Harris Making Giant Leap As Pistons Thrive

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The Detroit Pistons certainly surprised some people this past weekend.

On an early west coast swing to start out the year, Stan Van Gundy and company defeated the Los Angeles Clippers and the Golden State Warriors on back-to-back nights in their own houses. It’s something that hasn’t been done since the San Antonio Spurs did it in 2014.

As the month of October comes to a close, the Pistons sit atop the Eastern Conference at 5-2.

What’s been behind the success? A rejuvenated Reggie Jackson, for one, is playing with the poise that once made Detroit want to trade for him in the first place. New acquisition Avery Bradley has fit in seamlessly.

Andre Drummond’s activity on the glass on both ends of the floor is affording the team second chances to score and limiting the opposition of those same opportunities. Free agent signings Langston Galloway and Anthony Tolliver have made a world of difference coming off the bench.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the Pistons success out of the gate, however, is the emergence of Tobias Harris. Don’t take the term “emergence” as if he wasn’t impactful before, either—this is just an emergence from good to great.

Whether it’s been Van Gundy’s trust in him or just the result of a good off-season’s work, the 25-year-old forward has been outstanding. With the offensive struggles the team had a season ago, it was obvious that somebody had to step in and take charge, and he’s done just that.

Among everybody on the roster, Harris has played the most minutes. He’s boasting an offensive rating of 111.8, which is a hair under Jackson for the highest on the Pistons. When he is off the floor, the team is -16.9 points per 100 possessions worse on that end specifically.

In the beginning stages of his sixth year as a pro, it’s clear as day that Harris is getting more confident with each game. His usage is at 24 percent right now as opposed to 21.8 percent a season ago.

Through seven games, he has eclipsed the 30-point mark twice and attempted 24 field goals twice. He didn’t reach either of those last year at all. In fact, he only put up 20 shots two times in the entirety of the 2016-17 campaign.

The aggressiveness is there, as is the freedom to let it go. Among those taking 5.9 threes or more per game, Harris is third in the NBA in three percentage. He’s also one of 13 players in the league with his workload converting on 49 percent of their field goals while hitting at least 46 percent of their triples.

Harris could to take it inside a little more often and draw some foul calls, but part of his effect is the spacing he provides. It’s allowing others to drive the lane for the finish, the dump off underneath or the kick, depending on what the defense decides to do. If he gets the pass in this situation, he’s been the beneficiary, scoring 6.6 points per game via the catch-shoot.

He can always improve with contesting shots, just like the Pistons can as a whole, but at the moment the majority of the team’s success is coming off forcing turnovers (22.1 points per game). It’s leading to points in transition on the fast break, where they rank eighth in the NBA.

If Harris continues to deliver the way he has for Van Gundy, there’s no stopping Detroit from playing in the postseason. It’s a small sample size, but it’s also obvious this is not the same team from a year ago. Everything seems to just be clicking well and it’s been a domino effect for most of the guys.

Averaging 20.9 points per game with the success that he’s had, it’s more than worth keeping an eye on Harris as an early candidate for Most Improved Player.

And don’t sleep on the Pistons as one of the most improved ball clubs in the league, even if there isn’t a tangible award for that.