Over the next few weeks, we’ll be profiling every player currently on the Sixers’ roster ahead of training camp, which begins on Sept. 27.
Contract status: $37.6 million for 2022-23; $39.2 million for 2023-24; unrestricted free agent ahead of 2024-25 season
Tobias Harris is going to have the best season of his career in 2022-23. That’s my prediction. Call it bold. Call it hasty. Dig up the receipts next spring if things unravel and you wish to paint me as a fool. The way Harris closed over the final two months of last year and the roster composition of this year’s Philadelphia 76ers lead me to this conclusion.
Following James Harden’s integration, Harris initially struggled to adapt to a smaller on-ball role that prioritized him making snappy decisions and launching more spot-up triples, two long-standing inconsistencies of his offensive approach. Yet in a mid-March blowout loss against the Brooklyn Nets, something clicked for Harris. That night, five of his 10 field goal attempts came beyond the arc and he connected on four of them.
Throughout the next month, he drilled 44 percent of his long balls, shot 50.5 percent from the floor and averaged 15.1 points on 60 percent true shooting. Once the playoffs arrived, he averaged 16.9 points on 59.1 percent true shooting (.500/.386/.864 split) across 12 games — his best postseason stint in four trips with Philadelphia.
When creation was needed of him, particularly during the two games Joel Embiid missed, he acted concisely and productively. He was entrusted to be the primary stopper for stars in Pascal Siakam and Jimmy Butler, proving capable of containing them for stretches. His drive-and-kick facilitating looked sharper.
Both the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat realized his services could be neutralized with a pick, given his problems efficiently navigating screens. But now, with the surrounding wing defenders bolstered by the additions of De’Anthony Melton, P.J. Tucker and Danuel House, switching Harris off menacing initiators won’t always invite easy matchups anymore like they often did for Siakam and Butler. He is in line for a superb two-way campaign.
Season outlook: Harris’ retooled ethos has primed him to thrive with a Sixers roster that looks dramatically different than it did last fall. If he can extend his late season evolution into 2022-23, he looks ready to fulfill the juiced-up 3-and-D role that’s always seemed most conducive to him providing high-level impact on an elite team.
The Harden-Embiid pick-and-roll duo, along with the general way they compromise defenders, is going to forge plenty of open looks and opportunities for Harris to strike. If he properly balances firing from deep and attacking off the catch as a slasher, he should be quite the efficient ancillary scorer. More two-man actions involving him as a screener for Harden could behoove both of them and the collective offense.
While Tucker will presumably take the stingiest of wing assignments most nights, Harris should still have his hands full and they could be an impressively formidable defensive tandem on the perimeter. I’m not talking All-Defensive consideration or anything, but their blend of size, strength, mobility and dexterity could pose lots of issues for offenses.
Harris’ limitations as a passer and decision-maker typically curtail the extent to which he can commandeer possessions on the ball for teams pursuing a title or deep playoff run. Now, his creation skills can be applied selectively on nights or moments when Embiid and/or Harden are resting; Tyrese Maxey is also probably above him on the offensive hierarchy.
Whether it’s punishing slow-footed bigs on drives or exploiting smaller defenders inside, he’ll cook as a mismatch scorer. Almost everything else will be derived from whatever the pillars of the offense fashion. His assimilation to that reality came to fruition late last year.
On both ends, the 2022-23 Sixers are close to an optimal context for Harris to be as good as he’s ever been. He may have garnered some All-Star buzz in 2020-21, but this is the year for him and the last 30 games he played a season ago suggest he’s fully prepared to deliver.