76ers

2020 NBA return: Can Tobias Harris be a bona fide scorer in NBA playoffs?

2020 NBA return: Can Tobias Harris be a bona fide scorer in NBA playoffs?

The Sixers’ chances of a Disney World championship will certainly increase if they’re able to count on Tobias Harris as a scorer. 

How can the Sixers maximize Harris’ skills? One basic method they used often against top-tier opposition was having Harris set ball screens on smaller defenders. Ideally, that strategy forces a switch, gets Harris a favorable matchup and helps him temporarily avoid someone like Kawhi Leonard.

He did a nice job on the play below immediately establishing post position against Patrick Beverley. 

Much of Harris’ scoring has come in the flow of the offense. When Joel Embiid was out with a torn ligament in his left ring finger in January, the Sixers had success with Ben Simmons playmaking from the elbow. On this play from Jan. 25 against the Lakers, Shake Milton gives the ball to Simmons, then sets a cross screen for Harris. The action produces a good look, the kind the Sixers will need Harris to make regularly.

To his credit, Harris has shot 39.1 percent from three-point range since his early-season 0-for-23 slump and is 43.1 percent on wide-open threes since that dismal stretch.

One action the Sixers ran frequently for Harris before the season was suspended had him receiving staggered ball screens at the top of the key. The ideal result is one of those screens being effective enough to necessitate a switch, as it did on this next play vs. the Lakers. Harris drives hard to the middle on Dwight Howard, pump fakes and draws a foul.

Though it will never be one of his strengths, it would help the Sixers if Harris could create more free throw attempts by seeking contact like this when appropriate. Out of all players averaging at least 19 points this season, he’s taken the fifth-fewest foul shots per game (2.9). 

It’s incumbent on Harris to give this action a chance to be effective, or to shift the offense in a different direction when nothing’s happening. Khris Middleton played great defense here in fighting over Simmons’ initial screen, but Harris must be stronger and more decisive. Crossing back and forth without any true conviction won’t usually work in the playoffs.   

There’s obviously a fine line between patience and excessive deliberation. Harris walked it well in our next sequence by waiting until Simmons could screen Middleton at an effective angle. He then had the wherewithal to pause in the paint with Middleton on his back and Brook Lopez in front of him, giving Embid a chance to cut from the left wing to the hoop. 

Harris had been above average as an isolation player for the last three seasons, but he’s in the 48th percentile this year in terms of points per isolation possession. The simplest explanation for his efficiency dropping is him shifting to small forward and encountering more agile defenders. 

Still, Harris has jolts of explosiveness. 

Given that he’s leading the NBA in minutes played and had been bothered by a right knee injury, perhaps he’ll be fresher and quicker if/when the season resumes. 

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Ron Brooks, virtual fans and what to expect for Sixers' 'home' games

Ron Brooks, virtual fans and what to expect for Sixers' 'home' games

The Sixers have yet to lose a home game this calendar year.

Monday night, they’ll look to maintain their home excellence, just not at Wells Fargo Center. They lost their seeding game opener at Disney World, a designated road matchup against the Pacers, and "host" the Spurs tonight.

The team has worked to replicate the environment in which the Sixers went 29-2 this season as closely as possible.

“We want to keep that going,” Sixers Chief Marketing Office Katie O'Reilly told NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Paul Hudrick in an interview Monday. “Our fans are incredible. Our season ticket members are incredible, they’re loyal, they’re passionate. They really create that environment.”

For Monday's game against San Antonio, you’ll see on screens courtside “virtual fans," which will include, according to O’Reilly, “season ticket members, our marketing partners, our community partners, as well as friends and family of the players.” Those virtual fans have been given packs that have T-shirts, hats and noisemakers.

Several unique features of a typical Wells Fargo Center game night aren’t going anywhere. PA announcer Matt Cord has some pre-recorded segments, and, per O’Reilly, the beloved Ron Brooks — “the world’s first double amputee to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout,” as Cord always introduces him — will still be belting out the national anthem. 

