Tobias Harris: The 76ers’ Bellwether


The 2019-2020 season for the Philadelphia 76ers has been a whirlwind.  They were utterly dominant at home, but completely helpless on the road, leading to a disappointing 39-26 record.   After coming into the year with championship aspirations, the Sixers now find themselves in a hole of their own creation entering the Orlando bubble.  However, rather than focusing on the team’s overall disappointment or the struggles of one of the team’s major free agent signings (cough Al Horford cough), let’s take a look at the other player who signed a massive contract this offseason: Tobias Harris.

So far this season Tobias Harris is averaging 19.4 PPG on 47.2 FG%/36.2 3P%.  From three, he is shooting better than his half-season with the Sixers (32.6 3P%), but worse than the first half with the Clippers (43.4 3P%).  He is also putting up 6.8 RPG and a career-high 3.2 APG.  He is also posting solid defensive numbers this season, with the Sixers giving up 106.7 points per 100 possessions when Harris is on the floor.  Tobias even ranks as the 6th-best small forward by ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus Minus.  However, these numbers do not tell the whole story.  Overall he has a 2.0 plus/minus and a 3.0 net rating, not exactly ideal numbers for five-year, $180 million player.

Game-to-Game Consistency

While Ben Simmons performs consistently, Harris has more or less served as the bellwether for the team’s success night in and night out.  In order to take a closer look at this, we will be using Player Impact Estimate (PIE).  While plus/minus and net rating fluctuate from game to game based on the final score, PIE shows a players overall impact on a game.  An above average player would score a PIE of over 10.0.  In games that Philadelphia has won this season, Tobias has posted a PIE of 14.7, which is pretty good.

However, this plummets to 9.1 in losses.  For comparison sake, Ben Simmons has posted PIEs of 15.2 in wins and 13.3 in losses.  Mainly this has to do with Harris’s style of play.  He tends to let the game come to him rather than force the issue.  Most of the time, this is a good trait to have, but as the team’s highest-paid player, it would be great to see Tobias Harris assert himself more from game-to-game.

Tobias Harris with the Stars

Another area to look at is how well the team plays when Harris is on the floor with one of the two superstars, Simmons and Joel Embiid.  When all are healthy, Brett Brown tends to stagger the rotation so that Simmons or Embiid on the floor at separate times.  On the other hand, Tobias plays a ton of minutes with both.

Harris and Simmons

One of the reasons for Harris’s career-high assists average is his splits when Ben Simmons is on and off the court.  The Sixers desperately need another player who can serve as the point of attack besides Simmons.  When Simmons is off the floor, Harris partially serves this role, which is reflected in his assist percentage.  When they are playing together, Tobias assists about 13.2 percent of his teammates field goals.  This percentage bumps up to 17.6 with Simmons resting.  Surprisingly, the 76ers also have a better net rating with Harris in and Simmons out (4.0) then when they are both on the floor together (3.0).

Harris and Embiid

The change in net rating has less to do with Ben Simmons, and more to do with Joel Embiid.  As a ferocious rim protector, Embiid’s mere presence improves Philadelphia’s defensive rating.  When both Harris and Embiid share the floor, the team posts a 100.6 defensive rating.  When Harris is without Embiid, that jumps up to 108.6.  This defensive presence from Joel inflates every other person on the roster as well.  This even includes Ben Simmons, who will be competing for an All-Defense spot this season.  However, the Sixers’s offensive rating increases as well, from 105.4 with both on the floor, to 110.3 without Embiid.

Moving Forward

Harris already stated that he will be returning to play when the NBA moves into the Orlando Bubble for the resumption of the season.  Assuming the full roster is ready to go, Tobias Harris might just be the most important player outside of Embiid.  He is the second leading scorer and the best perimeter shot in the starting lineup.  It is imperative for him to hit his open shots in order to keep defenses honest.  Without that threat, teams will clog the lane to stop both Embiid and Simmons.

Harris will also be extremely important if one of Embiid or Simmons cannot play.  If Embiid goes down, Tobias will have to pick up more of the scoring duties and assert himself a little more.  If it is Simmons, Harris will have to handle some of the ball handling duties while being thrust into more difficult perimeter defensive assignments.

Following this season, it is also very important for Harris to maintain his level of play, at a minimum.  John Hollinger of the Athletic estimates that Tobias will deliver only $85 million in value when compared to the $140 million remaining on his deal.  Any uptick in production from Tobias would certainly improve this estimation.  Hopefully, Harris will continue to be a major contributor for the 76ers during the duration of his contract.  Regardless of on-court impact, Tobias should have a lasting impact on the city of Philadelphia.

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About Tim Andrews

Big Basketball Fan. Follow me on Twitter @TimAndrews_13. Contributing for @TLSportsMedia / @SixersLead / @TheBLAnalytics Trust the Process.

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