DA's Morning Tip

Morning Tip Q&A: Tobias Harris

The Pistons' leading scorer explains how his offseason work has led to a fast start in 2016-17

David Aldridge

For a young man, Tobias Harris has already some long, strange trips in his NBA career. At 24, he’s already on his third team, though it’s likely he’ll be a Detroit Piston a long time after abbreviated stops in Milwaukee and Orlando. Harris, famously, has generated all manner of copy from NBA types trying to figure exactly what he is, and how good he can be.

When he was with the Bucks, he came off the bench, but quickly fell out of favor with then-coach Scott Skiles. Traded to Orlando, the thought was the Magic would make him a key piece of a young core, especially after Orlando gave him a $64 million contract in the summer of 2015 (with the approval, one assumed, of the Magic’s new coach — Scott Skiles).

But Harris didn’t last a year with Skiles before the Magic sent him to Detroit for the expiring contracts of Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings. But this time, he was going to a coach in Stan Van Gundy who had a clear, affirmative vision of how he wanted to use Harris. Van Gundy was an early stretch-four utilizer, going back to the days of Rashard Lewis in Orlando, and he had similar designs for Harris — though, basically, the forward spots are interchangeable in Van Gundy’s system, meaning Harris and Marcus Morris would both have to not only shoot, but facilitate off the dribble.

So Harris had to get more clubs in his bag entering this season. So far, the results are promising; he’s averaging a career-best and team-high 18.8 points per game for the 4-2 Pistons, whose offense hasn’t suffered so far despite the loss of Reggie Jackson (knee surgery). And Harris has shown improvement at two areas where he was challenged by Van Gundy to improve — defense and shooting.

So far — again, it’s early — Harris is shooting 45 percent on threes, while still being prolific in close. Only DeMar DeRozan attempts more shots between 5 and 9 among wing players as the slashing Harris, per NBA.com/Stats. Now he’s part of a new question: just how good can the Pistons, a team put together by trade and Draft rather than free agency, and a sum of the parts group if there ever was one, be? Playoff good or sneaky pick for second- or third round of the playoffs good?

Me: Your offensive numbers have spiked in the first two weeks of the season. What’s going on there?

Tobias Harris: Just finding my rhythm and finding a good balance within the team, and coach and teammates putting me in good situations out on the floor. And a lot of it has to do with a lot of work I did in the summer, fine tuning a lot of things in my game. I really worked on a lot of spots where I’m at this year, in those types of areas. It’s just a combo of those, pretty much.

Me: Now you worked with Dale Ellis this summer, right?

TH: I worked with Dale this summer a little bit, for about a week and a half. Also was working with Nate Brown, out of New York City, with ProHoops. We’ve been putting a lot of work in. We watched a lot of film on a lot of spots where I was. We started off the summer really focused on the three-point shot, three-point shooting, and building off of that. That’s where I looked at the game — the more I can open it up with 3-point shooting, myself and teammates, it opens up the court for everybody else.

Me: When you looked at the film of yourself, was it a mechanical issue, was it strength, or some combination?

TH: Not really. It’s just more, Coach wanted me, at the end of last season, and going into this season, he wanted me to really focus on when I attacked the basket, making strong finishes, strong moves, trying to get to the free throw line. I looked at ways where I could attack, different types of finishes, but also different types of angles, where I’m attacking the basket and reading the defense a little better. I did a lot of strength and conditioning on my body, to get stronger, lessen the body fat. I feel better out there, and I can play a lot of minutes due to being in pretty good shape, with a really good diet and a balance of healthy foods.

Me: Did you hire a chef?

TH: I hired a personal chef this summer and I’m still with him now in Detroit. It’s good to do that and be able to have a lot of balanced meals that help me with my energy, and with body, and focus the way I train and the way I play.

Me: It’s always hard for any of us who cover games to kind of wind down after they’re over, so I can only imagine how hard it is for players after running up and down for two hours, but you’re hungry and it’s late. What do you do now with that postgame meal and routine?

