Philadelphia 76ers: Tobias Harris’ stats don’t tell the full story

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Tobias Harris is undoubtedly the most polarizing player in the Philadelphia 76ers‘ roster.

Is that a big statement, especially with Ben Simmons still technically employed by the team? Yes, but if you really think about it, it’s hard to argue all that hard against it.

For all of the hate Simmons receives for his unwillingness to play, for demanding a trade, and for his play in the 2021 NBA playoffs, most basketball fans can attest that the three-time All-Star has earned the success he’s achieved. Even if he doesn’t become the next LeBron James, Simmons is a great passer, an exemplary defender, and one of the better transition players in the NBA today.

And as for Harris? Well, let’s just say his stats don’t tell the full story of his game for the Philadelphia 76ers in 2021-22.

Tobias Harris, the Philadelphia 76ers, and the eye test.

On paper, Tobias Harris is a darn good basketball player.

He ranks 31st association-wide in points, 39th in rebounds, and 30th, if you can believe it, in free throw attempts per game despite having a seeming aversion for drawing contact.

On the Philadelphia 76ers specifically, Harris ranks second in points, second in rebounding, and second in free throws attempted. He also averages both the third-most assists and third-highest assist percentage on the team behind only Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey, and his 15.3 field goals attempted per game trail “The Process” by two attempts per game.

If you just scroll through the basic stat line, listen to games audio-only, or somehow still subscribe to a physical newspaper, you’d think Harris was doing a good job of being the Sixers’ second-best player – at least on offense – but in practice, it’s hard to say that with a straight face.

For one thing, Harris had been an incredibly inefficient shooter. He’s shooting 45.8 percent from the field, 51.2 percent from 2, and a career-low of 29.9 percent from beyond the arc. To make matters worse, Harris is averaging 3.9 attempts from beyond the 3 point line on the season and a putrid .67 since the Christmas holiday.

Yes, you read that correctly; Harris has only attempted two 3 pointers in three games and bricked them both. While no one is knocking him for the two misses – okay, maybe some people are – when one of the primary responsibilities of a forward is to space the field for Embiid in the paint, attempting less than one 3 per game is incredibly counterproductive to the smooth operation of an offense.

Unfortunately, counterproductive and Tobias Harris have been mentioned together quite a few times this season, and for good reason. You see, Harris has a bad habit of faking out of open 3s for less open twos. In a different offense, this might not big a big deal, but when Embiid spends most of his time in the paint, drawing additional defenders towards the basket for very non-Moreyball shots is bad for business.

Furthermore, Harris has a really bad habit of taking the ball early in a shot clock, winding it down while single-covered in the paint, and then shotgunning it put to Embiid on the outside to try to turn a few garbage time seconds into gold. Because Embiid is so good, he oftentimes bails Harris out, but there’s a reason why Harris has an on-off +/- of -3.6: Harris doesn’t make his teammates better when he’s on the court.

Alright, so what gives? How did Harris go from a player many wanted to see in the All-Star game to the sort of player that many a fan would trade away for an increasingly desperate collection of players?

Two words: Ben Simmons.

When Simmons was playing alongside Embiid, Harris was a perfect glue guy alongside Seth Curry and Danny Green. He could serve as a second option on offense when needed, space the floor when he wasn’t, and excel as a tweener forward playing alongside a 6-foot-10 point guard. Harris shot much better from beyond the arc as a regular recipient of Simmons’ dimes, and his selfless attitude worked wonderfully between two bigger personalities.

But now? Now Harris is an undersized four who thinks he’s the team’s second offensive option and oftentimes tries to force things when he doesn’t need to.

Granted, that isn’t all on the player. Harris ranks second on the team in usage percentage above Maxey largely because Doc Rivers trusts him to run the offense and if Sixers fans know one thing about Doc Rivers, it’s that he’s a stubborn coach who can get stuck in his ways. While things have gotten better for Maxey as of late, as his consistency has slowly chipped away at Rivers’ stubbornness, the second-year guard still oftentimes finds himself a third or even fourth offensive option depending on whether or not fans are watching a “Seth Curry game.”

Then again, if Maxey can continue to be a catch-and-shoot threat from the wings a la his performance in Brooklyn versus the Nets, maybe that wouldn’t be the worst thing.

dark. Next. Will Cleveland intensify their pursuit of Ben Simmons?

Do you ever imagine how bad things would be for the Philadelphia 76ers if Tyrese Maxey wasn’t playing like a borderline All-Star? His emergence as a scorer, a shooter, and a distributor has helped to cover for many of the team’s structural failings without Ben Simmons and his rapidly developing chemistry with Joel Embiid could go a long way to saving the season. But in this new,  post-Maxey world, not every player from the 2020-21 roster remains a quality fit. While it’s tough to look at Tobias Harris – and his contract – and firmly place him in that category without a heaping benefit of the doubt, unless he pulls a Nick Sirianni and radically reconfigures his offensive identity to that of a 3-and-D floor spacer, his presence on the roster will continue to mirror his on-off rating.