76ers' Tobias Harris is making a legitimate case to be a first-time All-Star selection this season
Harris has stepped up for the Sixers following the departure of Jimmy Butler over the offseason
PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris has been playing consistent, high-level NBA basketball for a while now. He's averaged at least 14 points per game every single season since 2012-13, despite the fact that he has suited up for four different franchises during that span, and he holds career averages of 15.7 points and six rebounds per performance over nearly 600 professional appearances since he was drafted out of Tennessee in the first round in 2011.
However, despite developing a reputation as a reliable offensive option over the course of his career, Harris has never been named to an All-Star team. That could change this season though. Aside from a slight shooting slump to start the season, Harris has been extremely solid for the Sixers since inking a five-year, $180M max deal over the offseason. He's averaging 19.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 3.3 assists in 34.3 minutes per game for Philadelphia while providing the team with some reliable floor-spacing; he's shooting 38 percent from long range in the month of December. Harris has also appeared in every single game since he was acquired by the Sixers, which is noteworthy in today's era of load management.
The offseason departure of Jimmy Butler allowed for for Harris to step up and assume the role of a secondary offensive option behind All-Star center Joel Embiid, and perimeter closer, and while it's still a work in progress, Harris is clearly growing into those positions. He's scored 20-plus points in seven of Philadelphia's last eight games, and he's becoming increasingly comfortable within the Sixers' system – it's important to remember that Harris has still only played 54 regular season games with the team, and his role this year is different compared to what was expected of him last season.
"He's been so steady and just responsible and reliable," Sixers coach Brett Brown said of Harris after Philadelphia's win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night. Harris scored 31 points in the contest. "He's our go-to guy and I put him in a bunch of different spots. He's having a hell of a year. You go right to his offense, but I think he's having a hell of a year defensively."
Harris has always been solid offensively, but the improvement on the other end of the floor has helped him take his game to another level this season, as Brown alluded to. Defensive improvement was a stated goal of Harris' before the season's start, and he has done well to step up his play on that end a third of the way into the season.
Helping the Sixers succeed is Harris' main priority on a nightly basis, as he is the type of player to prioritize team success over individual accolades, but he would also very much appreciate the opportunity to appear in the league's midseason showcase, as being named an All-Star is one of the goals on his career checklist. For what it's worth, Harris thought that he was playing well enough to be named an All-Star for the Los Angeles Clippers last season, prior to the trade that landed him in Philadelphia. But, the trade basically nullified any chance Harris had of making the All-Star team, as it shifted him from the West to the East, and thrust him into an unfamiliar situation with the Sixers. But now that he has grown comfortable with his franchise to go along with some long-term financial security, Harris wants to cement himself as one of the game's top forwards.
"Every night is an opportunity for me to go out there and do the best that I can to help our team win. I'd love to be an All-Star. It's a goal of mine as a player," Harris said. "I thought last year I was an All-Star at the beginning of the season, but it didn't happen that way. Each and every night with our team we have an immense amount of talent and I want to play at my best every single night to help us win games. I know when I'm aggressive and getting things into flow, I'm a very hard player to guard. With that being said, I look to keep it up. I'm on this team to score the basketball and play at that level every single night and that's what I hold myself to also.
"I know when I'm on the floor, I never want to come off the floor. All of the coaches know that too. When they sub me sometimes, I say, 'Come on just keep me out there,' but I look at the box score at the end of the game and I have 39 minutes or something like that. For me, I want to do whatever I can to help us win. The sky is the limit for our team and the potential, and we want to continue to progress."
In reality, the East's All-Star starters this season are probably already set. Barring an injury issue, it seems very likely that Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Pascal Siakam, and Embiid will be the first five. However, Harris has a real chance to snag one of the reserve spots, as long as he continues to play as well as he has been of late, as there will be no shortage of competition. More importantly though, if Harris can maintain his recent level of play, he could help to propel the Sixers further in the postseason than they have been in a long time.
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