At the season’s start, many basketball analysts picked the Philadelphia 76ers as their favorite Eastern Conference team to make the NBA Finals. This thinking centered on two players: dominant big-man Joel Embiid, and hyper-athletic point-forward Ben Simmons. Yet the 76ers’ roster has a lot of depth beyond those two high-profile stars.
A crucial contributor, Tobias Harris, often gets overlooked when discussing the 76ers’ success. In his second year in Philadelphia, Harris has continued to adapt and refine his game. Let’s look at the qualities — both on-court and off — that make Harris such an important part of the 76ers.
Tobias Harris’s career so far
At 27 years old, Harris is playing for his fifth NBA team in nine seasons. In 2011, the Charlotte Bobcats originally drafted him with the 19th pick in 2011. Then, the team traded him to the Bucks on draft night. Harris spent a season and a half in Milwaukee before he moved to the Orlando Magic as part of a larger trade package.
Harris blossomed during his Orlando years, earning a starting role and putting up consistently good scoring and rebounding numbers. In February 2016, the Magic traded Harris to the Detroit Pistons for Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings. Harris continued to put up excellent numbers while improving his shooting percentages.
In January 2018, the Pistons sent Harris to the LA Clippers as part of a blockbuster trade to acquire superstar Blake Griffin. The forward’s scoring prowess improved even more with the Clippers. In his second season in L.A., he put up a career-high 20.9 points per game, shooting 49.6% from the field and 43.4% from the beyond the three.
Finally, in February 2019, the Clippers included Harris in yet another trade package. This time, he ended up in Philadelphia, where he is now well into his second season with the 76ers.
Harris and his 76ers
As expected, Harris’s numbers fell slightly in his first year in Philadelphia. This was mostly due to his high-caliber teammates. Although his points per game dropped to 18.2, Harris is the first to say that putting up individual numbers has never been his goal.
In Philadelphia, he finally has a chance to contribute his significant skillset to a winning cause. The 76ers ultimately lost to the Toronto Raptors in a nail-biting seven-game series. But Harris’s first year in Philly was considered a success — even with hiccups, as coach Brett Brown tried to figure out the best way to integrate Harris into the lineup.
This year, Harris has taken a huge step forward. Since November 15, he’s averaged 21.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 3.1 assists — numbers that match or exceed the best of his career. Once considered only a so-so defender, Harris has also greatly improved his ability to switch onto quicker perimeter opponents, making him a net plus on the defensive end.
Harris’ intangible benefits
In a career where Harris has switched teams regularly, he’s been almost unanimously praised by coaches and teammates. The overwhelming consensus is that Harris provides a great locker-room presence with his laid-back demeanor and good sense of humor.
Just as importantly, Harris regularly receives praise for being a low-maintenance star. He doesn’t bring unnecessary drama or make unreasonable demands. This quality has led people to compare him to one of the greatest NBA leaders, Tim Duncan.
Harris is also generous outside of the locker room. In the summer of 2019, he donated $1 million to Philadelphia-area charities after re-signing with the 76ers.
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