Philadelphia 76ers: Tobias Harris isn’t a game changer – but that’s okay

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

Tobias Harris can do a lot of things for the Philadelphia 76ers, but despite a few flashes here and there, he isn’t a reliable game changer – but that’s okay.

In the Philadelphia 76ers‘ first game of the season at the Capital One Arena, Tobias Harris put together his best game in red, white, and blue.

Facing off against the 6-13 Washington Wizards, Harris played a team-high 40 minutes and went off to the tune of 33 points on 28 shots with seven rebounds and three assists. Harris also hit 3-8 shots from 3 point range in a meaningful push to return his currently dreadful shooting percentage from beyond the arc to his career average of 36.1.

But you want to know the funny thing about Tobi’s career night? It wasn’t enough to push the Sixers past the hapless Wizards.

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Chalk it up to 15 combined turnovers by Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, or a general lack of effort that visibly drove Brett Brown crazy, but Harris just couldn’t put the team on his back and force a win over inferior talent.

And that’s okay.

I mean it’s not okay to lose to Washington after dominating the Utah Jazz a few nights earlier, but it highlights a fallacy that will continue to distress fans who won’t accept it: Tobias Harris isn’t a game changer. He just isn’t. 

Can Harris be the third-best player on a championship team, the very reason Elton Brand traded for, and eventually extended the 6-foot-8 combo forward in the first place? I believe so, but he just isn’t the kind of player who takes over a game and wins it outright.

For all of the hope that Harris could return to South Philly a rich man and instantly pick up the mantle left by his former teammate Jimmy Butler, so far that hasn’t been the case. While Harris can hit shots from all over the court – his midrange jumper from the charity stripe is lethal – he just doesn’t have the creativity, handles, or experience to take over the fourth quarter. Any contrary expectations, as optimistic as they may be, are simply misguided or overly optimistic.

But again, that’s okay.

You see, very few teams actually have a third star who can turn things on and close out a game with the ball in his hands. Klay Thompson was a glorified catch-and-shoot specialist for much of the Warriors‘ title run. Kevin Love all but abandoned his Minnesota reputation as a point forward to fill a tertiary scorer role alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Not Clint Capela, not Jaylen Brown, not DeAndre Jordan, not even Carmelo Anthony – a player many compare to Harris – play a primary ball handler role over their respective team’s top two stars.

Expecting Harris to be the exception to the rule is more an indictment of building a roster with a point guard who can’t shoot and a center without a solid handle – not that either has been a massive issue this season.

If Harris was that player, the 76ers wouldn’t be linked to the likes of Jordan Clarkson in the lead up to the trade deadline in 2020 (even though it will never happen).

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Who knows, maybe Josh Richardson can become that player once he eventually returns to the court – he played exceptionally against the Heat as a do-it-all scorer – but expecting Tobias Harris to become something he isn’t nine years into his NBA career is foolish. If the Philadelphia 76ers want to optimize their effectiveness, they need to put their players in the best position to succeed, not force them to play against type for the sake of parody.