Tobias Harris Season Preview.
This is the second season preview for the Pistons, I am going player by player through the roster leading up to the start of the season. If you missed Andre Drummond's preview you can read it right here.
If you would like to get a recap of last season for Tobias, you can read my season recap right over here.
Where he stands now:
Tobias Harris was of course traded to the Pistons from the Magic at the trade deadline of last year, he is entering the 2nd year of his contract, with 2 remaining after this year. Tobias is locked in as a starting forward for the Pistons, nominally he is the PF (and FWIW, he generally did play more of a 4 than a 3) but of course he is mostly interchangeable with Marcus Morris at either forward spot.
What to generally expect for the coming year:
Tobias is just 24 (and will be for the entire season) and as such he still has room, if not a ton, to grow as a player. With the help of getting a full offseason to be working with a much better coaching staff than he has probably ever had in his career there is good reason to believe that he will make at least some improvements, especially with his reputation as a very hard worker. Tobias should see at least a little bit more competition for minutes this year with Jon Leuer behind him at the 4 spot and with Stanley Johnson (hopefully) making improvements, but he is absolutely the starter and the competition for minutes would, at most, put him at about 30 minutes per game instead of the almost 34 that he played with the Pistons last year. It would also be fair to expect to see him get some time as a true SF as well while playing alongside Leuer, so the Pistons should make good use of his versatility.
The general hope should be that Tobias truly carves himself into the role of being the 3rd option in the offense and can make some strides defensively, and most of his work has to be done on the defensive end.
Offensively Tobias is an interesting mixture of proven skills and barely tapped potential on the offensive side of the ball. On one hand, he is proven as a scorer particularly on the inside, his first step is hella explosive and he is silky smooth. With a career TS% of 54.7% and career low of 52.7 he is proven as a fairly efficient scorer as well. But for all of that, there are still major questions that surround Harris. The first one is whether or not he can actually shoot or not, with the Pistons last year he shot 37% from 3 and had shot 36% the year prior. But other than that, his shooting is iffy, he took hardly any 3s before 2 years ago, and last year with the Magic he shot just 33% from deep. And given that he never has been (or was last year) a great midrange shooter there is good reason to believe that he is not going to be that good of a shooter. The good thing is that Tobias shot 37% from 3 with the Pistons last year, and also put up what would have been (had it been a whole season) a career best 57%TS%, which is a stellar number. And both the eye test and numbers tell a similar story to a improvement with Tobias as it did with Marcus Morris, SVG had him shoot fewer 3s, and tried to put him in favorable 1 on 1 matchups more along with being more of a ball handler. Essentially, instead of taking Tobias and saying “He can score on his own and is a decent shooter, so lets try and make him a shooter” SVG decided to make Tobias a scorer and ball handler who is able to hit spot up looks when he has to. (ditto for Morris.) Even with there being good evidence that Tobias can be a solid outside shooter for the Pistons, where exactly he ends up will play a big role in how useful he is. He needs to be able to hit not just a respectable % of his 3s, but he has to be willing to take them when he is not wide open. Because even if he shoots 37%, if they are all wide open 3s then people still are not going to be too worried about guarding him, which would mean a clogged lane.
The second thing that is not as much of a mystery but just more of a problem, is his passing. He has never been a good passer, and at times a fairly unwilling one as well. He has worked hard at it, and last year (especially with the Pistons) he showed some real hope, posting a career best assist rate and turnover rate with the Pistons. He also just did not seem to take nearly as many bad shots as he did before, which once again, I would largely attribute to the same good coaching that lead to improved play for Marcus Morris. Even with this, the fact remains that Tobias is hopefully going to cement himself as the Pistons 3rd offensive option and secondary ball handler behind Reggie Jackson. His turnover rate with the Pistons last year was just 7.2%, which is so low that it is almost always held by spot up shooters, (essentially guys that never handle the ball so they never can really turn it over) if he can keep such a low turnover rate while upping his assists even a little bit then he will be in business. He doesn't need to be a brilliant passer, Reggie and Marcus are on the floor to be passers, Tobias is a scorer first. But if he wants to be the second ball handler on the team he needs to pass enough to keep defenses honest.
