It was roughly 2 ½ weeks ago that people thought the sky was falling when it came to Tobias Harris.
He missed 23 straight threes and shot 8 for 30 over the course of two games against the Cavaliers and Magic. From there, the questions arose about the Sixers’ $180 million man.
Was he worth the money? Can he fit next to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons? Can he be a go-to scorer?
All those questions can’t be answered in one game, but Harris’ performance in the Sixers’ thrilling 119-116 win over the Pacers Saturday (see observations) was certainly encouraging. Even after a couple miscues late in the game, Harris showed his resiliency and finished a dunk off a Simmons’ steal that essentially won the Sixers the game.
To boot, he’s been showing off more of that “scorer’s mentality” Brett Brown has been begging for.
“I think so and I hope so because that's what I have preached to you all and certainly to him — I want him to find the rim,” Brown said. “And a scorer is a scorer. It's not JJ Redick always. It's driving. Like even the play we come down — I could've called a timeout but we had a play and we wanted to get Jo the ball and we made a sloppy pass. Tobias into Jo, it got stolen, but he came straight back out. Ben gets a steal, he's on a straight-line drive and ends up with just a smart, strong finish.
“… We need him to score. I want him to think like a scorer. And I think that he is. I also think that he's improving tremendously defensively.”
Defense was a point of emphasis for Harris this offseason.
He wanted to improve his lateral quickness to be able to slide his feet better, especially since he was expected to play more on the perimeter with the Sixers’ huge starting lineup. He told Brown that he didn’t want to be the team’s weak link on defense while being surrounded by four strong defenders.
So far, so good.
I can see in his face — he wants to get better,” Brown said. “He's a prideful person. I forget sometimes really how young he is. A young 26 years old, think of his upside. We all sort of look at him as he's arrived and here he is. By any standard — internationally, domestically, whatever — basketball wise, he is just scratching the surface. And because he's got character and he is an athlete, that can point to defense. And I think that with him, I see that he cares. That's a hell of a starting point. And then he's got the other characteristics that I think can make him an elite defensive player.
What we’ve seen more from Harris than we did during his short stint with the Sixers last season is emotion. Harris has been toeing the line when he’s asked about getting to the line and officiating. On Saturday, he was visibly upset with more than one call.
He didn’t earn a technical like his head coach or point guard did, but he appeared to be tempting fate on more than one occasion. The call Harris had the biggest issue with was a foul he was whistled for on a T.J. Warren three with 41.4 seconds left and the Sixers up 113-111. Warren made all three free throws to put the Pacers up one.
On the ensuing possession, Harris committed the aforementioned turnover when attempting to get the ball to Embiid.
Instead of losing his composure, Harris dug his feet in and made the plays he needed to make.
I don’t know if you watched the game, but I was never frustrated,” Harris said with a laugh. “No, sometimes it goes that way. The foul on the three, that was discouraging for me. I wanted to do anything to be able to win the game at that point. Came back down, we ran a play for Jo and Myles Turner gets around that. Then we just had to go on the defensive end, get stops and get out. But overall, just was able to get in a rhythm from the start of the fourth quarter. Do anything to will us to a victory.
Part of that “anything” was Harris pouring in 14 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter. He was looking to get his as Brown was looking to Harris to attack mismatches and play the “bully ball” the team has talked so much about.
Harris is a selfless player, but the Sixers’ starters have been a little more selfish lately — and the results have been good.
“Yeah, I think so,” Harris said. “As we continue to figure this out, we’re not fully there yet but we’re taking the right steps game by game and we’re being able to close out a lot of these close games, which is a good thing. But we’re going to continue to find our balance and to really make sure that everybody is fed along the way. That’s going to be the biggest thing going forward with our team. But all in all, we’ve got the right guys, the right personalities that want to win. That plays a big part in it.”
In the games since Harris’ slump, he’s gone 15 of 33 from three (45.4 percent) and 71 of 134 overall (52.9).
Safe to say, Harris knows how to take a hit and get back up.
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