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2018 Player Preview - Give Tobias Harris the ******* ball

Tobias Harris’ talent has been unjustly marginalized - that cannot remain the case

Christopher Daniels

2016-17 Review:

Last year, Tobias Harris regressed from three, regressed on the boards, had a career-low free-rate, and came off the bench for 34 of his 82 games.

Despite that, he was undoubtedly the best offensive weapon the Pistons deployed on a nightly basis.

Relatively effective in nearly every area of offense, he was efficient and productive when called upon. The issue is, he was called upon far too infrequently. He sported a usage rate that only barely eclipsed Marcus Morris’ for third among the starting lineup, despite leading the team in scoring.

Tobias should have been asked to shoulder more of an offensive when Reggie Jackson returned from injury, and DEFINITELY after the facts about Jackson’s health became more clear. Instead, he was tasked with carrying dismal bench unit - and he did so admirably, to the point where he got some (deserved) 6th Man of the Year noise.

His offensive strengths lie in his offensive versatility. Look at his Synergy numbers from last year:

Tobias Harris’ offensive production

He was devastating as a PNR ballhandler and off cuts (something the whole offense could stand to do more often), and great as a spotup shooter and in transition. And then’s he’s good-to-average at almost every other play type in their system. There’s almost nothing he can’t do well offensively on the court.

His points per possession numbers as a PNR ballhandler are even more impressive when you remember that, unlike a Stephen Curry or a Damian Lillard, he doesn’t make (or shoot, really) threes off the dribble. A lot of his PNR possessions look like this:

You have to shoot quite well on those mid-range jumpers to be as effective in terms of points per possession as Tobias was last year, and he was fifth in mid-range field goal percentage (47.6 percent) among 70 players with at least 200 mid-range attempts (h/t’s John Schuhmann).

Defensively, the decline in his rebounding and usual lack of blocks and steals are not great indicators that he was an impact player defensively. However, according to Synergy, that doesn’t meant he was a BAD player defensively, just not a great one:

Tobias Harris D Synergy

As much as Tobias has been maligned for his defense in the past, those numbers are an encouraging step. However, his value to this team, in the past and in the future, lies in his offensive production. Often, the Pistons just need to space the floor and tell him to attack his man:

...Yeah, that was Kevin Durant he blew by. I’m just saying.

2018 Projected Production:

Tobias projects to be the secondary offensive engine for this team. If Reggie isn’t healthy to start (or his health is variable game to game, or he can’t play back-to-backs) Tobias’ offense is the Pistons’ best chance to remain competitive on that end of the floor, even in their conference.

Yes, Stanley Johnson has looked more comfortable in preseason, but that’s in a low-usage role. Yes, Avery Bradley is here, but his offensive strengths lie in spotting up and cutting (h/t David Fernandez) - plays other guys create for him, not the other way around.

The plan has to be to pair Tobias with Andre in the PNR. Tobias isn’t nearly the passer that, say, a Hedo Turkgolu was, but a big-big attack surrounded by improved shooting from Stanley Johnson and Avery Bradley (or Langston Galloway, or Luke Kennard, or Reggie Bullock, or Anthony Tolliver) still has potential. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope showed an expansion in his game last year when instructed to playmake more - Tobias could easily replicate that.

Failing that, Stan Van Gundy has got to be creative with Tobias. There’s no law that says the offense has to be rote and stagnant - the Pistons are capable of running fun stuff for Tobias:

Failing THAT, Tobias has at least return to the three-point shooting numbers he put up when he first got to Detroit. Shooting 37 or 38 percent from three will keep the floor spaced for the team around him - and maybe it makes guys look for him more on offense, as well.

Personally, my biggest complaint about Tobias has been on the defensive end - the Blake Griffins and LaMarcus Aldridges of the world give him trouble, and Stan Van Gundy would frequently cross-match him onto the weakest frontcourt player, leaving Marcus Morris to guard the better player. That’s still a possibility after Morris’ departure and the (assumed) ascension of Stanley Johnson, but Tobias being able to match up better with frontcourt players would be a welcome development this upcoming year. Returning to grabbing six or seven rebounds a game instead of four or five rebounds a game wouldn’t go amiss, either.

A best-case scenario for Tobias looks something like 20 points, seven rebounds, and three assists a game on a slashline of 47/37/85. The enhanced production would hopefully come from a mix of a career-high usage rate (more than 25 percent usage), better perimeter shooting, and a mere return to his career free-throw rate. This offensive growth would ease the burden on the Reggie-Andre PNR. Plus, if he defends well enough, in Stan’s mind he *earned* all the extra shots.

In the worst-case scenario, Tobias “only” puts up 16 points, five rebounds, and two assists on a 48/34/80 slashline. If that looks a little too familiar, it’s because those are basically his numbers from last year. Tobias has to fight entropy hard - not growing is just dying slower.


Split the difference: 18 points, six rebounds, and 2.5 assists on 47/36/83. No matter what, though, his usage rate has to increase - he has to be a bigger driver of the Pistons’ offense.