Name: Tobias Harris
Years in NBA: 7
Key Stats: In 32 games with Clippers, averaged 19.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.2 steals, and 0.6 blocks per game. Shot 47.3% from the field, 41.4% from three (5.3 attempts), and 80% from free throw line (2.5 attempts).
2017-2018 Salary: $16,000,000
Future Contract Status: Fully guaranteed for one more season at $14,800,000
Tobias came to the Clippers on January 28 as the centerpiece to the Blake Griffin trade. As such, he had relatively high expectations placed on him by Clippers’ fans, most of whom were shocked, upset, and hurt by the Griffin trade. Amazingly, he lived up to those expectations and then some, proving to be the Clippers’ steadiest option offensively in the second half of the season, as well as revealing hidden talents as a passer and help defender.
While Tobias wasn’t good enough to power the Clippers to a postseason berth, he was a fringe All-Star player in his half season with the team. He rarely rose to heights befitting a superstar level player, true. On the other hand, he also rarely sunk below the level of an average starter, consistently providing at least very solid play to a Clippers team that desperately needed it. The Clippers were noticeably much worse whenever Harris was out of the game, and that kind of simple value speaks for itself.
Tobias’ greatest strength is his ability to score the basketball. And as that is the most important element of basketball, it’s a good strength to have. Tobias can score in a wide variety of ways, but it’s his outside shooting that has taken the biggest step forward since his arrival in the NBA. He’s a deadly spot-up shooter, with a swift and consistent shot release that enables him to get looks off cleanly against almost any defender. This shooting from the forward positions is a great boon for spacing, especially when Tobias plays as a small-ball power forward. In recent years, Harris has expanded his shooting to extend to off-the-dribble threes, an incredibly valuable skill in the modern NBA. Shooting over 41% from three on a good number of attempts per game (5.3 with the Clippers) made Harris one of the best outside shooters in the NBA this season, something the Clippers have to be extremely excited about going forward.
However, Tobias can score in other ways than as a jump shooter. He is a quick and athletic player who finishes explosively around the basket. Those traits translate to a very good transition scorer, who runs hard and fills in the wings properly so that maximum spacing can be obtained. In the halfcourt, Harris is capable of taking opponents off the dribble and attacking the rim, especially against slower big men or defenders who have closed out too hard to take away his shot. He’s also become a proficient pick and roll scorer who can generate clean looks from the midrange with ease, shots that are smooth as butter and fall at an incredibly high rate.
But Clippers’ fans suspected that Tobias had many of these strengths even when they were watching from afar. It was Tobias’ other attributes (either uncovered by the Clippers, or developed with them) that so surprised and pleased fans. Tobias was thought of by some as a ball-stopper incapable of creating for others. That notion was quickly disproven, as Harris averaged 3.1 assists in his stint with the Clippers, proving proficient at playing within a quick-decision, free-flowing offense. Similarly, Tobias never had much of a reputation as a defensive player before coming to the Clippers. And while he’s still not a stopper, he demonstrated the ability to be a useful help defender, particularly around the basket, where he had several sweet rejections. He also had a nose for steals, often getting strips with quick hands and a good reading of the court.
Finally, Tobias isn’t a bad defensive rebounder for his size, and the feared drop-off on the boards with the loss of Blake failed to materialize. All this presents Tobias Harris as more than just a scorer: He’s just a really, really good overall basketball player.
If Tobias is solid to good at many things, he’s not superlative at anything outside of three-point shooting. That lack of high-end skills is the only thing keeping him from being a full-fledged All-Star player. But while Tobias is 25 and nearing his prime, he’s added new things to his game every season, and there is no reason to doubt his capacity to improve—he clearly has an incredible work ethic, and will be working hard to make another jump this summer.
A solid enough passer, Tobias still has the tendency to drive to the basket with blinders on sometimes, missing open teammates on the perimeter in favor of tossing up a contested shot around the rim. If he works on passing more out of his drives, his efficiency will increase and his assists will rise. The same goes for the pick and roll, where Harris usually looks to score rather than pass. His developing more of a playmaking instincts could be the final step in unlocking him as a true top option in a good offense.
On defense, Tobias isn’t quite a weak link, yet not a true plus either. He just doesn’t have the lateral quickness to keep up with smaller players on the perimeter, and lacks the size to bang with centers on the boards and around the basket. That limits his capacity to switch on players who aren’t forwards (though he could probably handle some shooting guards for short stretches), which isn’t a devastating weakness, but does make him a little less versatile on that end.
Future with Clippers:
Under contract for one more season with the Clippers, Tobias Harris is probably the closest thing to a franchise building block that the Clips have. Young, talented, hard-working, and a great teammate, Tobias is everything that teams want in a player, and he was phenomenal for the Clippers in the 2017-2018 season. It’s possible that the Clippers trade him as the centerpiece for a superstar level player (Kawhi Leonard?), but not likely at this stage. If anything, I believe an extension is the more probable option: If all goes well, Tobias should be a Clipper for years to come.