The Tobias Harris Career Gets A Big Reboot

Tobias Harris is a different player this year. He is a different player because his game has become more complex and versatile. The 25 year old Harris who has already played for three NBA teams (Milwaukee, Orlando, Detroit) and is now on his fourth, in glittery L.A. to start over once again, finds himself in a perfect place. He is replacing Blake Griffin and if he doesn’t make anyone forget Blake that’s not the point. He wants to make everyone remember Tobias so he can transfer his less than two year deal into a max deal in the summer of 2019.

Harris has always been an enigma. He has always given you just enough but nothing extraordinary. He’s never been an All-Star and he was sort of snubbed this year. He’s never been All-NBA. He has a nice mid-range and can be streaky like scorers usually are. But this year what he has added to his game is what every team wants from their forward, a three point shot to open the floor and make penetration and pick and roll a piece of cake.

Harris is taking more threes than he took last year and he is draining them like he’s Kevin Durant.

3-Point Attempts (2017-18) 3-Point% (2017-18) 3-Point Attempts (2016-17) 3-Point % (2016-17)
Kevin Durant 6.1 41.6% 5.0 37.5%
Tobias Harris 5.8 41.1% 3.8 34.7%

It’s important to note that in Detroit Harris  benefited from an improved Andre Drummond and the addition of Avery Bradley, a defensive hawk whose tough nature is infectious. Harris has risen to the occasion even if no one was really talking about what he was doing. But he’s in L.A. so all that is going to change. He is going to be consistently compared to the person he is replacing.

2017-18 Points FG% Rebounds Real Plus-Minus
Blake Griffin 22.5 43.8% 8.0 18th (PF)
Tobias Harris 18.2 45.3% 5.1 13th (SF)

Part of the ho-hum Tobias Harris narrative is that he just doesn’t wow you. He’s quick but not Blake Griffin athletic. He has touch but his shot can get the flu when the pressure is on late in games. He is not driven to posterize or to humiliate players at the rim. He has a solid game. His defense is above average, but not sensational and his motor has always been questioned. He will never be Mr. Personality and so his sound bites aren’t worth cataloging.

But none of that past history matters now that he’s in Los Angeles. He’s never played next to an athlete like DeAndre Jordan or a stretch-4 like Danilo Gallinari. He has the opportunity of a lifetime because the Clippers are trying to put everything back together again and rebuild and be a contender and Tobias Harris is the center of it all.

His numbers. He has played 49 games. He is taking (almost) the same amount of threes that Kevin Durant takes and he is draining them 41% of the time. (Durant is making 38% of his threes). His efg% is a career high and his 18.2 points per game is taking him where he has never been. His offensive rating of 113 is nice enough but his defensive rating is so-so at 109, so not special. That’s the other thing about Harris. He’s never going to be a shut down defender but at home he gives great effort. He has lazy habits on the road. Speaking of road woes, he must not like the rims because his three ball is wet at home, where he shoots 53%. The only area of the floor where he is not shooting 40% is long twos which in years past has been money for him.

Tobias Not the Same Points FG% 3point% Offensive Rating PER
2016-17 16.1 48.1% 34.7% 113 16.9
2017-18 18.2 45.3% 41.1% 113 17.0

Of his 49 games, in 19 of them Tobias Harris has shot 50% from three, including six games in a row of 50% from three (Nov. 3-15).   He is a great first quarter player, 45%, but his scoring goes downhill from there. A consistent knock on Harris is that he fades late and the numbers say yes. In the last three minutes, he is a 41% scorer, less than his average, but in games that are withing a margin of five points he scores close to his average. He’s not much of a rebounder or a passer. The games the Pistons lost were games that Tobias Harris had a bad shooting night. He had a bad January shooting the ball from the perimeter and it played into the Pistons woes, piling on to their point guard problems.

But clearly Harris did enought to catch the eye of Doc Rivers. If Blake had to be traded, Harris was a good replacement. He knows how to score the ball, he’s a team player, and there won’t be a situation where the ball sticks like it often did with Griffin.

Harris is one part of the mix, good but not great, but good gets you into the playoffs and good gets you paid.

This is the moment Tobias Harris has been waiting for, his game exposed to a much wider net.  He’s in a big market on a team without a superstar in a city without much basketball excellence (at the moment).  He is the Clippers best offensive player and so everyone is now looking at him.  What happens next is up to Tobias Harris and his ability to withstand and meet the lofty expectations.