How Tobias Harris shot himself into All-Star consideration and Pistons into relevance
The Pistons forward can't seem to miss from 3-point range this season, thanks to hard work
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Tobias Harris likes to get things done quickly. He's the first player finished with shootaround and he's one of the first to get in his pregame workout. He even talks fast when speaking to the media. Harris has places to be, goals to accomplish, work to put in.
And, at 25 years old, he's starting to see the results.
Be it a breakout season or just a hot stretch, Harris is playing the best basketball of his career right now and the Pistons are seeing results in the win column. At 19-15 they sit at fourth in the Eastern Conference. It's a bit of a step back from where they were at the start of the season -- a seven-game losing streak to start December pushed them down a bit -- but still in prime position to get a good playoff spot.
Perhaps this is why Harris is receiving consideration for the 2018 NBA All-Star Game. With fan voting for starters opening up, the talk around All-Stars is about to kick up. For the East there's the obvious names like LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Even Detroit teammate Andre Drummond is likely to get a spot this season. However, with the East's lack of major star power, there's potential for Harris to grab a spot near the end of the list. Especially if the Pistons keep winning.
"That's definitely a blessing for me to be in that type of category," Harris said this week in a return to Orlando, where he started his career. "At the same time, the majority of that is predicated to our team and the way we've been playing. Obviously earlier in the year we had a lot of success. We kinda had a drop and we're picking it back up. We've been playing some great basketball and we've really been playing well as a team and so a lot of that is predicated to that and I'm just happy to be a part of it."
The Pistons' success has multiple factors going into it such as Drummond's bounce back and the addition of Avery Bradley. Add in what has been a very consistent bench and even with the injury bug biting them, there's an expectation that role players like Ish Smith and Reggie Bullock will keep Detroit going.
Last season a statement like that would have sounded insane. The Pistons weren't just disappointing, they were dreadful. Coming off a playoff appearance, Detroit was a popular dark horse pick to finish high in the East and maybe even challenge the Cavaliers in the division. Instead they imploded from a mix of bad defense, injuries and general unhappiness. It felt like the Pistons' rise was going to come to a sudden stop before they could ever get going.
Detroit didn't let that happen. Everybody talks about going into the offseason with plans of improving or getting better, but the Pistons walked their talk.
"It starts with Coach," Harris said of Stan Van Gundy, who doubles as the team's president of basketball operations. "He went to the drawing board this summer and really looked at our team and said this is what we'll need to do if we're gonna be a top team. That required putting guys in different positions [and] making sacrifices in different aspects of the game. So we've been able to do that and we know that there is a formula to winning and we know that when we play our best basketball, and we let the defense fuel the offense, that's [when] we play our best and we've been able to do that."
Harris says the improvement was on Van Gundy, but the individuals on the roster have done just as much. Drummond was one of the worst free throw shooters in NBA history.. Even Harris, always on the verge of being a small ball four, spent his entire offseason putting up 3-pointers.
"His 3-point shooting has grown," Van Gundy said. "He's shot it more and better and I think that's been his biggest improvement no question about it, his willingness to shoot the ball all the time from there and make defenses play him honest. ... Harris really dedicated himself this summer to shooting the 3 and to working on it. He shot thousands and thousands and thousands of them so he's gotten a lot of confidence. … It's almost a necessity at the four spot now."
Floor spacing has been a huge part of the offensive revolution of recent years. Van Gundy is one of the people who helped revolutionize this trend when he started Rashard Lewis at the power forward spot when he was coach of the Magic. It's hard to not at least see some of the similarities between his current Pistons team and his former Magic squad.
Harris isn't an elite rim-attacker, playmaker or defender. This doesn't mean that he can't do these things, but his best skill right now is as a shooter. He came into the league as a crafty midrange scorer, but pushing out brings him into the modern era.
"If you can put enough pressure on the basket the teams have to react and pull in and you're creating 3-pointers for your team," Van Gundy said. "So a guy like Andre, you're left with the choice a lot of the time on drives and pick and rolls. Are you gonna pull in and stop the lob and leave people open, or are you going to stay home and give him plays at the rim. So those kinds of guys, a guy like Andre, [are] still creating 3's for your team. ... You're gonna have to be able to do one or the other."
"My biggest focus in the offseason was the 3-ball," Harris said. "Getting up some high volume reps and game reps and just getting into the flow with it this year. I think that was the biggest step I took."
Harris' improvement from 3-point range has opened up so much for the Pistons and himself. The incredible part in his seventh year in the NBA is, at 25, he still has room to keep getting better. The next step is defense.
"Obviously I want to keep working on all points of my game," Harris said. "Playmaking is a thing that I'm going to continue to get better and work on. Defensively I'm going to always get better on that end and push myself and be able to be more of a two-way player. So those are things that I look to work on now and in the future."
"Still," Van Gundy added, "defensively, he's got to get better. He's taken pride in that and understands the importance of it, but he's gotta get better on that end of the floor."
The Pistons still want to take another step or two as a team, too. They are improved but flawed. Harris can be a big part of that growth. He turned himself into an elite shooter, and the team turned itself into a serious playoff contender. What's next?
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