When James Harden arrived in Philadelphia, everybody on the 76ers had to adjust. That couldn’t be more true for Philly’s starting power forward Tobias Harris. Harden is naturally a ball-dominant player because of his ability to create his own shot on the perimeter and how he can cause havoc at the rim with his dribble penetration. Harden’s scoring versatility forces defenses to double team him on the perimeter to prevent him from scoring. However, Harden is also an elite playmaker with tremendous court vision. He uses his on-ball gravity to create shots for others. It’s important to surround Harden with shooters, so he has different options and his playmaking can thrive. That’s where Tobias Harris comes in.
Things Needed to Change
Tobias Harris is known as a player who produces with the ball in his hands. Harris can back down defenders in the post and use his creativity to score in the post, mid-range, and baseline areas. However, Tobias is also a relatively decent perimeter shooter who can space the floor. One of the biggest elements of Harris’ overall performance is his confidence. Tobias has historically gotten into his own head and the effect that has on his game is detrimental. When Harris lacks confidence he tends to overthink, which leads to a turnover or poor quality shot attempt.
Nonetheless, Tobias needed to adapt to a role he’s never played before with Joel Embiid and James Harden sharing the floor with him. With Embiid and Harden being rather ball-dominant, defenses apply tons of pressure to them through double teams, zone defense, and blitzes against the pick-and-roll. Philadelphia’s co-star’s obviously need perimeter shooters surrounding them to make those defensive strategies less effective. So, Harris needed to revert from his post-play and develop into an off-ball catch-and-shoot forward.
Tobias struggled in that newfound role throughout Harden’s first few games with the Sixers. He misfired on countless amounts of uncontested threes off James’ passes. Tobias’ frustrating tendency to overthink led to poor decision-making and a loss of confidence.
However, as the latter half of the season progressed, Harris slowly but surely got more comfortable in his role. You could see he possessed more confidence in the last few games of the regular season. Tobias can now effortlessly gun catch-and-shoot threes without a second thought, and it’s been huge for Philadelphia’s offense. Harris’ improved play has translated into the postseason throughout the first two games against the Toronto Raptors. Tobias is benefitting from Harden and Tyrese Maxey’s on-ball gravity as he’s been reliable from the corners and wings. Harris’ floor spacing is a luxury when you consider Toronto’s style of defense that revolves around funneling into the restricted area to contain Embiid.
Fred VanVleet played point-of-attack defense on James above the perimeter. Harden decided to attack the rim and beat VanVleet off the dribble. OG Anunoby had to rotate off of Paul Reed and pick up Harden in the paint. James’ rim pressure caused Precious Achiuwa to crash into the restricted area and VanVleet recovered soon after. Harden’s dribble penetration was the center of the defense’s attention. That left Tobias Harris uncontested in the left corner. James read that and threw a clean one-handed pass to Harris. Tobias splashed the corner three as Pascal Siakam tried to close out. This possession is a prime example of Harden’s elite playmaking and Harris adapting to his new catch-and-shoot role.
Tyrese Maxey looked to initiate Philadelphia’s half-court offense with Fred VanVleet as his point-of-attack defender. Joel Embiid set an on-ball screen on VanVleet and then he faded onto the wing. Toronto’s defense was focused on stopping Maxey’s dribble drive. Precious Achiuwa countered Embiid’s screen with high drop coverage near the top of the key. Pascal Siakam and Chris Boucher were both in the nail and closed off Tyrese’s driving lane. However, Boucher over-helped on the strong side. He sagged off Tobias Harris to help contain Maxey’s dribble penetration, but that left Harris open on the right-wing. Tyrese detected that and gunned a strong pass to Tobias, which resulted in another three-ball. Tyrese significantly improved in many categories this season and playmaking was a big one. Maxey showcased his newfound ability to create for others off his dribble penetration in this possession.
The 76ers were beating the Raptors 109-97 with 1:16 left in regulation. Philadelphia appeared to have secured the win, but Toronto wasn’t completely out of it yet. James Harden brought the ball up to Philly’s half-court, but Toronto quickly trapped him. Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam hounded Harden and tried to force a turnover. However, that left Danny Green wide open around the key area. James impressively hit Green with a slick one-handed pass. Chris Boucher rotated off Tobias Harris to defend Danny. But Danny spotted Harris uncontested on the left corner and hit him with a chest pass. Tobias drained the corner three to secure a Philadelphia victory.