Fairly or not, 76ers forward Tobias Harris will always be judged by the contract.
How can he not?
In the offseason, the Sixers knew they had to re-sign Harris. They had invested too much in a trade for him from the Los Angeles Clippers in February 2019. Harris had the upper hand in negotiations and earned a five-year, $180 million deal.
To Harris’ credit, he has played hard and was very productive for long stretches in the regular season. Yet, he didn’t get that kind of a deal to beat the Bulls in January.
The Sixers, we’ve been told, have been built for the postseason.
Without Ben Simmons, the Sixers still had a chance to be competitive because Joel Embiid is the best center in the NBA and Harris is a proven scorer.
What has happened to Harris and his team this playoff has been an exercise in frustration.
The Sixers trail the rival Boston Celtics three games to none in their opening-round best-of-seven Eastern Conference series. Game 4 is 1 p.m. on Sunday.
Simmons’ absence has been monumental, but he wasn’t expected to shoulder the scoring load.
Embiid was, and he has been the top scorer this series, averaging 30 points per game, but Harris has not been a suitable sidekick.
The strength of Harris’ game is that he can hurt teams from outside and in.
In this series, outside has been out.
Harris is 0-for-10 from three-point range.
To his credit, Harris is playing hard, but one wonders about his confidence from the perimeter.
“Just try to get into a rhythm, as we go and play,” Harris said in a Zoom interview after Friday’s 102-94 loss in Game 3. “Adjusting to the style and have a plan.”
Recently, his plan has been to take it more to the basket. Friday was the most aggressive Harris has been in the series, and while the plan was solid, the execution wasn’t.
He shot 6-for-19 from the field.
Besides not hitting any threes this series, he has also blown several shots close to the basket. He gets credit for getting to the rim and blame for the many shots that clank off of it.
He has realized that it’s not working from beyond the arc and he has taken it aggressively to the basket.
“I have had good looks around the rim, around the basket, a lot of tip-ins that just didn’t fall, but I am trying to do whatever I can to get myself in a rhythm …” Harris said.
To his credit, he was a monster on the boards in Game 3. Harris had 15 rebounds, including eight on the offensive glass, which was five more than the entire Celtics team.
Before the game, coach Brett Brown said one of his goals was to get Harris going. The thinking was that if Harris got out in transition, it would lead to some easier baskets.
That is a good theory, but without Simmons, the Sixers’ fast break has been slowed considerably. In Game 2, the Sixers were outscored, 17-1, in fastbreak points. On Friday, the Sixers were outscored, 22-8.
Without getting many of the easy shots that occur on the break, the Sixers have struggled.
“Let’s call it straight, we didn’t make enough shots,” Harris said. “…We were on the glass, we got looks, we didn’t convert them.”
On the positive side, Harris is averaging 11 rebounds, 4.7 assists to just 1 turnover. Yet a player who averaged 19.6 points in the regular season is averaging just 14.3 points and is shooting 16-for-48 (33.3%) from the field. During the regular season, he shot 36.3% from three-point range.