Harris back at work with the sting of 2016-17 still fresh in mind

Tobias Harris is the most accomplished of the four forwards on Stan Van Gundy’s roster.
Rocky Widner (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

ORLANDO – Tobias Harris caught the ball out of the net on the shot that essentially ended the Pistons season. It came March 21 at the buzzer in Brooklyn when 7-footer Brook Lopez hit a fadeaway one-footer from an impossible angle to seal a 98-96 loss that dropped the Pistons to 34-37 and opened what became a 0-4 road stretch.

Harris slammed the ball to the court in disgust, the pain of a bewildering unraveling to the season as clearly read in his face as the “Pistons” across his chest.

Guess what? It’s still there.

“Everybody is upset by how the season ended last year and how we didn’t play up to our potential,” Harris said Sunday after watching the Summer League Pistons dominate New York 103-78. “It’s something that we as a collective unit know we need to be better at.”

Harris knew the Pistons wouldn’t have much room under the salary cap to augment the roster this July, which is OK by him. He’s hoping to come back with much the same team and get a chance to press the reset button on a year that saw the Pistons slip from 44 wins and a playoff berth to 37 and the lottery.

“I think there’s a lot of moves going on, but at the end of the day, Coach and the staff, they put together this team and they trust the group of guys that we have. We’ve got to take initiative on ourselves to really push through, especially for ourselves but also for the city of Detroit and for our team.”

The absence of Reggie Jackson for the season’s first 21 and final nine games contributed to offensive inconsistencies and inefficiencies that plunged the Pistons to 25th in offensive rating. Improved 3-point shooting is both a team-wide and individual goal for Harris, who like most of his teammates saw a year-over-year decline, his from .375 in 27 games after the February 2016 trade to .347 last season – or the difference in being above the league average and falling below it.

That despite Van Gundy sending his primary perimeter players – Harris, Marcus Morris, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Stanley Johnson – home with instructions to come back improved shooters last summer, as well. After the 2016-17 season saw the Pistons fall to 28th in 3-point shooting at .330, Van Gundy directed them to alter their off-season shooting routines to more closely approximate NBA game conditions.

Harris has taken heed, he said.

“Me and the coaches talked about that, too,” Harris said. “More of in the sense of getting up a lot of game-type of reps in the way where you’re shooting the basketball more times, looking to get up the reps instead of really the makes. You’re trying to get it off fast, like in a game. A lot of different variations of drills, like one-minute drills where you’re trying to find out how many attempts you can get. At the same time, you’re not just throwing the ball up – trying to actually have a good percentage when you’re shooting it.”

Harris got an eyeful of the last two Pistons No. 1 draft picks, seated on their bench for the first two games of Summer League in Orlando, where Harris still has the home in which he lived while playing for the Magic. He spent a fair amount of time in practices last season going against Henry Ellenson and sees marked growth in him over the past few months.

“You can watch him in Summer League and see that he’s getting stronger out there,” said Harris, a six-year veteran despite the fact he won’t turn 25 until later this month. “Not letting guys push him off his position, rebounding the ball well. Also just making plays. He’s a guy that can score the ball, but he’s also out there making some plays for other guys.”

Of Luke Kennard, Harris sees another candidate to help points come a little easier for the Pistons next season.

“Just a very crafty player. He’s a smart player, too,” Harris said. “Plays at his own pace. Has different finishes around the rim and can shoot the ball. He passed up a couple shots (Sunday), but I think as he continues to get his comfort level down, as he continues to get confident, those will be shots he’ll be knocking down and shooting.”