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Pistons vs. Thunder: Tobias Harris, superstar

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Without Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, Tobias Harris continues to make his case for NBA stardom.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Nothing can throw off my pre-game Pistons excitement like an out-of-nowhere injury tweet.

There I was, eating lunch, scrolling through NBA Twitter when my mans Aaron had to drop this bombshell out of nowhere.

I dropped my food and immediately started putting the following searches into Twitter.

“Andre Drummond ankle injury”

“Drummond hurt vs Nuggets”

“When did Andre Drummond get hurt and why do the NBA gods hate me?”

OK, I didn’t really search the last one, but still the loss of Drummond was worrisome. Our two “best” players were now sidelined for a game against Russell Westbrook. Regardless of how the Thunder have fared during the early part of this season, this is still a cause for concern. I did forget one crucial element in the Pistons favor.

We have Tobias Harris.

The Pistons forward has been quietly and consistently scorching defenders this season, keeping this team afloat while the starting point guard recovers. He’s averaging 17 points for the first time since his breakout year in Orlando and last night against the Oklahoma City Thunder, he dropped 22 points on 9 of 16 shooting.

Thing is, we all hardly batted an eye at that stat line, even though he only got his first field goal with less than a minute remaining in the first quarter. In a Pistons offense missing key parts, and surviving what can only be classified as a shooting slump for Marcus Morris, he has been the reliable source of buckets in a variety of ways.

Over the summer, Tobias mentioned getting more comfortable with his catch and shoot threes from different spots on the court. Last night, you saw two of his favorite spots.

The first one is what I affectionately call the “LeBron James three pointer” spot. It’s a spot where Tobias is most often catching a pass and perhaps his most comfortable operation point on the court. The second one is a great example of Tobias’s off-ball movement, recognizing the OKC defense leaning heavy towards the action so he floats to the corner three on the weakside.

My favorite Tobias potential lies in how he can operate within pick and roll opportunities, both as the ball handler and the pick man. I watched the Pistons run this version of a pick and roll probably a dozen times last night against the Thunder.

It’s a great play because the Pistons utilize the potential of both players as slashers that can drive to the basket. OKC has to pick their poison on letting Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have the lane or Tobias can keep it and isolate. And, as seen in the example above, if they decide to double the handoff, it leaves Tobias wide open for a jumper he loves.

The stats are all promising, regardless of how early it may be. Tobias is attempting three more field goals per game (13.4) than his career average (10.8) and is attempting more threes per game (3.3) than in the past (2.5). I have a feeling these numbers will come back to earth a bit when Reggie returns, but it has still been an impressive early run.

When talking about the Pistons, the first two people often mentioned or discussed are Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond. This makes complete and total sense given that the system Stan Van Gundy has built uses these two players as the foundation. Marcus Morris and KCP have specific defensive and offensive roles in support of that system, but Tobias offers an x-factor for offense that few teams can match.

Coming into 2016-17, I was most excited for what Tobias could offer with a full summer and training camp knowing his role in Stan’s offense. I even called into a now shuttered Detroit sports radio show and ranted about the potential (they went on to discuss how Tobias should come off the bench which almost made me jerk my car into the median of 696 but that’s a story for a different time). Perhaps the problem is that Tobias’s role is too dynamic for most to think around, it has too many options or opportunities for success.

With Drummond sitting out last night, Tobias took the honors as last player announced during team introductions. The guy didn’t even wait for Mason to finish his intro before doing the handshake line and getting in the huddle. He’s a Pistons superstar in the making, but he’s too busy to notice.