From December 4th to December 22nd, the Pistons owned a grisly 3-7 record and were in the process of trying to establish some sort of comfort level with Reggie Jackson as he returned to the lineup after missing the first 21 games. During the queasy 10 game span, Detroit’s already stagnant offense became even stagnant-ier averaging 92.8 points per game.
Something had to give.
As it turned out, Stan Van Gundy determined that something was Tobias Harris’ spot in the starting lineup. SVG felt Jon Leuer - at the time averaging a career high 11 points and nearly seven rebounds off the bench - gave the Pistons a better chance to win.
In an NBA world full of ego and entitlement, the funniest thing happened: Harris accepted his new role without a passive-aggressive emoji sent from his Twitter account. Imagine that?
On December 23rd, Detroit hosted the buzzsaw Golden State Warriors and it would be the first game for the new look Pistons with Harris coming off the bench.
The Pistons lost in a spirited and festive effort 119-113 and Harris logged just over 32 minutes scoring 26 points on 8-of-14 shooting and hauled in seven rebounds. If the perceived demotion was bothering him, it certainly didn’t show.
Van Gundy flipped-flopped Harris in and out of the starting lineup the remainder of the year in hopes of catching lighting in a bottle for a team shrinking down the stretch. As we all know, the Pistons failed to make the playoffs finishing 37-45 and attained more questions than answers moving forward.
Tobias Harris, however, isn’t one of those questions.
He played all 82 (48 as a starter, 34 off the bench) games leading the team in scoring at a shade over 16 points per game which came with an array of efficiency. Harris especially excelled in three offensive scenarios: in transition, as a ball handler in the PNR and perhaps often overlooked, in the post.
1.298 PPP in fastbreak opportunities puts Harris in elite company thanks in large part from the ambidextrous ability to finish with either hand and off either foot:
Paired with Ish Smith, the duo capitalized on back pedaling defenses as Harris ran the passing lane and made him self available - a skill in and of itself - better than most and certainly tops on the seemingly fastbreak-phobia Pistons:
Ball handler in PNR
I’m no coaching scientist but on a team centered around the high pick-and-roll, maybe, juuuust maybe more of those ball handling duties should’ve gone to Harris.
Tobias Harris 132 possessions; .985 PPP
Reggie Jackson 487 possessions; .889 PPP
Ish Smith 422 possessions; .851 PPP
Marcus Morris 195 possessions; .692 PPP
Jackson and Smith’s results are respectable but still a full step down from Harris. Morris on the other hand, fright night. There are obvious variables differentiating a Harris led PNR vs a Smith or Jackson one but Harris has the tools to be effective and can’t fully shine without an opportunity.
Only 9 percent of Tobias Harris’ possessions ended in the post but when they did, there is a high chance of buckets. He can be surprisingly punishing:
And if there was a mouse in the house, just put the two points on the scoreboard:
At 1.026 PPP in the post, Harris graded out as one of the most competent back-to-the-basket players in the league.
16 points per game is awfully low for a leading scorer but with a tad more emphasis on Harris’ strong suits, there is no reason he can’t be a 20+ per night scorer.
From my cozy couch, there is one hefty facet to his offensive game in which to improve on. Tobias, assuming you’re reading this, listen up.
He has all the essential ability to become a sharpened playmaker but hardly ever puts it to use. 1.7 assists per game speaks volumes of less-than creativity and his 8.7 assist percentage only verifies it. Should the Pistons lean on him more in the upcoming years in the PNR or out of the post, he must become a better and willing passer.
One of the easiest ways to rack up assist totals is to exploit rotating defenses.
While the shot goes in, it wasn’t the right basketball play. Andre Drummond is W-I-D-E open and Harris is smart enough to visualize one or two passes ahead. This happened far too many times from someone as polished as Harris.
Defensively, he did an adequate job of checking true power forwards and/or small ball power forwards but got in prompt trouble when scrambling to close out:
Kevin Love will do that to you.
But friend-of-the-program Anthony Tolliver should not:
An elementary rotational breakdown left Andre Drummond on an island and just as important, led mophatt1 to change the channel.
At 6’9 and playing minutes at the four spot, Harris should also be collecting more than five rebounds per game and his shallow rebounding percentage of 8.9 was the lowest of his career. Asking for a random number of boards per game does no good, instead I’d like to see him willing to get dirty a bit more:
From there, everything else should fall into place.
Harris is signed through the 2018-19 season on a team friendly contract and should be a staple of this team’s identity - whatever identity it may be - until then. He’s young enough to assume his best days are still ahead of him and by golly, he seems like a good dude. We need more of those kinds of dudes in Detroit, especially dudes that can play like Harris.
*all fancy numbers per Synergy