The 76ers need to depend on Tobias Harris more than ever now.
For the past two seasons, the versatile power forward was regarded as the Sixers’ third-best player behind All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
But the Simmons saga, which includes the point guard asking for a trade, holding out of training camp, being suspended one game, and still not being ready to play, is leading to Harris having a bigger role this season. He will initiate a chunk of the Sixers’ half-court sets as a primary ballhandler. The added responsibilities could lead the 11th-year veteran to a career season.
That would be a feat, considering he averaged 19.5 points and just missed out on the rare 50-40-90 milestone last season. He shot 51.2% from the field, 39.4% on three-pointers and 89.2% on free throws.
Harris also averaged a career-high 20 points during the 2018-19 season in 82 combined games with the Los Angeles Clippers and Sixers. Philly acquired him from the Clippers at the trade deadline in 2019.
But while his numbers might speak volumes, don’t ask the 29-year-old All-Star snub about projected shooting percentages, scoring average or individual goals.
“My individual goal is just to win,” Harris said. “What I found out last year is all that All-Star, 50-40-90 stuff were great things. But at the end of the day, it really didn’t mean anything when we lost. .... To me, the greatest reward is winning and feeling that joy.”
Harris was slowed this preseason with right knee soreness, and missed three of four exhibition games. However, the Sixers said it was just a precautionary measure, stating that he would have been cleared to play had they been regular-season games.
Throughout the season, Harris — who has averaged 19.0 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists in the first three games — will continue to have standards for his play. Based on past statements, if he had goals, they would be playing winning basketball, being efficient, working hard every day, and being a great teammate and continue to grow as a leader.
“Do whatever’s possible for us to be successful come later on down the season,” Harris said.
Last season’s Eastern Conference semifinals loss to the Atlanta Hawks was a heartbreaker for the Sixers.
Sure, the Sixers finished with the conference’s No. 1 seed for the first time since 2001. Yes, Embiid was the MVP runner-up and Simmons the runner-up for defensive player of the year. But none of that mattered after losing to the Hawks.
As the top seed, the Sixers were expected to advance to the conference finals. Simmons was blamed for that loss because he struggled from the foul line and hesitated to shoot the ball.
However, Harris struggled in the 103-96 Game 7 loss as well. He scored 24 points on 8-of-24 shooting, including 2-for-7 on three-pointers.
That game wasn’t an isolated situation for him.
Harris combined to score 13 points on 4-for-18 shooting in 45 minutes over the fourth quarters of the final four games against the Hawks, three of which the Sixers lost. His plus-minus was minus-33 during that span and he was scoreless in two of those fourth quarters.
Thinking back, Harris couldn’t explain his subpar outings.
“Not really anything,” he said. “I think it was just the flow of the game, at that point. There were a lot of missed opportunities out there for me. There were things I know I can get better at. …
“This year, it’s a new ballgame.”