Tue. Jan 26th, 2021

The Philadelphia 76ers’ 2020-2021 season has been off to a great start. Heading into Monday night’s game, the Sixers are 5-1, sitting in first place in the Eastern Conference. As a team, the Sixers look solid. From a personal standpoint, several players have looked great — especially Sixers veteran forward, Tobias Harris.

Despite being one of the most consistent players last season, Harris didn’t quite live up to his contract. Offensively, Harris could be relied on to score, but he was also consistently quiet when it mattered most. Defensively, he looked better than he did the previous year, but not quite as good as his teammates.

So far this year, Harris has stepped his game up on both ends. Through six games, Harris is second in points-per-game behind Sixers starting center, Joel Embiid. He has also knocked down 48-percent of his threes, second behind the team’s veteran sharpshooter, Seth Curry.

While offense is typically Harris’ bread and butter, the veteran forward has once again stepped up his play on the defensive side of the ball this season. Last year, Harris looked decent on defense but was expectedly overshadowed by some of his teammates.

This year, Harris has been neck and neck with his teammates, who are recognized as defensive standouts across the NBA. Six games into the year, Harris has collected nine steals and nine blocks, tied in both categories with his First-Tem All-Defensive teammate, Ben Simmons.

Although Simmons has been prideful of his defense for the last few years, the fourth-year All-Star admitted on Saturday night that Harris’ progress on that side of the ball helps keep him motivated — and the veteran forward’s emergence hasn’t gone unnoticed in Philly.

“When I see him [playing like that], that motivates everybody to continue doing their job,” Simmons said following Saturday night’s win over the Charlotte Hornets. “You know, when Tobias came here, defensively he wasn’t where he was now and he stepped it up. He’s getting a lot of steals, he’s getting his hands in the lanes, blocking shots, he’s made a huge leap from the past year to now, defensively.”

Many say the 76ers will only go as far as Simmons and Embiid take them. However, Harris is also a key component for the team’s chances of making a championship run. Offensively, the Sixers needed him to be on his A-game, but his aggressiveness on defense is helping Philly become one of the NBA’s better defensive teams, as Doc Rivers hoped they would. 

“On both sides of the ball offensively and defensively, he’s been amazing,” Simmons raved. “He’s been an amazing factor for our team and he’s gonna be if we want to win a championship.” If Harris can sustain this type of play throughout the year, the Sixers will be difficult to stop. 

Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter: @JGrasso_