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Sixers free agency targets: Gary Harris

The 27-year-old wing enjoyed a resurgent 2021-22 and fills some clear needs for Philadelphia.

Orlando Magic v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

As the 2021-22 NBA season progresses closer and closer toward a conclusion, avenues for the Philadelphia 76ers to enhance their roster draw near. Among those avenues is NBA Free Agency, which kicks off July 1 at midnight. As that date approaches, Liberty Ballers will be breaking down some free agents who might make sense in a Sixers uniform.

Gary Harris

  • 2021-22 statistical profile: 61 games, 28.4 minutes, 11.1 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.0 steals, 57.1 percent true shooting (.434/.384/.874 split)
  • Advanced metrics: -0.2 Estimated Plus-Minus (179th overall), -1.1 O-EPM (250th), +0.9 D-EPM (101st)

The first 14 games of Harris’ eighth NBA season looked as though the end was nigh for him. He shot 35.9 percent from the floor and 22.2 percent beyond the arc. It simply seemed as though all the pop and vigor once present in his dynamic athleticism had completely decayed after years of unfortunate injuries. But then, a pep in his step returned. He moved better on both ends. A tangible shift in how he could and would operate transpired.

During his final 47 games, he shot 40.6 percent from deep on more than 250 attempts and averaged 12.8 points. His nimble cutting returned. His defense, on and off the ball, appeared crisper and more agile.

He put together his best season in years, ready to hit the free agent market and ink a new deal. When that time comes next month, he’s an ideal fit to bolster the Sixers’ dearth of perimeter defenders who double as offensive threats.

Harris’ prolonged bout of injuries and inconsistent play in recent season are both justified reasons for pause about signing him. Regardless, though, his age-27, 2021-22 campaign was quite encouraging and represents the sort of skill-set Philadelphia invites around its stars. Taking a chance on that being who he is over the next few years is a worthwhile risk.

Harris’ offensive arsenal complements Joel Embiid and James Harden snugly. He’s a high-volume shooter who drilled 48 percent of his corner triples (87th percentile) over the past 47 games last season (46.4 percent overall) and can function on the move as well. When opportunities arise, he recognizes how and when to relocate around the perimeter.

Those are both traits Danny Green provided and will be missed, given he’s likely out a while after tearing his ACL in Game 6 against the Miami Heat last month. While not the accomplished shooter of Green with the unconscious trigger (though still solid in both aspects), Harris differentiates himself as a cutter.

During his early days as a Denver Nugget, he routinely linked up with Nikola Jokic on slices to the rim. He was a terrific finisher, capable of powering through or contorting around defenders for acrobatic buckets. Amid his resurgence, that finishing prowess returned, when he shot 67 percent at the rim from Nov. 27 onward (61st percentile), according to Cleaning The Glass.

Embiid is not Jokic as a passer, but he’s an excellent facilitator and the gravity he commands would absolutely spring open chances for Harris. Harden’s merits in that realm are apparent. Plus, Harris might be an interesting pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop partner for The Beard, a la Matisse Thybulle and Georges Niang.

Largely stemming from injuries, Harris’ two-point scoring (47.5 percent) has underwhelmed since 2018-19. He also has a tendency to wander into long pull-up twos or dribble himself into precarious spots without a plan. Limiting his on-ball reps is imperative to maximizing him offensively.

The Orlando Magic dispersed ball-handling duties rather wide-ranging, whereas Philadelphia is much more regimented there, so those concerns or habits could fade away for Harris as a Sixer.

His blend of off-ball guile, versatile shooting and potential revival as a finisher are all valuable facets in Philadelphia’s offense, led by two stars touting enormous gravity and talents.

Harris remaining a viable outside shooter (38ish percent) with some finishing craft (63-65ish around the rim) is necessary for a substantial role, similar to the 28 minutes per game he saw last season. What that offensive reliability will amplify is his multifaceted defense.

On the ball, he’s a capable screen navigator with feisty, agile hands. At 210 pounds, he’s fairly strong for a 6-foot-4 guard, which he leverages to apply pressure and infiltrate personal space. Between the strength and dexterity, he regularly stripped initiators at the point-of-attack.

Pressure from the outset of a possession can really flip events in favor of the defense; these playoffs have been proof. The Sixers, due to personnel and scheme, did not embrace that ideal last season. Harris could help them remedy such a hole.

Zippier creators can exploit Harris’ decline as a lateral mover and he won’t guard up to irritate wing-sized creators on a full-time basis. But he’s nonetheless an excellent on-ball defender who could offer a buffer for Embiid on a roster severely missing perimeter feedback, especially after Green’s injury.

While the scope of his on-ball versatility is a bit narrow, Harris’ off-ball services are broad. According to Cleaning The Glass, he’s ranked in the 61st percentile or better in steal rate among wings all but once throughout his eight-year career. He’s adept at pilfering dribble hand-offs, playing the nail for stunts, jumping passing lanes and concisely flowing into peel switches to blow up pocket passes.

The impact of those slippery hands re-enters view and he parlays them all across the court. He’s pretty good at staying attached to assignments around screens, too. His collective off-ball package is something from which Philadelphia would notably benefit. It didn’t tout a ton of anticipatory, instinctive playmakers last season. Harris is one, and accomplishes it in a multitude of manners.

If the offense of late Nov. 2021 and beyond holds, he’s a highly enticing free agency target. The Sixers should consider offering their mid-level exception, regardless of whether that’s the tax payer’s one (~$6.1 million) or the full MLE (~$10.1 million), if they open up requisite space for the latter.

There’s absolutely a gamble with his health and consistency, but it’s a warranted gamble for an archetype this team should be seeking. Avenues for external, substantial improvements aren’t abundant at the moment. The 2021-22 version of Harris may qualify as that. If he’s interested in venturing up to south Philly, this team should immediately prioritize landing him.