Tobias Harris Training Camp 2021 Day 5

You can count Tobias Harris’ dollars when judging what he does on the court. The Sixers will look at how he contributes on the court and holds the locker room together.

That’s not to say that contract size shouldn’t be factored into judging player performance. But some will subject the veteran forward to tests that they will not allow him to pass. The box score is not flashy for a player slated to make $35,995,950 this season — he’s averaging 19.8 points, 9 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game through the first six contests of the season.

But make no mistake, the 29-year-old, cast as the Robin to Joel Embiid’s Batman, has put together a superlative first two weeks of the season.

Harris is connecting on 62.3 percent of his two-point attempts — on a volume of 11.5 such shots per game. That’s a 90th percentile ranking in scoring efficiency within the three-point arc, according to Cleaning The Glass, on significant volume.

But what if we add three-point shooting to the mix? How is a slow start from beyond the arc affecting his overall shooting efficiency? Effective field goal percentage (eFG%) adjusts field goal percentage for the fact that three-point goals are worth more than two-point goals are. Harris is only connecting on 32 percent of his triples thus far. That won’t work. But, he is sporting a 58.5 percent eFG%. That value ranks in the 85th percentile of the league right now. In other words, his two-point shooting is so efficient that it does more than cover up his spotty shooting from distance.

Time will tell whether that efficiency is sustainable. If you buy Harris’ downside as a three-point shooter more than you buy his upside from deep, then you might conclude that it’s not sustainable. Let the shot charts explain:

Tobias Harris ’20-21 Shot Chart, via Cleaning the Glass
Tobias Harris Shot Chart ’21-22, via Cleaning the Glass

The sample sizes do not remotely compare yet, but what you’re seeing here is that Harris is turning some of those stray midrange jumpers into three-point attempts. In other words, Harris is trying to modernize his game and maximize the efficiency of his shot selection. If you believe that he can make those extra threes at a high clip, then you might buy that the efficiency is sustainable. If you don’t, then this is just a hot start to the season.

Harris’ true shooting percentage would be far higher than 60.5 percent — which is still very good — if his three-point accuracy was where it needed to be. Perhaps the high efficiency is something he’ll have to sacrifice for the sake of maximizing potential shot value. His true shooting value would also ascend to the clouds if Harris was getting to the free throw line.

That’s where Harris’ biggest concern through six games lies. Free throw rate (FTr) quantifies free throw attempts per field goal attempt. In other words, it measures how often players are creating opportunities for easy points by getting to the charity stripe. For his career, Harris has a free throw rate of 23.4 percent. To start this season? Try 10.6 percent. That’s atrocious.

The aforementioned shot chart indicates that Harris is getting to the rim quite often. Obviously he’s getting a high volume of shots, too. Yet, the forward is not getting to the line. Harris has never been great at getting to the line for a player of his size, and perhaps that’s because he’s not an above-the-rim vertical athlete. But a free throw rate of 10.6 percent says that Harris is not leveraging his body to generate contact nearly as often as he should.

Those early shortcomings aren’t meant to detract from what has otherwise been an All-Star level start to the season. Rather, they indicate ways that Harris can grow within an 82-game campaign. 

His strong play thus far goes beyond scoring efficiency, though.

Harris is sporting an assist percentage of nearly 21; that would serve as the high-water mark for his career to date. Beyond that, his assist-to-turnover ratio is 2.78:1. Not only would that be a career-best, but forwards will ideally sport such a ratio between 1:1 and 2:1. The returns are still very early, but those two figures say that the New York native has taken a significant step as a playmaker, too.

The Sixers’ record does not encapsulate how ugly some of these games have been. That should make anyone bearish on the team’s regular season win total as long as Ben Simmons is not playing or engaged while playing. Harris will tell you he doesn’t care about All-Star appearances this season. But, that’s the diplomatic approach to a milestone he was very passionate about last season. If the Sixers surprise the public in the W-column, they’ll be in line for multiple All-Stars.

In a season full of drama and lowered expectations, that’s a story everyone can root for.