Tobias Harris has been the forgotten one.
All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and veteran newcomers Seth Curry, Danny Green, and Dwight Howard have garnered most of the attention during 76ers training camp.
Every day, new coach Doc Rivers is asked how at least one of the newcomers -- along with Embiid or Simmons -- have impressed him.
Yet, don’t let the lack of questioning about Harris fool you. He’s expected to play a vital role for the Sixers. Not only is he the second leading scorer (19.6 points per game) from last season’s squad, the standout is familiar with Rivers’ coaching style, excelling under him as a Los Angeles Clipper before being traded to the Sixers on Feb. 6, 2019.
Harris averaged a career-best 20.9 points and shot a career-high 43.4% on three-pointers in 55 games with the Clippers during the 2018-19 season before the trade.
“We have changed our system since I was in LA with Tobias, but clearly, I know what works for him,” said Rivers, who agreed to take the Sixers job on Oct. 1. “It doesn’t really matter the system, it matters the way Tobias plays.
“We will get him in those actions, I can guarantee you that. You are going to see him going downhill more. You are just going to see him be more decisive, making quicker decisions.”
This is a perfect opportunity for Harris, who was an All-Star snub in 2019 with the Clippers. Harris will be listed as a power forward, his best position, after playing small forward last season to fit with Al Horford.
However, the Sixers’ offense is free-flowing with the point guard, shooting guard, small forward, and power forward positions being interchangeable. That’s actually the type of system Harris, who stands 6-foot-7 ½ without shoes, excels in. With the Clippers, he and Danilo Gallinari kept switching back and fourth from small forward to power forward throughout games.
“The biggest thing for myself is space on the court,” Harris said, “being able to get into driving lanes, being able to shoot. Once we continue to figure out each other’s games and making life easier for one another on the floor, that space will continue to open up and it will be a lot easier for everybody.”
Spacing shouldn’t be an issue, at least not for Harris.
Stopping Embiid is always the opposing team’s top priority. Secondly, teams want to slow down Simmons and stop him from getting to the rim. Now, they’re going to have to also deal with the outside shooting of Curry and Green.
All the attention the others in the starting lineup will receive should enable Harris to succeed.
“Anytime you get more shooting, that is going to increase driving lanes, increase the ability to get better, more efficient shots, too, in the offense,” Harris said. “So I definitely think the added shooting helps that.”
Another thing that helps is his past success in the pick-and-roll.
Rivers guaranteed the Sixers would run more pick-and-rolls this season. There’s been a lot of interest in the PNR pairing of Simmons and Embiid. That’s because, on paper, the duo’s playing styles don’t fit well in traditional pick-and-roll pairings. Simmons is not a threat to shoot coming off screens like a traditional point guard. Embiid is more of a popper or a short roller instead of rolling all the way to the basket.
The Sixers have said the pairing is coming along. We could get a glimpse of what they’re trying to accomplish during Tuesday’s preseason game against the Boston Celtics at the Wells Fargo Center.
However, Harris’ success in the pick-in-roll is documented. It was actually a big part of his game and his success with the Clippers.
So he’s welcomed the variety of sets at training camp.
" We have been running more pick and rolls, offenses, more movement, more body movement, different guys making cuts and rolling and Joel being a playmaker at the top,” Harris said.
He said the PNRs have been effective at practice.
“For me,” Harris added, “the next step out of those is making plays out of pick and rolls, getting shooters open, getting good looks and it just opens the court up for everybody going forward.”
If things go as expected, this could be a solid season for the forgotten one.