Through 21 games it’s fair to say Tobias Harris is exceeding even the loftiest of expectations for him entering the season. While the arrival of Doc Rivers (under whom Tobias played his best career seasons in LA) was understood as a potential key in unlocking a better version of him, I’m not sure anyone expected output like this.
To put the start to his season in perspective, Tobias has scored 16 or more points in all but one of the 18 games he’s played this year (scoring only ten points in the season opener). That’s 17 consecutive games of 16+ points dating back before Christmas. In 16 of his 18 games he made at least one three-pointer, and in 14 of those 16 games he’s made multiple threes. 46.4% from deep and 61% true shooting are both career-high marks; and 28.5 points per 100 possessions on 21.7 attempts is a clear indication of improved efficiency this season (compared to 27.7 points on 23.0 attempts per 100 poss. last year).
That’s All-Star level production and All-Star level consistency from Tobias Harris—but will he be an All-Star?
ESPN story on NBA, NBPA progressing toward an agreement on a March 7 All-Star Game and skills competitions in Atlanta: https://t.co/zgRAG7tI2v— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) February 2, 2021
Embiid’s MVP campaign has received most of the credit and attention for the Sixers early success, but Tobias is “1b” in terms of reasons for the team’s first place standing in the East. For all the talk about how the new-look roster and improved spacing benefits Joel, we shouldn’t overlook the positive impact these new lineups have on Harris.
Tobias is getting the sort of open looks he did earlier in his career in LA and Detroit as a product of a less clogged lane and defenses having to prioritize better shooters in the starting lineup (Curry and Green). He’s also had the luxury of picking and choosing his spots more so this season than in the past; rather than shouldering the load and forcing low-percentage looks to keep the offense moving, he can rely on any number of options to handle late clock possessions (Milton, Maxey, Curry, even Green and Korkmaz).
Beyond his offensive game being unleashed, Tobias is finding ways to be more impactful on defense early in the year. While the sample size is small, 1.4 blocks per 100 possessions is a career-high rate, and 1.3 steals per 100 possessions ties his career-high rate. Does this mean he’s having a career year defensively? Absolutely not. But these are strong indicators that Doc’s putting him in positions to succeed on that end of the floor, which jives with the idea that he’s better equipped to guard fours than threes (something we’ve seen with more frequency this season).
So… will Tobias be an All-Star?
“Is he deserving?” and “Will he be?” are two different questions—the stats and narrative may say he’s deserving, but at the end of the day it’s a numbers game. With only 12 spots on the All-Star roster the current math doesn’t look particularly encouraging.
For starters, there’s probably ten players you can consider “locks” to earn All-Star spots in the East—Embiid, Giannis, Beal, KD, Kyrie, Harden, Brown, Tatum, Young, Lavine—each of these names is a safe bet assuming they remain healthy.
Will someone get hurt? It’s likely. Will someone opt-out for precautionary reasons as we’ve seen in years past? Possibly, but the group of players Tobias is competing with for the final two spots and for any replacement spots is deeper than in seasons past.
Obvious names on the bubble: Ben Simmons, Kris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, Damontis Sabonis, Jimmy Butler—less obvious names: Gordon Hayward, Collin Sexton, Jerami Grant.
Right now it’s not easy to separate Tobias from those names. Middleton is a 2x All-Star and playing better than Harris right now; if Butler stays healthy he’s a lock; Tobi probably isn’t more deserving than Ben at the end of the day; and while there’s an argument for him over Brogdon and Sabonis, it’s not an easy sell.
Sure, it may feel like Tobias Harris is in the midst of an All-Star level season (and he is) but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll get the nod—we’ve seen deserving players in the West snubbed for years because the math wasn’t in their favor, and that balance seems to be shifting to the East with the arrival and health of the trio in Brooklyn.
Nonetheless, if Tobias continues to consistently put up the efficient numbers he has been, and if he continues to factor heavily into the Sixers top place standing in the East—game-winning shots, big 4th quarters, stepping up when Embiid sits, etc…—it’ll be impossible to deny him his first All-Star selection.
The Sixers haven’t had three players in the All-Star game since 1986-87 when Hall of Famers Charles Barkley, Julius Erving, and Mo Cheeks were selected; and though it’s not exactly a likelihood this year, the fact that it’s even a possibility is another encouraging sign for a team clearly heading in the right direction.