Can Rivers Get Clippers Version of Harris Back?
When the Sixers traded for Tobias Harris just before the 2019 deadline, it was easy to envision his role here.
Harris was enjoying his best NBA season with the Clippers, averaging a career-high 20.9 point per game and hitting a career-best 43.4 percent of his threes. He seemed to be a perfect fit alongside the All-Star duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
That version of Harris, who was probably an All-Star snub that season, hasn’t quite manifested in Philadelphia. Even after signing a near-max contract last offseason, Harris hasn’t found that same rhythm from L.A. while playing with Embiid and Simmons.
There are plenty of factors as to why, but none of it matters if Harris can recapture some of what we saw in his first stint with Doc Rivers.
“He wants to get in what we call his ‘bag of tricks,’” Rivers said of Harris Monday, “but I love Tobias going downhill, making quick decisions, quick shots, quick first step downhill. That’s what we got him [doing] in L.A. and we’ll get him back there. But you can tell he’s been doing something different and we’ve got to get him going back to being quick decision Tobias.”
The Sixers head coach has stayed on message about wanting Harris to make quick decisions and playing downhill since he got here. It’s what Harris did so well in the first half of the 2018-19 season.
Harris was also featured much more in the pick-and-roll under Rivers. It wasn’t a staple of Brett Brown’s offense, but something that perhaps should’ve been explored more to get the most out of Harris.
That shouldn’t be a concern this season. Rivers has made it clear that his team will run pick-and-roll and we already saw a ton of that action during the preseason.
It’s a novel concept: Put Harris in the best position to succeed.
“It’s different,” Harris said Monday of his time in L.A. “Mainly just with personnel being different. But making quick decisions, taking the right shots, making the right plays, being aggressive, using my leadership with the team, and just pushing us forward. ... But really just being quick with decisions and shooting when I’m open – shooting it, passing it. It’s all about the pace, it’s all about the flow, it’s all about finding a rhythm throughout a game and throughout a season.”
Harris has politely answered questions for the last two years about why he’s never reclaimed that Clippers magic. On Monday, he was hit with a few more of those inquiries, with the focus being on Rivers’ comments about wanting Harris to play faster.
After the third such question, Harris put it bluntly.
“How can I get back to being a quick decision-maker? Make quick decisions. That’s it.”
Harris is aware of how much money he makes and what the team’s expectations are. You’d have to imagine there’s nobody who’d like to see Harris play that efficient brand of basketball he played in L.A., where he was on pace for a 50/40/90 season, more so than the man himself.
When can we expect to see Rivers get Harris back to that? It’s something they’re both working on.
“The process is easy. When it takes is the other question,” Rivers said. “The process is daily, and you just keep doing it. I don’t have an answer of how long it takes for that to take hold with any player. I think everybody’s on a different timeline.”
But it’s not just about Harris or Embiid or Simmons. They’re also welcoming in veterans Seth Curry and Danny Green to the starting five. That puts the Sixers in a familiar place – trying to find chemistry with a new starting unit.
With Rivers, Harris is hoping that process goes a lot smoother than it has in the past.
“I think as a whole unit we’re trying to figure out a balance with one another,” Harris said. “We’re trying to find our chemistry as a group. ... We’re going to continue to find one another, but I think the system that Doc has in place and just being able to fuel off our defense and our pace is going to open up a lot of those things out there.”
Rivers was able to get the most of Harris not that long ago. Can he do it again with the Sixers?
We’ll start to get our answers Wednesday night.