Tobias Harris fits in fast and eager to be part of Pistons future: ‘I love our team; I love our core’

Tobias Harris only played in one Pistons-Bulls game after arriving via trade in February, but made his presence felt in a big way in the win that virtually clinched a playoff berth.
Jesse D. Garrabrant (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Tobias Harris’ 13th game in a Pistons uniform turned out to be an extraordinarily unlucky one, the worst game of his first month with the team and the worst loss – 43 points – of Stan Van Gundy’s 728 games as an NBA head coach.

But it’s a pretty safe bet than Harris’ eight-point, one-rebound outing at Washington on Monday was an outlier. The Pistons saw enough from him over his first 12 games and 10 starts to feel even better today about the trade that made them fairly giddy when they added the 23-year-old from Orlando for Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova on Feb. 16.

“He’s a really smart guy. He’s got a great temperament,” Van Gundy said. “He’s a good team guy. I don’t know what the players would say, (but) to me, it feels like he’s been with us all year. You’re not feeling like you’ve got a new guy that’s acclimating. You feel like he’s been here all year, even in terms of the way he relates to his teammates.”

Even with Monday’s clunker, Harris is averaging 16.9 points and shooting better than 50 percent for the Pistons. Until a 0 of 4 shooting performance from the 3-point arc at Washington, he was also above 40 percent from distance for the Pistons.

“It’s actually been a pretty seamless transition,” Van Gundy said. “He’s unselfish. He’s been efficient. He hasn’t needed an inordinate amount of shots to get his stuff done. He moves the ball pretty well. It’s actually been pretty easy.”

In pretty much the same playing time – Harris is averaging a little more than 33 minutes a game with the Pistons, a shade under 33 for Orlando – Harris’ scoring is up more than three points per game.

“Every single night, he expects a lot out of me,” Harris said of playing for Van Gundy. “I let the rest handle itself. He has a lot of situations where me and Andre Drummond can get into pick and rolls. It’s been good for us. There’s been a lot of positives to a lot of our actions as a team. When we’ve played some great basketball, we’re moving and hitting the open guy.”

In Harris’ first few games, Van Gundy played him more at small forward with Marcus Morris playing more at power forward than he had all season. But Morris’ production dipped, so Van Gundy swapped them.

“We switched that around and it seemed, for whatever reason, to be a lot more comfortable,” he said. “A lot of times the other team will put their three on Tobias and their four on Marcus, but in terms of running our offense it’s been better with Tobias playing at the four. We got Marcus back in his comfort zone where he’s played all year.”

The Pistons got Stanley Johnson and Anthony Tolliver back from injury over the weekend, and while neither is back to form yet they give Van Gundy depth and much more flexibility. Harris, Morris, Johnson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope give the Pistons four defenders that can switch freely on the perimeter.

Johnson missed seven games, starting with the Feb. 22 win at Cleveland that marked Harris’ first start, and though impressed with Harris is eager to play more with him to better understand his game and how they’ll mesh.

“I’m still trying to figure out Tobias’ game, but I know he’s a great addition to our team, that’s for sure,” Johnson said. “What I have figured out this far is he puts the ball in the basket and he’s an invaluable leader to our team. He’s a great locker room guy. He’s a great person to hang around, another weapon on our team that we can use in various ways. Especially on the defensive end, we can switch a lot of things.”

Harris was part of an equally young team in Orlando with players like Nic Vucevic, Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon and Mario Hezonja, but the fit was a little less certain with the Magic than it is for him with the Pistons. Van Gundy thinks Harris can score 20 points a game as he matures, which would make him an ideal 1B option off of the 1A staple of the Pistons’ offense, the Reggie Jackson-Drummond pick and roll.

Harris recognized the fit immediately when he spoke with Van Gundy the day the trade was made and he checked out the ages of the players he’d be lining up with – Morris at 26, Jackson at 25, Caldwell-Pope 23 like him, Drummond 22 and Johnson 19.

“I love our team,” he said. “I love our core that we have here and I love everything about the city and the organization. So I’m happy and I’m excited.”