Humble Harris Deflects Praise, Even After League Recognition
Tobias Harris may be the most confident basketball player on the planet right now -- aside from former MVP Stephen Curry.
The reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week continued his strong play Monday with a game-high 22 points as the Sixers swept their “series” against the Hornets. Through seven games this season, Harris is playing some of the best basketball of his career.
You wouldn’t know that from talking to him.
“It’s an amazing honor,” Harris said of being recognized postgame Monday. “You don’t get that type of honor without going 3-0 in my opinion. Across the league, a lot of guys are playing great basketball, but it’s a tribute to the way we’ve been playing as a team.”
For whatever reason, Doc Rivers is like a Tobias Harris whisperer. Harris undeniably played the best basketball of his career previously under Rivers while with the Clippers. Harris probably should’ve been an All-Star that season.
It’s only been seven games, but Harris’ numbers compare favorably to that season. He’s averaging 19.3 points, eight rebounds and three assists a night. Much more importantly, his shooting line has been ridiculously efficient – 52/47.2/92.3. While Harris has shared that a 50/40/90 has been one of his goals, only eight players in league history have accomplished that feat.
While the current production level could be difficult to sustain for a 72-game season, it’s more the style of play the Sixers need. Harris’ efficiency can be attributed in part to his decisiveness and aggressiveness. For lack of a better term, he’s playing free.
The results speak for themselves.
“I’m the type of player that my game can fall in line,” Harris said. “Whatever the coaches ask of me, I can get done. What [Rivers is] asking of this team is to play the game the right way -- move the basketball, play with one another, use your teammates, really be a collective group. That’s something that’s been successful for my game. It was successful in L.A. with Doc.”
It’s not simply Rivers’ presence, though there’s no mistaking the impact there.
Harris mentioned that his All-Star teammates playing at a high level has helped. The Sixers’ “big three” of Harris, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons has also been given a huge boost by the play of veterans Seth Curry and Danny Green.
Couple the amount of legitimate spacing with the movement Rivers’ system demands and it’s made the entire starting unit look more cohesive.
“I think it’s just the way we’ve been playing as a team,” Harris said. “The system that has been implemented with what Doc has come in with and really just the attitude from all of us out there. It’s not necessarily what positions he’s putting myself in but more putting the whole the group in.”
To the eye test, the Sixers’ offense looks much better. When you look at most of the advanced stats, they’re pretty much in line with the team’s output last season. The only significant jump so far appears to be in pace, a sticking point with Rivers and a style of play Harris flourishes in.
While the offensive production is welcomed, the defensive end of the floor is where the Sixers have been dominant. They have the best defensive rating in the NBA and have the lowest opponent’s field-goal percentage.
As usual, Embiid and Simmons lead that charge, but there’s no discounting Harris’ ascension defensively. The impact plays are great – he’s averaging over a block and a steal a game – but what’s more important is Harris’ versatility.
While Harris is better suited to defend fours at 6-foot-8 and 226 pounds, his experience on the wing throughout his career gives him the ability to handle switches against perimeter players. Since Harris arrived in Philadelphia, defense has been a point of emphasis. He’s spent offseasons trying to make himself better on that end.
The work appears to be paying off.
“When Tobias came here, he wasn’t defensively where he is now,” Simmons said postgame Saturday. “He’s stepped it up. He’s getting a lot of steals, he’s getting hands in lanes, blocking shots. He’s made a huge leap in the past year up to now, defensively. He’s been – on both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively – a major factor for our team and he’s going to be if we want to win a championship.”
Harris, a team leader that Rivers calls “the serious one,” is playing the best two-way basketball of his career.
Can the 28-year-old capture that elusive first All-Star appearance? Can he become just the ninth player in NBA history to produce a 50/40/90 season? Can all of that – at least temporarily – make people not focus on his near-max deal?
But the Sixers’ continuity and NBA-best 6-1 record seem to mean a whole lot more to Harris.
“I don’t think it’s me, I think it’s what [Rivers] gets out of the whole group,” Harris said. “I’d be selfish to say, ‘Hey, this is what Doc’s doing for me.’ It’d be more along the lines of the team as a whole. That’s holding us accountable to playing a right style of basketball, a winning style of what he knows.”