Harris mostly trending in right direction, but he can improve in 1 key area


A big part of what worked well for Tobias Harris this past season was not overcomplicating things.

Doc Rivers preached a decisive, no-hesitation style, and Harris was best when he followed his head coach’s directive. 

Harris was an efficient, reliable player in his second full season as a Sixer. He shot a combined 10 for 35 from the floor in the Sixers’ Game 5 and 7 losses to the Hawks in Round 2, but those disappointments don’t negate everything Harris did up until that point.

In a philosophical sense, one interesting question for Harris is just how much he should trust his instincts.

Basketball is played by humans making spur-of-the-moment decisions. And, in general, Harris' choices were effective. He scored 120.3 points per 100 shot attempts, according to Cleaning the Glass, the second-highest mark of his career. Any player who averages nearly 20 points and is in contention for a 50/40/90 shooting season down the home stretch has a strong sense of his game.

Still, Harris’ three-point rate was .225, per Basketball Reference, his lowest since the 2013-14 season. And he didn’t take substantially more shots at the rim. In fact, 48 percent of Harris’ attempts were two-pointers not at the rim, tied for a career low. 

Harris has already demonstrated that he’s capable of shooting at or near 40 percent from three-point range on a higher volume. He took over five threes per games during the 2017-18 campaign and knocked down 41.1 percent of them. Before being traded to the Sixers, he was at 43.4 percent from long distance with the 2018-19 Clippers.

Harris has spoken often about how team flow is vital for his personal game. He can score time and time again when presented with a mismatch, sure, but he doesn’t like to force the action when it’s unnecessary. Taking more threes wouldn’t require him to abandon that approach. Harris would likely be best served if he simply was a bit more willing to try open or lightly contested, in-rhythm threes. 

The Sixers would stand to benefit from such an adjustment, too. Only 31.3 percent of the team’s shots during the regular season were non-heave threes, per Cleaning the Glass, which ranked 26th in the NBA. Despite the presence of Seth Curry and Danny Green, the Sixers were a bottom-five team in an important category.

Of course, many of the other keys for Harris next season can be distilled down to building on positives. According to NBA.com, his efficiency increased from the 2019-20 campaign as a pick-and-roll ball handler, in transition, in isolation and on post-ups. His 0.72 assist-to-usage ratio was his career high. Defensively, his held his own on the perimeter, in the post and as a dedicated, solid team defender. Rivers asked Harris to switch onto Trae Young beginning in Game 2 and that scheme wasn’t at all disastrous for the Sixers, which says a lot about Harris’ progress.

As always, it would be nice if Harris drew free throws with greater consistency. He took none in the Sixers’ Game 5 collapse against Atlanta. That said, Harris’ free throw rate rose modestly, from .184 to .221, and the Sixers improved considerably in that area as a team.

By and large, Harris is trending in the right direction. It likely wouldn’t hurt to place more emphasis on firing away from long distance, though. 

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