Sixers Star Hitting Stride, but Playoff Demons Linger


Getty Tobias Harris during an April game against the Memphis Grizzlies.

It was 217 days ago when the Philadelphia 76ers were officially swept in the first round of the 2020 playoffs in the NBA bubble, ending the Brett Brown era in the process. As a six seed, despite missing Ben Simmons, the Sixers were expected to be competitive in the series against the third-seeded Celtics.

Numerous factors contributed to the Philly losses including the absence of Simmons, the poor team shooting, and the big series from Boston superstar Jayson Tatum. One of the primary figures who exemplified the Sixers’ shooting struggles was forward Tobias Harris.

Flash forward seven months later though, and Harris is now heading towards the home stretch of a career-year.

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The University of Tennessee product is converting on an absurd 52.5% of his field goal attempts, which is by far the best of his 10-year career thus far. He’s making just over 40% of his three-point attempts and just under 90% of his free throws. Anytime a player can finish a season at the highly-coveted 50-40-90 plateaus, it deserves serious notice.

Harris is also averaging career-bests in assists, blocks, and points per contest at 3.6, 0.8, and 20.8 respectively, while contributing a solid 7.3 rebounds per game as well. He ranks among the NBA’s best in win shares at 5.7, which places him tied for 14th with Clint Capela, as well as some guys named LeBron James and Luka Dončić.

Harris is one of the main reasons why the Sixers are in contention for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, as evidence by his selection as Player of the Week in early January.

March Was a Month to Remember for Harris


GettyTobias Harris during a March game against the Chicago Bulls.

In a season filled with strong play, Harris’ March may have been his finest month. The 28-year-old matched his season field goal percentage of 52.5% and averaged 22 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game in the 12 contests, the final nine of which were played without MVP candidate Joel Embiid.

His 8.8 field goals made per contest in March were tied for 11th in the east with another MVP contender in James Harden and his 6.7 plus-minus for the month was tied for seventh in the conference. For players with at least 10 games played in March, Harris ranked fourth, and just ahead of Giannis Antetokounmpo.

In fact, the Sixers had plenty of representation at the top of the list for highest plus-minus in the Eastern Conference during March. Embiid, Simmons, Danny Green, Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle, and Seth Curry all joined Harris with figures over 5.0.

Critical Six Week Stretch Upcoming for Harris Before Playoffs


GettyTobias Harris during a February game against the Dallas Mavericks.

Despite Harris’ magical season, there are still plenty of questions about how he and the rest of the team will respond to last summer’s disappointment. Looking at Harris’ numbers from the 2019 NBA playoffs and comparing them with how he fared in the postseason from inside the bubble, a stark difference is obvious.

Judging a four-game slate from last year against the previous postseason which lasted two series and 12 games may not be completely fair – not to mention the undeniable impact that the pandemic and bubble life had on all players – but numbers are numbers. In the 2018-2019 postseason when the Sixers went 7-5, Harris had a positive plus-minus in eight contests, including four that were plus-20 or greater.

He had three double-doubles, scored in double figures in 10 of the contests, and shot well from deep, particularly in the opening series against the Brooklyn Nets when he went 10-for-20. Last summer in the sweep at the hands of the Celtics, Harris total plus-minus was a putrid minus-31.

Over the first three games of the series, the forward was particularly ineffective, shooting 16-for-48 – good for 33% – overall, including an 0-for-10 showing on three-point field goal attempts.

While the Celtics may not end up being up being the threat they were a season ago, there is competition atop the east with the Nets and Milwaukee Bucks. For the Sixers to have a shot at advancing to their first NBA Finals since the days of Allen Iverson, they’ll need Harris to carry his strong regular season through the end of the spring.

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