Philadelphia 76ers: Tobias Harris deserves a bit more credit

Tobias Harris deserves more Philadelphia 76ers brotherly love.

When Tobias Harris was acquired by the Philadelphia 76ers on the eve of the 2019 NBA trade deadline – in the wee hours of the morning – he was instantly placed into a no-win situation.

Granted, the process of being traded was nothing new for the then-26-year-old combo forward, as Philly marked his fifth team since being selected 19th overall by the then-Charlotte Bobcats in 2011, but with his new home came a slew of challenges that just weren’t present even in a certified A-list market like Los Angeles.

For one, Harris went from being the top offensive option in Doc Rivers’ star-less system to the fourth, and occasionally even fifth focal point of Brett Brown’s star-studded starting five. With the Clippers, Harris could shoot at will, muck around in the midrange, and drive to the basket where his 6-foot-8, 235-pound frame is pretty darn tricky to cover in ISO ball situations. In Philly, by contrast, Harris was more often than not relegated to playing the role of spot-up shooter on the perimeter; a role he conceivably should have thrived in thanks to his elite 3 point shooting percentage in LA, but ultimately proved a bit harder to pick up midseason.

And then there’s the talk of Harris signing a five-year, max contract worth $180 million, the richest deal handed out to any Sixers player in history.

Does Harris deserve to be the highest-paid player in the history of the Sixers, or make more than Jimmy Butler, the team’s other major mid-season acquisition who ultimately ‘signed and traded’ to the Miami Heat? No. Harris has never made an All-NBA team, has never made an All-Star game, and isn’t even considered an elite player in basketball talent evaluation circles, but that’s not on him. Blame Elton Brand for miss-reading the market and offering Harris a deal literally no other team would have extended, not Harris for understandably taking the money offered his way.

What, do you want him to say “No thanks, I’m only worth $80 million over four years.” that’s just crazy. Harris is never going to be the top offensive option on a championship team. He’s never going to be an All-NBA defender, and at basically 28, Harris has effectively reached his ceiling as an NBA player.

But for the Philadelphia 76ers, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Over his 92-game tenure with the Sixers, Harris has averaged 19 points on 15.7 shots a game to go with 3.1 assists and 7.1 rebounds. He’s also just shy of being a member of the 50-40-90 club as a shooter with a 47.1 shooting percentage from the field, 35.2 shooting percentage from 3, and an 81.7 shooting percentage from the free-throw line. While some of those numbers are more impressive than others, and Harris’ percentage from beyond the arc would look a whole lot better without a woefully ineffective shooting spree last fall, they are solid across the board.

Curiously enough, Harris also finished out the first segment of the 2019-20 NBA season as the sixth most effective defender from the small forward position as per ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus, an impressive feat for a player often knocked for his average-at-best defensive abilities. While Real Plus-Minus isn’t the most telling stat around, as part-time players like Justin Holiday,
Ben McLemore, Reggie Bullock,  Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Ed Rendell’s preferred pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, Doug McDermott all rank above Harris in overall RPM, his 0.38 ranked 19th overall among all small forwards, and his 2.09 RPM WINS ranked ninth.

Could the Sixers have received similar production out of a player like Robert Covington, Wilson Chandler, or Harrison Barnes at varying price points? Maybe so, but as far as 3-and-D forwards are concerned, Harris had developed into the NBA prototype.

Want to know what else Harris is prototypical at? His impact on a community off the court.

In less than a year, Harris has committed more money than most fans will make it a year to helping improve a city he barely knows while providing youngsters with a quality role model form to look up to. His ‘community draft‘ is still one of the coolest charity events I’ve ever covered as a sports blogger, and his commitment to helping pay 12 families’ mortgages amid COVID-19 deserved more coverage than it initially received.

Harris has also been a fantastic teammate to his fellow players young and old, as evidenced by his relationship with Matisse Thybulle. Retaining Harris, and signing Al Horford, were just as much about surrounding Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid with positive influences with complementing sets of skills as it was about pure talent evaluation. In Harris, Brand has found a reliable locker room presence for his younger players to lean on for years to come.

Package it all together, and Harris becomes pretty much untradeable, but not because of his big-money figure.

Next: Remember when the Philadelphia 76ers were actually fun?

Will Tobias Harris’ play forever be judged on a curve versus his contract? Knowing Philadelphia 76ers fans, I’d have to say yes, there’s no doubt about it. But he should also be judged for his switchability, his position versatility, and his willingness to embrace the city of Philadelphia like his own. While most teams would love to build a three-headed monster like the ’03 Heat or the ’12 Thunder, sometimes, having a classic ‘glue guy’ under contract who can do a little bit of everything while remaining a positive influence both on and off the court is valuable too. Regardless of his contract, Tobi is about as good a glue guy as you will find in the NBA right now and would be a welcomed addition to any locker room league-wide.

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