Can Tobias Harris become a go-to offensive player in 2013-14?
One of the breakout stars from the 2012-13 season was Tobias Harris, after a midseason trade moved him from Milwaukee to Orlando, where he immediately gained a spot in the rotation. In his Orlando debut, he 14 points in 24 minutes, two of his highest outputs up to that point in the season. He went on to average 17.3 points per game in 36 minutes while shooting 49% on 2’s and 31% on 3’s. The question for this season is whether these 27 games were an anomaly, with Harris being able to produce offense on a poor team or whether Harris will be able to replicate this production over an entire season.
To do so, we need to examine Harris’ offensive game and see what his strengths and weaknesses on offense are and whether defenses will find it easy to stop him or not. To provide some context before we dive into the video, the below shows Harris’ shot chart for the entire season. There are a few areas where he is below average but most of the zones have him at league average levels or above.
In SBNation’s Orlando Magic preview, Harris was profiled as part of an ‘ideal stretch power forward’ and someone was ‘has to be defended out to the three point line’. Is that true though? As started previously, Harris shot only 31% on three pointers last season, although we have only a small sample of 87 on which to base our analysis.
When looking at the video, there are a few issues that can make us question whether Harris can become a deadly three point shooter. Harris’ arm motions are not bad overall but he has some form issues with his legs. As you can see in the below frame, he has a narrow base and often has his knees bent inward.
When Harris sets his base in a narrow way, the rest of his shooting motion gets thrown off. Several problems can result from this mistake but it often results in a missed shot. This could lead to Harris not getting enough lift on his shot, causing it to come up short or it could twist Harris’ upper body which would cause him to alter his other nice fundamentals on the release of his shot.
What this has led to is a below average three point shooter. If this does not prove to be a small sample aberration or Harris cannot improve this aspect of his shot, defenses will not have to guard him at the three point line, which will take away most of the rest of his offense.
Where Harris excels is at is moving off the ball and finishing at the rim. My Synergy Sports has him at the 9th most efficient player off of cuts, as Harris scored 1.44 points per possession (PPP) on these plays. He recognizes the open space, puts himself into passing lanes and finishes at the rim.
Grantland’s Zach Lowe opioned on whether a player could be an offensive star just by moving off the ball and making the right cuts in a motion offense when discussing Kawhi Leonard. It’s possible that Harris may follow a similar mold, where he is best at moving off the ball and being the benefactor of the dribble penetration by his teammates.
Lowe argued that Leonard could take the next step by being more productive with the ball in his hands. Harris would be taking a similar route and he was not great in isolation situations last season, scoring only .89 PPP in isolation. While My Synergy Sports has him as the 53rd best player in these types of plays, looking at the video raises some questions about his ability to create offense off the dribble.
In the first clip of the below montage, Harris is matched in isolation against Rashard Lewis, no longer described as an elite defender. The Heat have no shot blocker on the floor and the paint is wide open when Harris catches the ball. While he is able to get a half step on Lewis, Lewis uses his length to block the shot of the 6’8″ Harris, who cannot take advantage of this great matchup.
This seems to be a trend with Harris in isolation as he seems to be unable to beat defenders of his size off the dribble. He doesn’t have a change against more athletic players, as seen in the second clip when defended by Josh Smith, while bigger players are able to alter his shot even when Harris can get by them.
Even though Harris is still young, he may find himself unable to improve in this area as it is unlikely he will find the quick step he needs to beat defenders off the dribble overnight. While he could not beat defenders in isolation situations, he did have some success when asked to run the pick and roll in the few times he called to last season.
Harris has good ball handling skills for a player of his size and may find himself matched up against players not used to guarding the ball in pick and roll situations. This gives him an advantage and the screen from his teammate provides the extra boost he doesn’t have in isolation situations to beat the defense.
You can see the potential he has in the second clip, as he splits the double team of Carlos Boozer and Loul Deng on the way to a layup, a move few players of his size could replicate. This could be the logical next step for Harris as an offensive player and he could be called upon next year to become a higher usage player in the pick and roll.
Harris is a dual threat in the pick and roll, as he is comfortable setting the screen and rolling to the basket as well. As we saw from his off ball movement above, Harris is well accustomed to finding the open space on the floor and being available to catch the pass. He can then finish at the rim in traffic to convert the opportunity.
If he works out the kinks in his shot, he will be nearly unstoppable on the pick and roll as he will be able to choose between rolling to the rim and picking and popping out for a three point attempt. Defenses will struggle to match up with him depending on whether is he the ball handler or the screener.
Surprisingly, Harris’ usage rate hovered right around the expected 20% each month last season. What changed to provide a boost in production was an increase in minutes, as his shooting percentages remained relatively constant with only a few fluctuations (mainly in February). Harris was a relatively consistent player but broke out with an increase in playing time.
It will be interesting to see how Harris progresses this season. What we learned from this breakdown is that if Harris truly wants to be an impact player, he will need to become more consistent on three point attempts, forcing the defense to guard him on the perimeter. Forcing defenders to guard him closely may give him the edge he needs to beat them off the dribble, as he couldn’t do so last season when defenders played a step or two off. Being able to create his own offense is the next step for Harris and a reliable three point shot will help him do so.
Based on last season, it appears that Harris has the skills to be a nice complementary player, moving off the ball and finding the space to cut to the rim but will not become a go-to offensive player. To make the leap, he’ll have to develop a better perimeter shot and show he is comfortable running the pick and roll several times a game. If he does so, he could become an offensive weapon. If not, he will still be a nice complementary offensive player.