for Harris to at least embrace a bit more of his perimeter game.
Only time will tell how much Harris’s approach changes this season. Will he really be able to up his three-point volume and take more off the dribble? We’ll have to just wait and see. But Harris has improved throughout his career, and adding a few more threes off the bounce certainly shouldn’t be out of the question for a player who has the skillset to do so a little more often.
If Harris’s offseason work pays off and carries into the new season, he’ll be a better, more well-rounded scorer because of it.