When the Philadelphia 76ers traded for Tobias Harris last season, they were expecting to acquire someone who could stretch the floor and add to the team's already immensely talented core. However, Harris struggled after being traded to Philadelphia, never quite reaching his full potential and failing to adjust to his somewhat limited role in the 76ers' offense.
Harris is looking to rebound and produce at the highest level of his career this season, and there are multiple reasons why he should be able to.
Philadelphia 76ers general manager Elton Brand knew the potential risks when he made mid-season trades for both Jimmy Butler and Harris. Growing team chemistry on the court, especially in regards to learning how to get everyone their opportunities with the ball, was one of the team's big goals after recreating the team through a couple of major mid-season additions.
Butler is an alpha on the court and in the locker room. The team's style of play very much went through Butler, to both the detriment and the benefit of the other players on the team. For a player like Harris, the transition from being the main scoring option on the Los Angeles Clippers to being the fourth option on the Sixers was a difficult one.
"For sure, last year, we had a combination of different guys. We had and the newness of everybody," Harris said in an interview with the Inquirer's Marcus Hayes. "But yes, I was definitely underutilized."
If you look at the stat sheet, it wouldn't seem like Harris was struggling to gain scoring opportunities on the Sixers. There was no drastic drop in his shot attempts per game (15.5 with the Clippers last season to 14.8 with the Sixers). However, the quality of those shots went down and Harris wasn't able to get comfortable with his smaller role in the Philadelphia offense.
As a result, Harris struggled to shoot the ball well consistently during his short time with the 76ers last season. He shot 46.9 percent from the field and 32.6 percent from beyond the arc in 27 games with Philadelphia last season. He is normally a sharpshooter who can rebound and play decent defense, but his jumper wasn't falling at the normal clip (around 40 percent from 3-point range over the last couple of seasons).
Harris talked during the team's introductory press conference in July about the added things he would be able to do on the court for the 76ers now that he will have the ball in his hands more often.
“I know last year, when you come over from a trade and with the talent level in the group, I obviously had to sacrifice for the unit. I know my game and how I continue to improve year after year," Harris said. "I look to come into next year with that type of energy, that type of fire to improve my game and to show different parts of my game too. Obviously I’ll be more with the ball in my hands in different situations and I’m ready for that. I’ve been working out all summer to get ready for that position and to help our team grow and get further than where we were last year and to contend for a championship. That’s the only thing on my mind."
Being able to be more comfortable with his role should help Harris rebound and perform like he normally does. Before his uncharacteristic poor shooting late last season, Harris has been a player who has gotten better each year of his career. He has gradually increased his points per game from around 16 in 2016-17 to 20.9 in 55 games pre-trade with the Clippers last season.
Through hard work, Harris has been able to increase and maintain a 3-point percentage at or above 40 percent through the last three seasons. A combination of having a bigger role in the offense, something that he is used to having, and just a normal increase in his shooting efficiency back to his normal percentages should see Harris have a good season for Philadelphia.
“Tobias Harris is an elite player. You are going to see his growth," Brand said in the team's introductory press conference in July. "He’s going to have the ball and he’s going to be able to do things last season that he may not have showed. I’m looking forward to his growth and him showing that."
One of the things that Harris might be able to show that he can do is to play the role of the closer for the 76ers. After getting rid of Butler via a sign-and-trade this offseason, the Sixers are without a clear closer who is willing to step up late in games.
Harris averaged 4.1 points per game in the fourth quarter of games last season, but more importantly he shot at a high percentage in the fourth quarter. He shot over 44 percent from beyond the arc and over 50 percent from the field overall.
With an increased role in the 76ers' offense, Harris will definitely have the opportunity to step into the closer role. If he is able to perform well and play with confidence late in games throughout the beginning of the season, he should be able to make that role his own.
When the 76ers chose to sign Tobias Harris to a five-year, $180 million contract, they were banking on his return to form. Let's hope that Harris is able to use the increased role in the offense to be able to help lead the 76ers to multiple deep playoff runs throughout the next couple of years.