2017-2018 Season Preview: Tobias Harris

Image: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
The Detroit Pistons leading scorer for the 2016-2017, small forward/power forward Tobias Harris, wasn’t a primary starter for the most part.  The 25-year-old Harris, 6’9, 235 lbs, averaged 16.1 ppg, 5.1 apg, and 1.7 rpg while averaging 31.3 minutes per game.
Harris is entering his ninth season as he was drafted into the NBA in 2011 after one year under Bruce Pearl at the University of Tennessee.  Harris was selected by the Charlotte Bobcats with the 19th overall pick, but he was later traded to the Milwaukee Bucks that night.
Detroit is Harris’ third landing spot in his nine-year tenure.  After a couple of years with the Bucks were he appeared in 70 games, averaging a little under five minutes per game, the best thing yet for his career happened via trade.  On February 21, 2013, Harris was
traded in a multi-player swap to the Orlando Magic.
He finished the 2012-2013 season with the Magic, and in the final 27 games, he posted the best numbers of his career.  Harris went from averaging 4.9 ppg that year with the Bucks, to averaging 17.3 ppg with the Magic.  Unlike the Bucks, the Magic actually utilized Harri, and that enabled him to triple his points per game average, and more than quadrupled his rebounds, assists, and blocks per game.
However, overall Harris’ four seasons in Orlando basically summarizes what type of player he’s been as far as production.   After the banner finish to the 2012-2013 season, the following season Harris seen his numbers decline across the board.  In 2013-2014 he appeared in 61 games and started 36 of those games.  His points per game average dropped to 14.6, but that maybe been in direct correlation with a slight drop in minutes.
Seemingly, after that season Harris was challenged to step it up a notch, and he did just that.  in 2014-2015, Harris was primarily a starter for the magic as he started in 63 of his 68 appearances.  His numbers increased as he averaged 17.1 ppg while playing 34.8 mpg.
The progress he showed during that two-year time span landed him a four-year, $64 million contract with the Magic in July of 2015 prior to the season.  Little did the Magic know, Harris would prove that he wasn’t the right fit for their former head coach Scott Skiles’ system.  After starting in 49/49 games to begin the 2015-2016 season, the Magic elected to deal Harris to the Piston via multi-player trade on February 16, 2016.  At the time the reason for trade was obvious, but the return for the trade equalized to what some called a ‘robbery’ by the Pistons.
In a February 2016, Josh Benjamin a contributor to Forbes.com wrote an article titled ‘Detroit Pistons Commit Highway Robbery, Acquire Tobias Harris’, and in the article he explained the reason for the trade, and what Harris could project to be with the Pistons.
From Josh Benjamin: Forbes.com:
In reality, the Magic probably dealt Harris for one simple reason: he just wasn’t a fit in coach Scott Skiles’ system. Harris is more of a natural small forward and, under Skiles, was playing power forward in a starting lineup that saw the use of three guards in Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo and Evan Fournier with Harris and Nikola Vucevic manning the frontcourt. As a result of this, Harris was averaging just 13.7 points per game and despite posting seven rebounds per contest and shooting 46 percent from the field, his three-point shooting took a huge hit as he made just 31 percent from beyond the arc while also nursing various bumps and bruises.
Harris should see an all-around improvement since he’ll play small forward in the Motor City and Marcus Morris will move back to his more natural position at power forward, but the fact remains that the Magic were robbed blind in this deal. Instead of pushing for someone like athletic rookie wing Stanley Johnson in exchange for a potential star player in Harris, GM Rob Hennigan was content to deal Harris for two players who will be backups in the rotation, with second-year man Aaron Gordon expected to take over Harris’ starting spot unless Skiles opts to start Ilyasova.
NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Detroit Pistons
 Leon Halip-USA TODAY Sports
Benjamin’s prediction of an all-around improvement was spot on as Harris’ numbers increased once again as he finished the 2015-2016 season averaging 16.6 ppg in 27 games played.
