Harris shines in new beginning with Clippers
LOS ANGELES — If you can impress “The Logo,” that’s saying something.
On Feb. 8 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, a little more than a week after the Clippers traded Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons, Clippers President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank and special advisor Jerry West were set to take the stage and address hundreds of LA fans in attendance.
Prior to the event, West spent time backstage, chatting with others in the vicinity, before a voice asked him about the Clippers’ newest frontcourt player.
“Well, have you seen Tobias play?” West replied. “He’s a helluva player.”
The Tobias that West was referring to is Clippers forward Tobias Harris, one of those rare athletes who possesses the size of a power forward but the skills of a shooting guard.
And in his first half-season in LA, Harris’s skillset was on full display, leaving a lasting impression on fans and the team, and causing many to envision the impact that the young forward – not yet in his prime – can have on the future of the franchise.
Surprisingly, Harris’s talent has yet to earn him stability in the NBA. He was drafted by Milwaukee in 2011, and has since undergone stints in Orlando and Detroit before arriving in LA at the end of January 2018.
After averaging 5.0 points in his rookie season in Milwaukee, and 4.9 points in the first half of his second season with the Bucks, Harris’s third year served as his breakout season. He averaged 17.3 points after being traded to the Magic in 2012, and hasn’t scored less than 14.6 points in any season since.
After spending two more seasons in Orlando, Harris was dealt to Detroit in 2015, where he continued to enjoy success. And during the first half of 2017-18, Harris was averaging a career-high 18.1 points per game, before becoming a key piece of the trade that landed Griffin in the Motor City.
Harris enjoyed the most success of his young career in a Clippers uniform, but it takes understanding where his career started to put into context just how much his success in LA really means, namely with his much-improved shooting ability, specifically from three.
Harris grew up playing nationally on the AAU circuit, and according to Clippers coach Doc Rivers, Harris – who would often matchup with Clippers guard Austin Rivers’ teams when they were both young teens – mostly played center due to his size, rarely venturing out to three-point land.
During his lone season at the University of Tennessee in 2010-11, Harris connected on just 23 three-pointers in 34 games. And in his first five years in the NBA, he connected on 239 shots from deep total.
But over the last two NBA seasons, Harris has hit 292 threes, becoming one of the NBA’s best marksmen from deep, even finishing third in this year’s NBA Three-Point Shootout.
Most impressively, Harris has become a better scorer each season he’s spent in the league. Only once – between the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons – has his scoring average dropped from one year to the next, and his field goal percentage for a season has never dipped lower than the 45.5 percent he shot in his second season.
Over the course of the entire 2017-18 season, Harris averaged a career-high 18.6 points on 46 percent shooting from the field and 41 percent shooting from three, well above his previous career-high of 36 percent from three in 2014-15. And in 32 games with the Clippers, Harris averaged 19.3 points per game on 47 percent shooting from the field and 41 percent from three.
In those 32 appearances, Harris shined considerably, so much so that Rivers admitted towards the end of the season that he didn’t expect Harris to produce to the level that he had.
"He's better than I thought," Rivers said. "I knew he was a good player. We didn't know how good.”
Harris scored 20 or more points in 16 of his 32 appearances with LA, including two 30+ point performances. In those games in which Harris eclipsed 20 points, he shot 55 percent from the field and 51 percent from three. He also averaged 6.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists in those games.
”At his size, he's a nightmare to match up with,” said Rivers of Harris, who stands 6-foot-9 and 235 pounds.
Lastly, Harris was one of only four players this season to average more than 18 points while shooting at least 46 percent from the field, 41 percent from three, and 80 percent from the free throw line. The other three are Golden State’s Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, and Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns.
”He's just so efficient offensively,” Rivers said. “He’s a really, really good basketball player.”