Philadelphia 76ers: Tobias Harris is a good third option

On August 17th, 2021, Joel Embiid signed the richest contract in Philadelphia 76ers‘ history, putting pen to paper on a four-year, $196 million supermax extension that he negotiated himself.

This was a momentous occasion for the Sixers, as it secured the services of “The Process” for the remainder of his prime, but it also kicked Tobias Harris down a notch on the historical contract hierarchy, making him the proud owner of the second-largest contract in franchise history.

That’s… better?

Now granted, that isn’t all on Tobias, or his father, Torrel Harris, who negotiated the deal. Max contracts in the NBA are based on years served and potential qualifiers, and to that point, the Sixers hadn’t signed a 27-year-old to a five-year max contract, but still, when you look at all of the great players who have suited up for the red, white, occasionally black, and blue over the years, the idea of Harris being the owner of a $180 million deal always rubbed more than a few fans the wrong way.

Why? Because Harris isn’t a number 1 option. Elton Brand didn’t trade for Harris to be his top option on either end of the court, his second option, or even his third. No, Harris was acquired – at great expense, I might add – to be the best fourth option in the business in a starting five alongside Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, J.J. Redick, and Embiid.

Was that team a bit too crowded to be sustainable long-term? No, it was perfect, and the team is crazy for allowing it to break up. With that being said, Tobias Harris isn’t really a fourth offensive option either. No, in an ideal world, he would be the Philadelphia 76ers’ third option and should be used like one accordingly moving forward by Doc Rivers behind Embiid and Tyrese Maxey.

The Philadelphia 76ers need to adjust Tobias Harris’ role next to Tyrese Maxey.

In the modern-day NBA, an ideal Big 3 features an elite facilitator who can shoot, a multi-faceted front-court player who can shoot, and a wing scorer who, you guessed it, can shoot.

Is there some wiggle room to that philosophy? Sure. The Los Angeles Lakers paid a ton to acquire Russell Westbrook this offseason, and he’s not a particularly effective outside shooter and the Philadelphia 76ers spent quite a few years trotting out Ben Simmons at the one despite his complete inability to space the floor outside of the restricted area.

In 2021, the Sixers have a slightly more conventional Big 3 than in seasons past, with Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, and Tyrese Maxey each routinely finishing out games as the team’s top-three offensive options. Embiid is an elite initiator presence at both ends of the court who can hit shots from anywhere and score on anyone if he puts his mind to it. While Maxey isn’t quite as good of a shooter as his stats would suggest, he’s a similarly effective offensive weapon, albeit one who wins with speed, fitness, and a unique shooting package, as opposed to sheer brute strength.

But what about Harris? Is he the sort of dead-eyed assassin who could score an ISO bucket on darn near every possession if given an opportunity a la Bradley Beal?

No, not particularly.

Yes, Harris is a 20 point per game scorer. He hits 50 percent of his shots from the field, 35 percent from 3 on 4.1 attempts per game, and further contributes to the team both as a rebounder and passer, but those are largely superficial stats. Despite his 16.5 shots per game from the field, Harris only averages 3.1 free throws per game and holds a value over replacement stat of 0.3 on the season so far, which is a full 2.4 lower than his 2020-21 high water mark.

In clutch situations, Harris is only attempting 1.3 shots per game, which ranks third on the team behind Embiid and Maxey, and his efficiency in said situations is notably worse, as he only completes 12.5 percent of his shots in said situations so far this season.

That’s… hmm.

When you look at clutch situations just in the fourth quarter, Harris’ numbers are even worse, as he’s missed all five of his shots and has only made two of his four free throws. Versus the Minnesota Timberwolves in Philly’s 20th game of the season, Harris came up short at the end of the game, missing his only shot from the field within five minutes of the final buzzer, and most crucially of all, missed a game-clinching free throw that ultimately kicked the contest into overtime.

From there, Harris went 1-4 from the field over the team’s two overtime periods and only added two points to the final scoreboard of a game that was lost by one point. Harris looked slow, indecisive, and just plain mediocre, especially when D’Angelo Russell was blocking his shot in overtime.

But hey, that’s okay. Harris is unquestionably an important part of the Sixers’ offense, as he accounts for a little under 20 percent of the team’s points in any given game and provides some really good minutes in the first three-quarters of any given game. On a team like, say, the Golden State Warriors or the Brooklyn Nets, Harris would be a wonderful third option who would hand off scoring responsibilities in end-of-game situations. But in Philly? Where Embiid can’t solely run the show on his own and Tyrese Maxey is just 20 games into his new role? Harris’ shortcomings at the end of quarters aren’t necessarily a deal-breaker but do need to be acknowledged moving forward.

In an ideal world, Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey would run the show in end-of-game situations. They’d run the pick-and-roll, seek out double-teams, and toss the ball out to Danny Green, Seth Curry, and, yes, Tobias Harris for an easy, open 3. While this may not have been the situation Doc Rivers initially expected when the team took the court on opening night, this is the reality the Philadelphia 76ers find themselves in, and thus, it’s on the entire coaching staff to optimize it.