The Sixers were hopeful that Tobias Harris’ reunion with head coach Doc Rivers would be helpful for both parties.
That idea has certainly come to fruition in the early going. It only took two weeks of the 2020-21 season for Harris to be named the NBA’s Eastern Conference Player of the Week.
He won the award for the week of Dec. 28 to Jan. 3, the league announced Monday. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Zach LaVine, Julius Randle and Collin Sexton were the other nominees.
Harris has thus far shot even better than during his career-best stretch with Rivers’ 2018-19 Clippers, making 48.4 percent of his three-pointers and 51.7 percent of his catch-and-shoot attempts from long range. He’s scoring 122.8 points per 100 shot attempts, according to Cleaning the Glass, slightly better than in 2018-19. That might not be sustainable, although it’s not the only way Harris has helped the Sixers start 5-1. He had four steals and three blocks in the team's win over the Hornets on Saturday night.
“When I see him doing that, that motivates everybody to continue doing their job,” Ben Simmons said. “When Tobias came here, defensively, he wasn’t where he is now. And he’s stepped it up — he’s getting a lot of steals, he’s getting hands in lanes, blocking shots. He’s made a huge leap from the past year to now defensively. He’s been, on both sides of the ball, a major factor for our team. And he’s going to be if we want to win a championship.”
Off the court, Harris’ impact on the Sixers is well-known. He guides young players through life in the NBA and is a steady, respected presence in the locker room. That’s one reason why the Sixers give him a near-max contract of five years and $180 million, though it of course doesn’t justify the deal by itself. Without efficient, aggressive scoring and decent defense, his contract seems burdensome for the Sixers. When he’s playing like this, what he’s being paid is less of a concern.
“I think offensively, Coach has done a great job of getting him in his spots, and we’ve got good space and he’s playing with a high level of aggression, shooting the ball great,” said Matisse Thybulle, one of those young players Harris has mentored. “I think a lot of confidence is there with him, and it shows.
"And then defensively, since I’ve known him he’s been trying to grow. This has gone back to in the offseason and watching him do defensive slides with cones, trying to grow that aspect of his game. I think we’re now seeing it on the court.”
One area where we expected Harris could improve this season that he hasn’t yet is drawing more free throws. In just about every other way, though, Harris was what the Sixers envisioned over the past week, a decisive driver, high-level shooter and committed defender. Rivers also mentioned before Monday’s game that he expects the team will use more of Harris’ post game moving forward.
“It’s just great for him, and great for the team, obviously,” Rivers said. “Watching Tobias put in the work that he does and then watching him perform on the court, it’s just great for everyone. He really puts in the work. So I’m very proud of him. As I always say, the individual honor is usually due to team execution. That’s what makes me feel good about it.”
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