TH: It’s funny that you bring that up. I’m all about that. Especially this summer, I really tried to get myself in a sleeping pattern where I’m able to get 8-10 hours of sleep a night, build those habits. Because when the season starts you travel a lot after games, so you’ve got to have good fundamental habits with your sleeping. That’s huge for me. The other day, we were home, and when the game was over, we were on a plane to New York. I was on the plane meditating, because I do meditation after the game for about 10 minutes. Andre (Drummond) and Reggie, they was laughing, because they didn’t know what I was doing. So I had to explain to them that I meditate after the game. I’m telling my body that it’s time to relax, time to let the game go and get ready for bed and get ready for the next day.

Me: Do you do a regular chant or meditation, or does it vary depending on circumstance?

TH: It’s an app on the iPhone I use called Headspace. It kind of structured it to a whole bunch of different mediation packages, like balance, focus, sleep meditation, just to help in those areas. It varies through the day. In the morning I do a focus one especially on game days, and other days I do the balance. At night, I do a sleeping one.

Me: How have you all been able play through Reggie’s injury so far, and not only be productive enough offensively, but be real good defensively?

TH: We know Reggie’s our point guard. Any time you don’t have him out there, it’s tough. We have a good group of guys who are all pulling for the exact same thing, and that’s to win basketball. Coach has told all of us that he needs everybody to step up. For us, that’s going out and playing for each other, and playing together. Ish (Smith) has done a great job. Ish is a guy who started, I believe, every single game for the Sixers. He’s been able to playing against those starting caliber guards and do really well against them. It’s just a matter of all of us coming together and building that chemistry, learning how he plays, him learning how we play and going from there. We’ve done a good job so far. Coach has told us we’ve got to take a defensive approach in every single game. Defense first. That has been key for us, especially the games we’ve been able to win.

Me: When Reggie gets back, I know he and Andre had to work through some things last year. How does he integrate himself into the offense and what everyone’s doing, so that you guys don’t get bogged down just running screen and rolls and the ball keeps popping?

TH: For us, it will. Reggie’s such a great threat, getting to the basket and finishing. He demands a lot of respect from defenses. It’s going to be on all of us. When Reggie gets back, we have to move the ball even more. We have to get even better looks offensively. When Reggie gets back, he’s going to play his game, and he’s going to be aggressive like we need him to be. He’s going to do what he needs to do out there. When Reggie gets back, we expect him to do that. We don’t want to take a step back, we want keep it going and keep it flowing, and when Reggie gets back we want to make it as easy as we can for him to come in and feel comfortable and play his game.

Me: I know Stan challenged you, specifically, to be better defensively. What did he want from you?

TH: He wanted (me) to give it a better focus. Myself, as an offensive player, he wanted me to change that type of thinking. Let’s get stops, then let’s run. Because in the open court, out there, I’m a really good runner. So the more we can get stops, the more we can not take the ball out of the rim, the more we can get out and run, it makes it better for our offense. It’s that change of thinking. At the same time, this summer, he wanted me to get laterally quicker. And I was doing that with speed and agility two times a week during the summer, and doing yoga, pretty much five times a week, to get my stance lower, and (improve) flexibility, things of that nature. There’s a lot that went into it, but it’s really paid off. I feel my base, my leg base is a lot better in the post versus bigger guys, and that’s been a key for us.

Me: So you’ve been comfortable defensively when you’ve been at the four?

TH: Yeah. Between me and Marcus, we pretty much split the positions at three and four. And the three is the about same thing as the two. In our offense, the three is basically the flip of the two. Defensively, I’m comfortable playing the four. I’ve played a lot of fours already so far, and a lot of threes, too. The biggest thing is the change of calls when you go from three to four, but at the same time, it’s been good for us.

Me: How is Andre continuing to develop defensively with the core group?

TH: For us, it’s just talking to each other, especially with Andre. He’s such a catalyst for us. He’s the best rebounder in the NBA. He gets all the rebounds. The biggest thing that he’s doing this year that’s helping us is he’s sacrificing his body at the defensive end, making guards alter shots. That’s something coach has pushed all of us to do, but especially him. We fuel off of that. Defensively, he’s our centerpiece, especially when guards are coming off of pick and rolls. He’s an intimidating guy to go at, and he’s done a great job of showing that.