This is where it actually gets pretty problematic for Tobias. He was better last year than before, it is clear that he has put in real work and has a real desire to improve his defense. And he occasionally has flashes of brilliance, I remember a game down the stretch against the Mavericks where he played some of the best defense of Dirk Nowitzki that you will see. His combination of athleticism and strength was overpowering and he was well enough prepared that he saw each of Dirk's moves coming and snuffed them out. I tried to find a replay of it but failed, but I believe there was one play where Tobias literally blocked 2 straight fadeaway attempts by Dirk. Not just anyone can do that, and it is these flashes that make him tantalizing on defense, because he has the tools to be a awesome defender. But for all of that, damn near every time his man sets a pick and he has to contain a guard, he finds himself standing straight up and watching as the ball handler happily prances past him. He was not the only reason why the Pistons were a worse defensive team after the trade (KCP and Stanley both missed time. Steve Blake was playing almost 20mpg) but he was a real part of it. Ersan may have been very limited physically in what he could do, but he played his tail off and was always in the right place. The improvements that Tobias has made say more about how abysmal he was when he arrived in the league than anything else. He is regularly out of position, and has serious trouble keeping a good enough stance to stay in front of almost anyone. I am not going to accuse him of not trying on defense, because he generally does, but he is certainly not always going balls out. And that is not to say that you always have to go 110% on defense, but if you are going to be a great athlete who is undisciplined, I would much rather you be a maniac like Russell Westbrook who at least makes good use of his athleticism to make a couple of brilliant plays per game, but Tobias seems to not have the attacking defensive mentality to make those plays, instead he is just out of position and undisciplined.
HOWEVA, he has clearly worked hard to improve his defense, and everyone who has been around him has said nothing but good things about his work ethic. He also has not exactly had stellar coaches before in his career. SVG is a stellar coach, and generally speaking, when you have a guy who is willing to put in the work, a good coach can get the results he needs. As such there is hope for Tobias to become a decent defensive player and his progress on that end will be very important for the Pistons as their goals start to get higher than just making the playoffs.
Lastly is an issue that is not all Tobias' fault on defense, but it is on the glass. Tobias is not a bad rebounder, in fact he is even a pretty decent one. But when faced with bigger guys, he regularly would get absolutely bullied by them on the boards causing major problems for the Pistons on more than one occasion. Even if he is going to be admittedly undersized against many 4s in the league, if Tobias is going to be a 4, he has got to get it in his head that he is going to freaking battle guys under the basket. Because it was often a problem for the Pistons when Andre would go to contest a shot, they would suddenly find themselves getting owned on the glass, and a lot of that falls on Tobias. He is not going to magically grow 3 inches, so it will be an issue no matter what, but he has to really put his mind to boxing dudes out.
Tobias is a really hard worker, even people who don't like him much as a player admit to this. He also is a bonafide great guy off the court as well, once again, even guys around the league who don't think he is much good as a player admit to this. Also, based on the fact that he joined in the meme of him and Reggie Jackson's rapper lookalikes on twitter, I think it is fair to say that he fit in quickly with the other guys on the team, and given that his shot selection was much better with the Pistons the one thing that rubbed teammates the wrong way should be gone. The only question about Tobias (and one that has followed him his entire career) is about his mental toughness, he has often been accused of disapearing in big moments and not being able to really take over games due to his mindset and lacking a “killer instinct”. Personally I think the whole “killer instinct” thing is stupid and I don't believe in it. (never did with LeBron either) HOWEVA I do think that he could stand to be more willing to assert himself in some situations, I feel like perhaps he has reacted too far to the criticism of being a bad shot taker to the point that he almost becomes self conscious of it at times. The best example I can give was in the playoffs, Tobias spent the first 3 games being guarded by LeBron, as such you could forgive Tobias for not doing awesome because LeBron is an insane defender when he is turned up. But there were times in those 3 games where the Pistons didn't necisarrily need someone who was willing to take (and hopefully hit) some hard shots, and we all know that Tobias is capable of making some really tough baskets. But because he was guarded by LeBron he seemed more willing to pass to a teammate who had a more favorable matchup and let them try. Essentially what I'm saying is that, if Tobias really wants to be the 3rd (or 2nd) guy on this team, he can't only show up when LeBron switches onto Marcus Morris for game 4, he needs to show up and go at LeBron or anyone else and get some buckets, knowing that sometimes he will fail.
So in conclusion...
Wink knowingly at your friends if:
You hear the word “Smooth” associated with Tobias.
Tobias is more aggressive looking to create offense and it doesn't tank his efficiency.
Tobias is in a good low position and keeping ball handlers in front of him.
Tobias remains almost comically turnover averse.
There is an article written by someone about how impressive Tobias' tenacity on the glass is.
Tobias is averaging over 20 per game.
A national writer/broadcaster refers to the Pistons forwards as “Mobias”.
Run for the hills if:
Jose Calderon is blowing by a statue like Tobias on successive pick and rolls.
Tobias starts turning the ball over more.
His shot selection becomes much more questionable.
He's getting consistently abused on the glass.
Tobias from 3 is a nightmare for the big bad wolf.
Opportunities for me to look stupid:
Tobias improves to just “kinda bad” on defense.
Tobias gets some all star votes but doesn't make it.
Tobias doesn't get many more assists, but his turnovers remain comically low.
The Mobias monster is talked more and more about as the season goes on.
Tobias shoots 35% from 3 on slightly higher attempts.
What do you think? How will Tobias do? Let me know! We all get smarter!