“Even in-arena for our home games, we’ll have Ron Brooks, our guy, singing the national anthem,” O’Reilly said. “We’ll have our traditional bell ringing, we’ll have our player intros, we’ll have our open video. So that sort of entire pregame ritual that we have will run really exactly the same, just virtually on video.”

And the Wendy’s Frosty Freeze-out? 

“If someone misses two (straight) free throws, you will still be able to redeem for your free Frosty,” O’Reilly said. 

The roar of the crowd obviously won’t be nearly as loud or intense after a big play, but many of the “sounds of the game” should be familiar for players. O’Reilly didn’t mention the boos that both Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid hope to hear if the Sixers aren’t playing well, but player input factored into the new home gameday experience. 

“Our players are constantly collaborating with our marketing and game operations department on the look and feel,” O’Reilly said, “and they really feed off that home energy, so it was important for us to maintain as much of it as we could down in Orlando, and we’re excited to see it come to life tonight.

“Our players’ voices are always heard. We’re always receiving feedback from everybody, whether it’s front office, season ticket members, the players, the coaches, and we really take pride in delivering on that. … Every player has a song that they get to pick to play in-arena when they make a big play or a big shot. So it is really important to us that we sort of curate the experience based on everyone who is there, and we’re collaborating all the time.”

Given how invincible the Sixers appeared at home before the coronavirus pandemic forced the season to pause, the idea to essentially duplicate a normal home atmosphere that players feel comfortable in seems intuitive. We'll learn soon just how effective it is.  

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Sixers vs. Spurs: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers vs. Spurs: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Updated: 1:48 p.m. 

The Sixers (39-27) and Spurs (29-36) will meet Monday over eight months after their first matchup this season, a 115-104 Sixers win on Nov. 22. It’s technically a home game for the Sixers, the team’s first since March 11. They were 29-2 at Wells Fargo Center. 

Mike Scott (right knee soreness) is out and Glenn Robinson III (left hip pointer) is doubtful. Kyle O'Quinn missed his coronavirus test on Sunday and is not eligible to play, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium.

Here are the essentials for tonight’s game:

When: 8 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 7 
Where: Visa Athletic Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

An outlier opener? 

In several ways, Saturday’s defeat to the Pacers wasn’t like most for the Sixers this season.

The team outscored Indiana by a point in nine Joel Embiid-Al Horford minutes but saw their 10-point fourth-quarter lead evaporate when Horford stepped in at center, the opposite of the trend this year. The starting backcourt combined for four points on five field goal attempts. Turnover problems that had characterized seasons past resurfaced as the Sixers gave it away 14 times in the first half and 21 times in the game. They’d been 10th in turnovers (14.2 per game) before the hiatus. Ben Simmons’ defense was not anywhere close to as great as it’s been for much of the season. 

A loss is a loss, but perhaps the Sixers on Monday will look more like the team we saw in their first 65 games. 

Another size disparity 

Jakob Poeltl is the only traditional frontcourt player in San Antonio’s starting lineup, which means the Sixers will again have plenty of size advantages. With LaMarcus Aldridge out for the season after right shoulder surgery, DeMar DeRozan is the Spurs’ second-tallest starter at 6-foot-6. Shake Milton and Josh Richardson are the Sixers’ shortest starters at 6-5. 

The Spurs have opened well at Disney World, winning their first two games and moving into ninth in the Western Conference, but the Sixers will present a unique challenge. 

'Walking that line'

Brett Brown doesn’t generally have an endless level of patience with younger players. He’s sometimes quick to pull the plug when they make mistakes or have trouble adjusting to a new situation.

Following Milton’s poor first game in the new starting lineup (no points, three assists, three turnovers, five fouls), it will be interesting to see Brown’s approach if Milton struggles again early. 

“The tolerance level … whether it’s trying to persevere and grow Shake, whether it’s the distribution of how you actually use Ben Simmons, all of those things are always on my mind,” he said Sunday. “It’s the launching pad that we have now where you’ve got some games before you enter the playoffs. And life moves quickly where you get stuck in this current where you’re going to blink and the playoffs are going to be right at your doorstep. 

“Walking that line of persevering and patience vs. gut feel — you like it or you don’t — that ecosystem is my job.”

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