Me: You took part in the town hall meeting in Detroit the other day, with athletes from the four major sports teams, kids from the area, police and representatives of Stephen Ross’s RISE (Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality) program. Athlete gestures like linking arms during the anthem are important, but what’s the next step? And what was your motivation for taking part?

TH: As a team, for some time now, ever since we started training camp, we saw a lot of teams in the NBA locking arms. We did that also, to show unity and stuff like that. But for us, and for myself, me and Marcus (Morris) and the Pistons organization and teammates, we sat down and really talked. We’ve got to take action. We can’t just show unity by locking arms. We’ve got to go out and really be proactive in a way that we’re helping to seek change. That’s the biggest thing for me. We was able to have a town hall meeting with police officers, political leaders and people from the inner city and of that nature, youth also. The biggest thing is, and what I learned from being there and talking, was just understanding where people are coming from, understanding how people feel, what can be done, what we need to do as an organization to help that. As athletes, as people, the way we’re looked at in the community, and through kids, we’re looked at as role models. The more we can use that to help build better relationships, to help people get along better, we have to acknowledge that and we have to go and do our part with that. It was something that was good because it was a good dialogue where people could talk and people could get a better understanding from both sides. For myself, I was talking to Marcus [Morris] about this the other day, it ain’t gonna change in 24 hours, you know? But the little by little we can keep chopping and keep on building and keep on making an impact and making a positive change, years from now, that can do well for the next generation. When you look at it in a future perspective, and how long it’ll be, talking and mentoring kids and helping their families, it’s a process and that’s what we have to understand.

Me: Did you get a sense that there was meaningful dialogue between the community and the police, ‘cause that’s obviously where this all has started from?

TH: That was the biggest thing for everyone that was present there. Okay, we have a town hall, and that’s good. We get to communicate; we get to have dialogue. Now, there has to be the next step to that. What we talked about in there was we need to have, our focus should be, when is the next one, where we’re sitting down and we’re talking about, hey, this is the plan in place, this is what we can do to help the community, to help the youth, the kids, to help parents also. That’s our next step and our next focus. We’re not going to just leave it with one town hall where everybody talked about this or that. We’re trying to make that next step and really make that positive change.

Me: Cleveland obviously has the top spot in the East right now, but after that it’s kind of open. Toronto and Boston and Atlanta are all good. Do you feel like you guys are kind of under the radar?

TH: We definitely do. Obviously it’s early in the season right now, but everybody in our locker room, we have a mindset and we have a focus to push it to the limit, to really exceed all expectations and get even further than that. Our goal is to push it every single day and go out there and play as hard as we can and let the rest take care of itself. We have high expectations for ourselves. We say every day, why not us? That’s our key focus here is why not us? That’s the way we have to play.


–Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (@MarcGasol), Wednesday, 11:15 pm, after shooting 3 of 18 from the floor against New Orleans. Memphis only shot 35 percent as a team, yet managed to still beat the woeful Pelicans, 89-83.


“It’s been a little surprising to me, the guys being rested already. Are guys really worn down already? We’re four games into the year and guys are resting their players. That part has been surprising to me. I know it’s a league-wide trend as we get into the season, but I didn’t really expect to see it the first week, to be quite honest. But that’s not us. And there are other ways to rest people. Look, the media will judge you by how many minutes your guys play. But we can actually rest guys other ways. Like tomorrow, (it) will be a day off for us. That’s a day of rest. And I think will actually provide more rest for them than playing four fewer minutes tonight or something like that.”

— Pistons Coach Stan Van Gundy, on the increasing trend around the league to rest players, even early in the season, to save wear and tear and reduce the chance of injuries because of heavy work loads in a short period.

“I know how good we can be; I know how good we were. We’re nowhere close to it. It’s embarrassing, the way we’re playing and how we look on the floor.”

— Paul George, to the Indianapolis Star, on the Pacers’ 2-3 start out of the gate — they did blow the Bulls out Saturday night, at least — which not only is making them look bad, but also national idiots who picked them to go to the Eastern Conference finals.

“You know, $56 million is crazy — I would play this game for free…this is way more money than I would spend in three lifetimes.”

— Charlotte center Cody Zeller, displaying refreshing honesty after getting a four-year extension for the above amount from the Hornets just before the deadline to extend Class of 2013 draftees expired last Monday.

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Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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