During the first week of workouts, any of the 76ers who were asked were singing the praises of new coach Doc Rivers. And for good reason.
With a .581 winning percentage in 20 full seasons (and part of another), along with the 2008 NBA championship with the Boston Celtics, Rivers, who also played 13 seasons in the NBA, brings impressive credentials.
Few players on the Sixers were likely happier to see Rivers get the job than Tobias Harris. Now entering his 10th NBA season, the 28-year-old Harris statistically had his best showing during parts of two seasons he played for Rivers with the Los Angeles Clippers.
In 87 games, Harris averaged 20.3 points and shot 42.6% from three-point range, the best totals from any of the five NBA teams he has played for. Harris’ time with the Clippers ended when he was traded to the Sixers on Feb. 6, 2019.
“He’s really a mastermind at putting the talent on the court in the right positions, not necessarily just me, but other guys on the floor, putting them in the correct positions to be successful as a whole five,” Harris said Friday.
Rivers knows Harris’ game well. Since being hired, the two have talked about the best way to use Harris.
“First thing, we got to get him back to being a quick decision player,” Rivers said. “I told him I saw him dribbling way too much, and Tobias is so darn skilled going downhill, left and right, and we need to get back to taking advantage of that.”
Dribbling too much? Guilty as charged, Harris said.
“On the dribbling part, I agree with him,” Harris said. “Last year we didn’t have an offense with the best spacing, so that kind of put me in those positions to find something to create.”
In the Sixers’ final game, a 110-106 loss to Boston that enabled the Celtics to earn a first-round sweep in the playoffs, Harris showed tremendous grit after crashing hard to the floor late in the third quarter. He received stitches and was evaluated for a concussion, but he returned with 5 minutes, 12 seconds left in the game.
He said he’s healthy now.
“After the fact I was blessed not to have a concussion or anything,” he said.
Harris said he began training for this season about a month after the final game.
At 6-foot-8 and 226-pounds, Harris is best at power forward because he is much quicker than most opponents. He can also play small forward, where his ability to shoot over smaller defenders comes in to play.
“Having those conversations with Doc, it’s about floor space and being able to have those driving lanes and being able to use my quickness and speed to get around and pass fours out there with the space on the court,” Harris said, referring to power forwards.
He thinks the openings will be bigger with the addition of perimeter threats Danny Green and Seth Curry.
“That opens up driving lanes for myself in different situations during the course of the game and it opens up three-point shots for myself too,” Harris said.
Even with the excessive dribbling, Harris enjoyed a good season. He averaged 19.6 points and shot 36.5% from three-point range (the NBA average was 35.8%).
Now he can improve those figures if his second stint with Rivers is as successful as his first.
Curry adapting again
Since his college basketball career began, Seth Curry has been on the move. He began his career at Liberty and, after averaging 20.3 points per game as a freshman, transferred to Duke, where he eventually played three seasons. He has played for two G League teams and six NBA franchises, including two stints with the Dallas Mavericks, who traded him to the Sixers on draft night for Josh Richardson and a second-round pick (No. 36).
Stability hasn’t been part of his career.
“I would like to have a home for a long stretch. but it’s not too difficult when you get to play basketball every day,” Curry said Friday. “When I was in college going undrafted and in the G League I was hoping to stay in the league and have a long career and establish myself. I am not complaining about moving around or anything.”
Curry, the son-in-law of Rivers, is a career 44.3% three-point shooter, and there should always be a home for a marksman like that. He has been happy to apply his craft anywhere.
“I prayed and hoped for times like this, so I’m excited to be able to go out there and play the game that I love every day and do it at a high level, no matter where it is at,” he said. “I’m glad. I am trying to contribute and get better every single year like I’ve done.”