Harris front and center of Pistons offense amid breakout – All-Star? - season

Tobias Harris is on pace to break the Pistons franchise record for 3-point shots made in a season, held by Allan Houston.
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

NEW YORK – Tobias Harris was home for Wednesday’s rout of Brooklyn, which sits on Long Island where Harris still spends his off-seasons. But he’s looked at home all year, a breakout season that might yet land him in the All-Star game.

Through 40 games, he’s averaging a career-best 18.5 points and shooting .438 from the 3-point line, far and away the best of his seven-year NBA run.

It’s not just the added threat of the 3-point shot that’s unlocked the vast offensive potential NBA personnel evaluators have long seen in Harris, but that’s the factor at the head of the line.

“He’s just shot the three more and better. That’s been the big thing,” Stan Van Gundy said before Harris scored an effortless 22 points, hitting 10 of 14 shots, in the 114-80 crushing of the Nets. “He’s shot it OK up until this year and he would shoot it once in a while. Now if he has room he’s shooting it all the time and shooting it well. That’s made him tougher to guard. You’ve got to get out on the perimeter and play him. Tobias is a guy that’s always trying to find a way to get better and he put a lot of time in on that this summer.”

The 3-point shot was Harris’ focus back on Long Island last summer, often under the eye of ex-Pistons assistant Brendan Malone, still a team scout. The tweak he added to his workouts was doing everything he could to more accurately simulate game-type shots rather than merely doing the traditional NBA shooting drills around the perimeter. Not only is he shooting it more accurately – Harris’ career average is .351 from the arc – he’s taking 5.8 a game, up from 3.8 last season.

In hitting 2 of 4 in just 26 minutes at Brooklyn – he got the fourth quarter off with the Pistons sitting on a 29-point lead – Harris eclipsed 100 made 3-pointers faster than any player in franchise history. He’s on pace to break Allan Houston’s team record of 191 triples set in 1995-96.

“You don’t get those type of looks without a guy like Andre (Drummond) rolling to the basket,” he said. “You don’t get those looks without our guards coming off and creating separation. I’ve been on teams where those looks are tough to get and I’ve been able to get some really good ones, so a lot of it is due to the system.”

It’s a system suited to his skills and Van Gundy looks for any way he can to put Harris in favorable positions to score. The 3-point shot sets up the drive for him. He’s always been effective going to his left. This season he’s equally dangerous going to his right. Another focus of the summer – avoiding getting stripped en route to the basket – has paid dividends, too. And lately, with Reggie Jackson injured, Van Gundy has been putting the ball in Harris’ hands more to run pick and roll with Drummond.

Bottom line, he’s playing with a higher degree of confidence than at any time since coming to the NBA with peach fuzz for whiskers as an 18-year-old in 2011.

“He – really, you can tell – is more comfortable about what Coach wants,” Ish Smith said. “He’s just kind of fitting like a shoe. It doesn’t hurt that he shoots the ball at such a high rate from the 3-point line. Driving the basketball. He’s a talented scorer, so I think just knowing what Coach wants, he’s fitting in perfectly.”

The changes Van Gundy made to the offense with a greater emphasis on movement and cutting, and the turnover in the roster, where Marcus Morris’ presence once soaked up a lot of isolation possessions that are now freed for Harris, have made Harris a bigger part of the attack.

“It all goes hand in hand,” he said of the factors at play in his productivity spike. “Being able to shoot the three has teams coming out. More than anything, it opens it up for other guys. I don’t mind playing decoy at times, being able to be out there and see what we can pick apart on the pick and roll. And on top of that, just being able to get good looks. It’s all coming together. I’ve been able to get to the free-throw line a little bit more, so always trying to evaluate and trying to get better.”

With Jackson sidelined at least another month, the Pistons need Harris to be an every-game scoring force. His teammates aren’t about to let him think otherwise.

“I constantly talk to Tobias throughout the games,” Drummond said. “He’s very hard on himself. He wants to be perfect throughout the whole game, so I really stay in his ear about just keeping his head in the game and worrying about other things first before scoring. Obviously, we look to him to score, so I always tell him, ‘We’re going to come right back to you, so don’t worry about a missed shot.’ He’s in a space right now that we really need him to continue to stay in. When he plays like that, it makes my job a lot easier and makes everybody have a lot more fun.”