Last season was the first time the Pistons got to see how Harris would really fit, and with multiple tweener forwards on the roster he held his own.  Those forwards included Marcus Morris, Jon Leuer, Stanley Johnson, and Henry Ellenson.  In 2016-2017 Harris appeared in all 82 games for the first time in his career which is a positive sign for his future with the Pistons.
Harris isn’t asked to be a supreme superstar starting forward in the Detroit Head Coach Stan Van Gundy’s system.  What Van Gundy see’s Harris as is a consistent, reliable forward that brings versatility to the Pistons’ roster.
From Josh Robbins: Orlando Sentinel:
“He’s played well both as a starter and coming off the bench,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “He’s played well both as a three and as a four. There’s really no difference. I would say the thing with Tobias is he’s been our most consistent guy, and that consistency goes across the board.”
“I look forward to him still taking big steps forward over the next couple of years,” Van Gundy said. “He’s only 24 years old. I think he continues to get better, and I think he’s got the potential to be a 18-, 19-, 20-point-a-game guy with good efficiency.”
Harris is a team player, and he’s one that his teammates have a certain amount of respect for.  The work that Harris puts in doesn’t go un-noticed, and Van Gundy can see another increase in production for him on the horizon.
From Paul Pasche: Oakland Press.com:
“I think our guys have great respect for Tobias and what he brings, what kind of pro he is and what kind of team guy he is and everything else,’’ Van Gundy said.
“I think he’s one of, if not the first guy, in the gym every day getting his work done. He’s very routine oriented, he’s always getting his work in, he’s in great shape, he gets his lifting done all the time. Takes care of himself, always ready to play in whatever role you need him to play,’’ Van Gundy said.
“No question, he’s a young guy. Tobias has been around a little while and even you guys know just the way he carries himself and his maturity. I think of our other guys being young, he’s 24 years old,’’ Van Gundy said. “He’s a young guy with a lot of development ahead of him. His production has gone up this year. I think he’ll continue the way he works to keep taking jumps.’’
In Van Gundy’s mind, Harris is a starter although the statistics don’t quite show that.  Between Johnson, Leuer, and Harris either of the three could actually get the start at the two forward positions, but without a doubt Harris will still log his 30-plus minutes.
From Keith Langlois: NBA.com:
“Tobias is a starter,” Van Gundy said of Harris, who played all 82 games and led the Pistons in total minutes last season but came off the bench 34 times. “There’s no question that he’s a starter. I think a lot of teams bring a starter off the bench. You’re trying to get the mix that you want.”
“Tobias is a starter. Andre is a starter. In my mind, Jon (Leuer) is a starter. And then I think guys like Stanley (Johnson), Reggie Bullock, Ish (Smith) – those guys have shown that they can start. I think Langston (Galloway) is capable of starting. It may just take a little longer in the preseason to figure out how we’re going to go.”
The question isn’t will Harris play, it’s where will he play.  Van Gundy likes having that stretch four that can consistently knock down a jumper, and the player that comes to mind when comparing Harris in Hedo Turkoglu.  Turkoglu thrived at the stretch-forward position, and Harris could possibly find success there himself.  As of now, Van Gundy isn’t permanently placing guys in positions as he’ll let the game itself determine where guys fit best.
From Keith Lanlois: NBA.com:
“That’ll be interesting to see how that comes out,” Van Gundy said. “A lot of that depends on him but it also depends on how the league goes in terms of who you’re playing against. But also how our other guys go and where our needs are in terms of Stanley and Jon and Henry (Ellenson) and Reggie Bullock and those other guys. Tobias is a guy we’re lucky with because he can play either spot. Among those other guys, as they compete for minutes, that’s going to determine more than anything where Tobias ends up playing.”
Tobias can most-certainly end up being the leading scorer for the Pistons again this season, but that’s yet to be determined if that’s totally a good thing.  If Harris can keep his numbers up, and guys around him like Drummond, Jackson, and Bradley are all productive it could make for the perfect mixture.  At this time Harris is the leader of the pack of forwards including the likes of Johnson, Luer, Ellenson, and Bullock.
Here’s an inside look of Harris’ off-season training routine:
Featured Image: Gregory Shamus, Getty Images

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