The FanRag Sports Offseason Rankings count down the top 100 NBA players throughout the offseason. Methodology, voters and the full countdown are all detailed in the introductory post.
Tobias Harris of the Detroit Pistons very quietly had a solid season in 2016-17, and as a result, he is the first player in our countdown to be ranked by all five of our voters. In fact, he’s one of the least controversial rankings we had. The disparity between the highest ranking (99) and lowest (94) was only five placements. That kind of clustering was unique outside of the top 20, with only one other player getting that much agreement.
What it is it about Harris that says, “definitely top-100, but not much more than that?”
Two types of forwards aren’t quite small forwards or power forwards. Some can play either position (combo forwards) and some play neither (tweener forwards). Draymond Green is a great example of a combo forward. He’s quick enough to stay in front of threes and long enough and strong enough to defend fours. Nikola Mirotic is an example of a tweener forward. He doesn’t quite have the muscle to bang inside or the lateral quickness to defend capable wings like Paul George or LeBron James.
If we had a sliding bar between “tweener” and “combo,” Harris would be exactly in the middle. He’s just good enough to remain competitive on both ends at either position, but he’s not a game changer. Still, even limited skills at two positions in the modern NBA is enough to make a top-100 player.
The problem is wondering where the rise will come from. Last year, Harris scored 16.1 points per game, and according to Basketball-Reference.com, he had 21.7 usage percentage and a 56.8 true shooting percentage. All of those numbers seem to be near his peak. There were a couple of seasons (2013-14 and 2014-15) with the Orlando Magic when his usage percentage was higher, but his true shooting percentage was lower.
He’s not a “bad” rebounder. He averaged just 5.1, but he’s competing with teammate Andre Drummond for them, so that can be misleading. He has never shown a propensity to be a passer, either. Over the last five years, his player efficiency rating has never fallen above 16.9 or below 16.0. That indicates how stable he is.
Harris has more “combo forward” in him on the offensive end, with the ability to post up or stretch the court. He averaged 1.068 points per possession on spot-ups (74th percentile). He takes his range out to 3 at a 34.7 percent clip, which is solid for a stretch four.
He can also take the ball inside. He averaged 1.026 on post-ups (86th percentile). He has real skills there. He recognizes the mismatches and can back down the defender and create shots off the dribble inside, as he demonstrates right here:
Harris finished 44th out of 69 small forwards in Defensive Real Plus-Minus according to ESPN. When he was the closest defender on the play, opponents shot 2.2 percent better from the field within six feet of the bucket, per NBA.com.
However, he also finished in the 51st percentile in points per possession against in his Synergy numbers. What accounts for the disparity between those numbers and the other numbers?
It’s not that Harris is a “bad” defender, but he can be exploited — he’s just a little too slow to catch up to the play. That gets accounted for more through DRPM and defensive field goal percentage than with Synergy numbers, which just track when he’s the initial defender on the play.
Here’s an example of him rotating late, and the opponent getting the bucket as a result of it.
His defense is good enough to keep him on the court, and his offense is enough for coaches to want him there, but it’s hard to see where he will elevate his game from here. He doesn’t have a lot of room between his floor and his ceiling.