The Philadelphia 76ers are engaged in a 2-2 deadlock with the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. During the series, most of the attention has gone to big-name stars Trae Young, Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons. However, one of the most important players from the entire postseason, Tobias Harris, is a signing that many Sixers fans originally detested.
After signing a huge $180 million contract with the 76ers in the summer of 2019, the same period that saw the franchise lose Jimmy Butler, Harris faced a down year. Nearly all of Harris’s per-game statistics declined and he, alongside Josh Richardson and Al Horford experienced the brunt of the backlash for the team’s “disappointing” 43-30 record. It didn’t help that the Sixers were swept in the first round while Butler and the Miami HEAT progressed to the Finals.
It’s clear that Harris took his down year personally, as he has completely flipped the narrative in under a calendar year. Harris’s $180 million salary — once frowned upon as one of the worst contracts in the league — now looks like a bargain.
On the year, Harris averaged 19.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, .9 steals and .8 blocks per game, which all rank in the top five for the team. His efficiency is also up, as he shot a 51.2/39.4//89.2 line on the year. Harris looked downright phenomenal in the regular season, but he’s flipped another switch in the playoffs.
Shining in the spotlight of the postseason is new to Harris, he struggled mightily in both of Philadelphia’s prior stints, which was most apparent last season. Now, Harris looks like a completely different player that exudes confidence with every shot he takes. Just take a look at how Harris smartly reads his teammate’s shot, anticipates the rebound and immediately takes it back against the defense for a fantastic turnaround jumper.
Just two years ago, Harris shot just 45.7 percent on such shots. Midway through his career and Harris barely shot away from the rim or three-point range, and when he did, it didn’t go well. Now, Harris shoots 52.6 percent on turnaround jumpers or floaters, well above the league’s 44.6 percent average. Just take a look at Harris’s shot chart from this season, per Statmuse.com.
Tobias Harris’s shot chart this season is insane: pic.twitter.com/847DaBZj3N
— Tristan Tucker (@TristanRTucker) June 15, 2021
Harris shoots above league average on nearly every type of shot from the floor, and Philly is benefitting directly from it. Against Washington, Harris poured in a 37-point outing in game one to give his team the win. In Game 5, perhaps his best outing all year, Harris was locked in in all spots on the floor, putting up 28 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, a block and no turnovers. One of Harris’s best plays of the game saw an underrated aspect of his ability, his defense, fleshed out. On the below play, Harris anticipates the pass, then smartly gets it ahead to Ben Simmons, who he sees is about to draw a foul, which resulted in a three-point play.
These types of moments don’t just show up in the box score either. Harris is Philly’s second-best perimeter defender and it shows on tape. Even though the Atlanta Hawks came away with the Game 4 win in Atlanta, Harris helped give the Sixers the best chance to win. Watch as Harris comes out of the paint to help Furkan Korkmaz, forcing the Hawks to switch the plan on that play. Harris then switches back to the paint to force a bad pass turnover by John Collins as he is swarmed and has nowhere else to go.
There’s no doubt that Harris is Philly’s secret weapon. He’s able to take advantage when teams double either Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons in the paint, and if he gets taken out of the perimeter, the Sixers can take advantage with a myriad of three-point snipers like Seth Curry. So far, no team has had an answer for Harris in the playoffs.
Up to this point, Harris has only scored under 20 points once during the Sixers’ entire postseason run, which was still a 19-point showing. His defense and playmaking seen in both the Washington and Atlanta series is new and improved not only from years past but even this season. And it’s unlikely that Harris would be stopped if the Sixers win the series over Atlanta. Neither the Milwaukee Bucks nor the Brooklyn Nets have a great answer for Harris. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the closest thing but it’s unclear if that would be his primary defensive assignment, especially if that meant Brook Lopez would be matched up with Joel Embiid.
Regardless of where the 76ers end up, or who matches up with Harris in any potential matchup, it’s evident that Philly didn’t make a mistake in giving Tobias Harris such a huge contract. Without him, the Philadelphia 76ers would likely be facing another disappointing postseason run.
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