2020 NBA return: Can Tobias Harris be a bona fide scorer in NBA playoffs?


The Sixers’ chances of a Disney World championship will certainly increase if they’re able to count on Tobias Harris as a scorer. 

How can the Sixers maximize Harris’ skills? One basic method they used often against top-tier opposition was having Harris set ball screens on smaller defenders. Ideally, that strategy forces a switch, gets Harris a favorable matchup and helps him temporarily avoid someone like Kawhi Leonard.

He did a nice job on the play below immediately establishing post position against Patrick Beverley. 

Much of Harris’ scoring has come in the flow of the offense. When Joel Embiid was out with a torn ligament in his left ring finger in January, the Sixers had success with Ben Simmons playmaking from the elbow. On this play from Jan. 25 against the Lakers, Shake Milton gives the ball to Simmons, then sets a cross screen for Harris. The action produces a good look, the kind the Sixers will need Harris to make regularly.

To his credit, Harris has shot 39.1 percent from three-point range since his early-season 0-for-23 slump and is 43.1 percent on wide-open threes since that dismal stretch.

One action the Sixers ran frequently for Harris before the season was suspended had him receiving staggered ball screens at the top of the key. The ideal result is one of those screens being effective enough to necessitate a switch, as it did on this next play vs. the Lakers. Harris drives hard to the middle on Dwight Howard, pump fakes and draws a foul.

Though it will never be one of his strengths, it would help the Sixers if Harris could create more free throw attempts by seeking contact like this when appropriate. Out of all players averaging at least 19 points this season, he’s taken the fifth-fewest foul shots per game (2.9). 

It’s incumbent on Harris to give this action a chance to be effective, or to shift the offense in a different direction when nothing’s happening. Khris Middleton played great defense here in fighting over Simmons’ initial screen, but Harris must be stronger and more decisive. Crossing back and forth without any true conviction won’t usually work in the playoffs.   

There’s obviously a fine line between patience and excessive deliberation. Harris walked it well in our next sequence by waiting until Simmons could screen Middleton at an effective angle. He then had the wherewithal to pause in the paint with Middleton on his back and Brook Lopez in front of him, giving Embid a chance to cut from the left wing to the hoop. 

Harris had been above average as an isolation player for the last three seasons, but he’s in the 48th percentile this year in terms of points per isolation possession. The simplest explanation for his efficiency dropping is him shifting to small forward and encountering more agile defenders. 

Still, Harris has jolts of explosiveness. 

Given that he’s leading the NBA in minutes played and had been bothered by a right knee injury, perhaps he’ll be fresher and quicker if/when the season resumes. 

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