The Sixers got their first win of the season in a 120-106 win over the Pacers and got some solid production out of 12th year forward Tobias Harris. Harris has been asked to accommodate his game a lot ever since the team’s acquisition of James Harden. Doc Rivers’ staff wants the team’s emotional leader focusing on shooting the quick three, playing stalwart switch-heavy defense, and taking it to the rack.
He’s averaging 15 points, 6 rebounds, 1.5 dimes, 1.3 steals, and 0.8 blocks, shooting 49 percent from the field and 42 percent from deep so far. But the thing the team might be most excited about is his total three point attempts (draining 4 of 10) in their first win of the year over the Pacers.
After the game, the Tennessee product dished to reporters about the game.
“Yeah, it was a game we needed to win,” Harris said. “And we went over it at shoot around today: the emphasis was to get that ball moving, get the ball touching everybody’s hands. … We were able to find open and easy shots, and that was what really opened up the game for us tonight.”
That movement, offensively, really wasn’t there vs. the Milwaukee Bucks. It looked like the team’s emphasis was to establish Joel Embiid in the post, despite his apparent lack of conditioning. It was a suspect game plan, with the knowledge Embiid missed a couple months this offseason, resting from a bout with plantar fasciitis. Had they emphasized ball movement from the jump, we’d probably feel a whole lot different about the start to this year, since they had a painfully winnable game over the shorthanded Bucks they seemed frustratingly unprepared for.
Harris reportedly wanted more pick-and-roll chances, but it doesn’t seem as if that’s in the cards for him... yet.
The team really wants him to get those threes up, and that’s what he did vs. Indy.
“Yeah, but it’s something I want to do moving forward,” Harris said with a big smile. “That’s a big effort for me, to go out there and let it rip shooting. Obviously I had a few in the beginning that felt really good — in-and-outs. So it’s just really, in those moments, sticking with it and having the confidence to pull the next one. Sticking to that standard, and knowing how good of a shooter I am and how much work I put in on those type of looks … keeping the same confidence and letting those fly.”
Harris began this focus, becoming more of a 3-and-D wing, and less of an isolation, post-up scoring four, around February or March of last season. By playoff time, he really seemed to find his stride, locking up Pascal Siakam at points during that first round.
Through games on April 18, which NBA players have done the most (or least) with their minutes during the 2022 playoffs, per TPA?— NBA Math (@NBA_Math) April 19, 2022
Full data on @SportsMathNet: https://t.co/YBVQW2FUGr pic.twitter.com/0PdMei9F2g
But playing this role isn’t always natural for him. Shooting the three off the catch takes some effort for a player whose first instinct was to attack a close out for a number of years.
“There’s a lot of tweaks that I’ve been making,” Harris said. “The rhythm is just being ready to catch and shoot. In those positions, when I do have the space, letting it fly — raising right up. And if I feel somebody’s running me off the line, get in the paint and make the right play from there. Endless amounts of shots in the offseason for … taking those looks and making them.”
Always likable and humble, Harris made reporters laugh when he fielded a question about Pacers coach Ric Carlisle describing Harris as “underrated.”
Does he agree?
“It depends who you ask,” Harris said with a grin.
Reporters in attendance knew it was a sly reference to his at-times rocky relationship with our notoriously tough Philly faithful.
Daryl Morey recently opened up about the subject, on the Rights to Ricky pod:
“I got super frightened last year with Tobias [Harris] went through his thing where like the fans were booing him and he seemed to be going down this dark road where he was gonna heel turn and get the whole town to hate him,” Morey admitted.
But Harris doesn’t mind hearing the love from a title-winning coach, like Carlisle.
“I’d say that’s a pretty good person to state that, so I can take that as a compliment. I appreciate that.”
(Above, after a couple made bombs, Harris entices the defense to creep out a step too far, giving him an easy close out opportunity, T Time).
Embiid was asked if he liked what he saw from Harris, launching the 10 triples vs. some soft coverage by Indy, who’d clearly focused their attention on slowing Joel. To his credit, in this game, Embiid was a willing passer, eagerly looking to set up teammates. A far cry from his approach vs. Boston and Milwaukee, when he appeared hellbent on asserting himself, despite the defensive look.
“Yeah, [Tobias] should shoot more — mainly him and Tyrese,” Embiid said. “Mainly Tyrese. I think Tyrese should be taking 10 a game. … They’re going to be wide open. Every single night, I got doubled, tripled every single possession. James is creating wide-open shots. All of them. P.J., guys coming off the bench. I don’t think we’re taking enough threes, and we just need to let it fly. Tonight we shot 43, which is better. That’s how you’re going to go on runs and that’s how you’re going to put teams away. And if teams are going to guard either me or James that way, you can’t think about it, you can’t pump fake. You’ve got to let it fly.”
This is probably music to Morey’s ears. He’s long pushed the boundaries for three-pointers attempted, basically changing the landscape of the NBA along with Harden and Mike D’Antoni in Houston.
And the best way to get teams to stop defending Embiid the way the Heat, Celtics and Bucks recently have (with plenty of success) is for Embiid to trust players like Harris and Maxey to take that first look from downtown. This was a step in the right direction. Embiid and Harden thrived, combining for 55 points.
Back on Oct. 19, Doc said Harris “has given himself completely to the team.”
This may not be the style of ball that Harris feels most comfy playing. But give him credit, he’s playing it. Hopefully, they can build on that momentum and follow his lead, being willing to sacrifice the individual for the betterment of the team. So for now, Harris has the ultimate green light, as long as it’s off the catch and his toes are behind that dang line. And if you ask Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey does too.