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Tobias Harris takes over Jimmy Butler’s role with Sixers as clutch scorer

Harris played somewhat out of position late last season with the 76ers at power forward. He moves back to his more natural small forward.

Tobias Harris
Tobias HarrisRead moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

The 76ers are Tobias Harris’ team — off the court.

Now, he and the Sixers need to find a way to make it more of his team on it.

Harris re-signed for five years and a franchise-record $180 million in July, making him the Sixers’ key offseason move. They will need a big year from the 6-foot-9 forwardif they expect to make an NBA Finals run.

Coach Brett Brown says center Joel Embiid is the Sixers’ go-to guy down the stretch. While the two-time All-Star is undoubtedly the team’s best player, it’s tough to always go to him in clutch situations. That’s because everything — from his positioning, to the entry pass, and everything in between — has to go mostly right.

With a perimeter player, all a team has to do is inbound him the ball and spread the floor. Jimmy Butler, who was traded to the Miami Heat this offseason, held that role for the Sixers last season.

Now, it’s Harris’ turn.

He thrived as the go-to guy with the Los Angeles Clippers before becoming the headliner of a multi-player trade with the Sixers in February. Harris had career highs in scoring average (20.9 points) and three-point percentage (43.4 percent) in his 55 games played with the Clippers last season. He was snubbed for an All-Star berth.

He did that work at small forward, a position he’ll move back to after being the Sixers’ power forward following the trade. Although when Embiid doesn’t play, Harris will probably slide back to power forward, and Al Horford will move to center.

Because Harris is comfortable at both forward positions, he’s

fine with playing in the flow of the game instead of dominating the ball.

Jimmy Butler’s role

The Sixers have one of the league’s best starting lineups with Harris, Embiid, Horford, Josh Richardson (acquired in the Butler trade), and Ben Simmons.

“I think for this group, it’s a little bit different, because we have guys who can create at every single position,” Harris said. "So it can be a different guy on a different night.

“At the end of the day, everybody is just locked in on trying to help our team be the best team. That’s the same goal.”

Butler’s departure allows Harris to showcase more of what he can do. Last season, the Sixers didn’t take advantage of his skills and ability to create. His scoring average dropped to 18.2 points in 27 regular-season games after the trade.

But a lot of that had to do with the Sixers’ not drawing plays for Harris. They also went away from him in the second half of their 92-90 loss to the Toronto Raptors in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Harris finished with 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting, but he had just two shot attempts – one make – and two points in the fourth quarter despite being the team’s best player through three quarters.

As a Clipper, he closed out games. And while the Sixers are indeed balanced, the ninth-year veteran is the X-factor for the team’s success in the postseason.

“Obviously, those things I know I have and I am capable of [in] my game,” Harris said. "When opportunity presents itself, it’s something that is definitely going to be there for us.

“So I think the opportunity is definitely going to be there for us, and I’m excited for that.”

His teammates, especially the young ones, have to be excited that he re-signed. Harris has taken more of a vocal leadership role now that he is invested in staying here through the 2023-24 seasons.

He has helped to organize off-the-court functions to help build team bonding. He treated rookie draftees Matisse Thybulle and Marial Shayok to dinner one night during training camp. He has basically assumed a big brother role to most, if not all, of the younger players on the team. And he’s been extremely vocal in the locker room.

“Just watch the bench,” coach Brett Brown said. "Watch his interaction with the young guys. Watch him when he’s not in the game. ... He’s good people and he’s smart.

“He’s embracing the new role, the new contract, the commitment we have made to him and he’s made to us. It’s a partnership."