It could be because he’s played for five teams in his eight seasons in the league, it might be because he’s played like a seasoned veteran in a variety of environments, but still it feels surprising that forward Tobias Harris is just 26 years old (27 this summer). Found at the center of two big midseason trades in the last two seasons, Harris has had to adjust to ever-shifting expectations and demands. And he’s done so in his own quiet and impactful way.
Now for the first time in a long time, Harris gets to choose where he plays when free agency opens in July. And many teams will be seeking a player with Harris’ dynamic skillset.
Finishing up this season with the Philadelphia 76ers, Harris completes a four year, $64 million deal that he originally signed with the Orlando Magic. The 6’9 235 lb. forward has continued to see offensive improvement over the last several seasons as he was given more playmaking responsibility.
Splitting time between the Los Angeles Clippers where he had a lead role, and the 76ers where he played a key supporting role, Harris averaged 20 points, eight rebounds, and three assists, while shooting 40 percent from three in just under 35 minutes per game this season. Stretch forwards with an ability to slot in as a secondary option, while still producing at this level (both in scoring and on the boards) are increasingly valuable. This, among other reasons, is why Harris should be looking at a max or near-max contract this summer. Should he re-sign with the 76ers, Harris is eligible for a five year, $188 million deal. If he opts to look elsewhere, teams can offer him a four year, $145.5 million contract.
With Harris, a team gets reliability and consistency. An ideal kick-out shooter, Harris hit 38 percent on catch and shoot threes this season. And while he took a lot less volume, he shot even better on pull-up threes (41 percent). He connected most comfortably from the left side of the floor (the majority of his attempts come from above the break though), and was lethal in the corners — a combined 32 of 69 from both sides. A forward with size and an ability to connect at that rate from three unlocks a whole new range in an NBA offense.
Off the dribble, Harris is best as a straight line driver. He knows how to leverage bad closeouts and can attack off the bounce. He also has the basketball IQ to counter when a defense collapses and fill in gaps as a slasher. And though he isn’t quite as effective on the block, he does a decent job using his size to exploit mismatches.
Harris ranked 28th in the league this year at just under eight rebounds per game, with only four players under 6’10 ahead of him. He does little on the offensive glass, but is effective defensively. That he could still maintain his production on the boards while teaming up with stout rebounders in Ben Simmons (19th in the NBA) and Joel Embiid (1st in the NBA) is telling.
It’s unclear if there’s another level to Harris’ game, but the level of consistency of he’s maintained, and how easily he slots into nearly any NBA offense makes him an easy target for an NBA team that needs a combo forward.
Harris isn’t a primary creator in the offense, but has less moves in his bag off the dribble, confining parts of his game. His shooting numbers rarely dipped, but they did in late shot clock situations (shooting 37 percent from the field). And most of his looks come in open coverage — this is to say he’s not creating in tight defense.
Harris is not turnover prone, but there should be at least some concern that he averaged two turnovers and just three assists per game this year. Even if he isn’t going to be a facilitator in the offense, you’d like to see him tack on an assist or two per game (or eliminate the turnovers). He also does not have a habit of getting to the free throw line, having only averaged four or more attempts per game for a full season once (back in 2013-14).
Defensively Harris doesn’t make much impact, finishing the season with a Defensive Rating of 110.2 (which ranks him 164th out of the 200 players that played at least 65 games). And with a Defensive Real Plus-Minus of 0.30, he ranks 65th among power forwards. With the right personnel around him a lot of his weaknesses on that end can be covered from game to game. But in the postseason, where you see the same opponent every night, and teams live off mismatches along the perimeter, Harris runs the risk of being exposed.
It’s these concerns, paired with his numbers dipping in the postseason this year, that could cause some to question how much money is worth investing in Harris. As the cap continues to rise, the qualifications for players earning max contracts continue to evolve. Much of what Harris does is highly valuable, but you’d hope he could fix some of what he lacks to pay top dollar.
Fit with the Mavericks
Even with the concerns listed above, Tobias Harris could fit in nicely in Dallas. The Mavericks will be in need of three point shooting and rebounding, both of which he provides. It’s easy to see him slotting in between Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, stretching the floor to the corners, and slashing off Doncic penetration.
Depending on how Rick Carlisle opts to use Porzingis positionally, the Mavericks may want a power forward who could share some post defense duty, which wouldn’t work with Harris. In fact a defensive forward tandem of Doncic and Harris is less than desirable, perhaps putting added pressure on KP.
Nevertheless the Mavericks need to acquire talent. And Harris possesses a lot of winning traits and offensive production, without demanding the ball or halting the offense. The Mavs would undoubtedly be better with Harris on the roster. Whether or not he willing to walk from the money Philly could offer, remains to be seen.