The Philadelphia 76ers are beginning to see a positive return on their Tobias Harris investment.
Here at The Sixer Sense, we have poured over the Philadelphia 76ers‘ decision to sign Tobias Harris to a five-year, $180 million extension ad nauseam. It was a questionable move — a layered debate with several contributing factors.
The general tone in the fanbase was apprehension. At least when the deal was announced. Harris struggled to find rhythm in Philadelphia last season, and his weaknesses as a playmaker and defender were enough to dissuade some from supporting a max contract.
Nonetheless, the Sixers — sunk cost or not — needed to justify the assets traded for Harris, the departure of Jimmy Butler only increasing the importance of such a move. With Butler gone, Harris has taken over as Philadelphia’s lead perimeter scorer.
The production has matched the investment so far. Despite an early-season shooting purge, Harris has emerged as Philadelphia’s most steady, consistent presence in the halfcourt. As Brett Brown noted, Harris has thrived in several different spots this season. As a pick-and-roll ball handler, as a spot-up shooter, as a pound-it-inside scorer. Harris has succeeded despite compressed spacing and the Sixers’ spastic, at times unrhythmic offense.
Harris is averaging 19.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, and a career-high 3.3 assists in 34.3 minutes per game. He has made strides not only as a defender, but as a playmaker. While not elite by any stretch, his ability to make quick reads and execute basic passes has helped make up for Philadelphia’s lack of a traditional point guard.
The Sixers need Harris. He is an essential threat — an integral vein of spacing, creation, and variety in the league’s most talented starting five. After perhaps the coldest stretch of his professional career, Harris’ shooting splits have recovered to .491/.325/.798, perfectly respectable slashes.
His three-point percentage is on the upswing, and his 49.1 field goal percentage marks a momentary career high. The Sixers would benefit from a few more threes per game, but on the whole, Harris has been both vital and efficient in his new role.
At 20-7, the Sixers are beginning to separate themselves as the second-best team in the Eastern Conference. Boston, Miami, Toronto, and Indiana are all in the mix, but it’s clear the Sixers have the talent and the home-court advantage to earn the label of second-best. They’re also the No. 2 seed and have won 13 of 15 games, for good measure.
Harris has played a major role in the Sixers’ recent success, and he’s putting together arguably the most impressive season of his career when placed in the proper context. No longer the top option, Harris took time to adjust to his role next to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The entire roster has undergone an adjustment period this season. But Harris has cut through the noise with a career-best blend of productivity and efficiency.
The Sixers are on pace for 60 wins in what, to date, has been the better of the two conferences. It’s fair to assume Philadelphia will earn multiple All-Star bids, Joel Embiid chief among them. If there’s a battle for second, however, the Harris vs. Simmons debate is an interesting one.
In broad strokes, the argument will boil down to offense vs. defense. Harris has given the Sixers’ more than expected as a go-to option, while Simmons continues to defend five positions at an elite, potentially All-Defense level.
There’s a real chance all three make it. The Sixers have the most thoroughly productive starting five in the East, all things considered. If only two get the nod, however, the case for Harris is stronger than some might think — even if his name recognition doesn’t reach quite as far as Simmons.
The Sixers’ offense doesn’t function to the degree it’s currently functioning without Harris. The Sixers have salvaged potentially disastrous early struggles and turned into a functional, top-third of the NBA offense. Harris has aided that development more than Simmons.
With Harris playing such an important role as Philadelphia’s lead perimeter scorer, in conjunction with his marked improvements on defense — he’s not longer a massive liability at small forward — one could argue Tobias is the Sixers’ second All-Star right now. I certainly would.