Hits the boards at 6 p.m.
Tobias Harris’ first full season with the 76ers should be quite different than after he arrived in a February 2019 trade from the Clippers.
For starters, the departures of Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick should give him more opportunities in the halfcourt offense — both as a spot-up shooter and as the ball-handler in pick-and-roll situations. He also is going through the preseason in Philadelphia after coming to the Sixers with two months left in last year’s regular season.
The switch from power forward to small forward alongside starters Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson and big men Al Horford and Joel Embiid should affect him somewhat on offense but more so at the defensive end.
After doing a decent job against power forwards last year, Harris’ biggest challenge will be matching up with smaller, quicker ‘3’ men. Those guys tend to be more viable threats in terms of creating their own shots and beating guys off the dribble than typical 4s.
“The thing that was most on my mind was watching him defend 3s,” said Sixers coach Brett Brown. “And I think he’s been great. He’s so prideful. He’s heard a lot about maybe he’s not going to be able to handle that from a defensive standpoint and so far I haven’t seen it at all.
“He’s been one of our better defensive players. He’s committed on staying down. He’s not getting blown by. I think his stance and his kick leg, his fundamentals, have been great. He worked at it all summer. That’s the most significant thing on my mind. We get what he is at a 4. The judgment day is what he’s like at a 3.”
The sample size is quite small. The Sixers have only played two exhibition games — Tuesday against the overmatched Guangzhou Loong Lions from China and Friday’s road meeting with the Hornets in which Embiid rested, resulting in Harris starting at power forward and playing more at that position than he does when Embiid is in the lineup.
While Harris will still play some at the 4 after signing a five-year, $180 million contract to remain with the Sixers, the ‘3’ is where he expects to spend most of his time on the court.
The 27-year-old Harris has averaged 15.4 points and shot 36.4 percent from 3-point range in eight NBA seasons. He was primarily a 3 with the Clippers prior to the trade, then moved over to power forward here.
Improving on defense was “a huge emphasis for me this summer — lateral quickness and being able to stay lower longer,” according to Harris.
“It’s been a higher level for me. A lot of the coaches have been able to see that. It’s something that’s been motivating me. I want to be a better two-way player for myself and for us as a group. That’s something I definitely took a lot of time this summer. It’s something that’s going to open up a lot of doors for our group as a collective unit and for myself, also.”
Harris and the Sixers visit the Magic in another preseason contest Sunday night.
If Harris struggles against small forwards the way Redick did vs. quicker shooting guards, opponents will consistently try to take advantage of it and Brown might need to make some adjustments. That hasn’t been the case at all, according to Simmons.
“He wants to be one of the best defenders in the NBA,” Simmons said. “I think so far he’s doing a great job setting an example for all of us.”
While transition “D” could be a concern, the Sixers believe they can be among the league’s top defensive clubs due to the starters’ size, length and versatility. They should be able to contest shots both inside and on the perimeter, and get into passing lanes for steals to jump-start the fast break.
“I think we’re going to be an amazing group, defensively,” Harris said, “once we’re all locked in and understand that’s going to be the key factor for us to reach our goal.”
The stated goal is to secure an NBA title after reaching the Eastern Conference semifinals in each of the past two seasons.
Perhaps the starters with the most essential defensive responsibilities are Richardson on the point guard and Harris when he’s facing small forwards.
Harris is confident he’ll be up to the task.
“I really worked hard this summer to improve my defense, to make that a focal point to my game,” Harris said. “That’ll bring a lot of success to this team. ... I’m so excited for this upcoming season to try to help us win a championship.”
If Harris can do a solid job defending small forwards, it certainly wouldn’t hurt the Sixers’ chances.
Tom Moore: firstname.lastname@example.org; @TomMoorePhilly