Monday, October 3, 2022

The Sixers’ $180 million star was left out by the NBA elite in the preseason rankings

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The Philadelphia 76ers will field one of the busiest rosters in the league next season. With former MVP James Harden and perennial contender Joel Embiid at the helm, and rising star Tyrese Maxey, the Sixers have about as fearsome a Top 3 as anyone in basketball.

And the bank improved mightily this summer, helped by the additions of De’Anthony Melton, Danuel House and Montrezl Harrell. Everyone should help improve a bench that finished 28th in scoring and 27th in assists last season.

And then there’s Tobias Harris. Philadelphia’s fourth option is reliable, but he’s certainly no star. In fact, the last individual honor Harris took home was a second-team All-SEC honor in 2011 while Harris was a freshman in Tennessee. The only problem? Harris is paid like someone who regularly receives All-Star nominations and All-NBA nominations. His $37.6 million next season is the 15th-highest in the league, sandwiched between Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler and Atlanta Hawks stud Trae Young.

But Harris isn’t even a top 50 player, let alone a top 16. At least according to ESPN. The sports network released its preseason NBA player rankings, listing the Sixers forward at No. 56. It’s a tough rank, especially considering Harris was up ten spots last season at No. 46.

In its ranking, the network asked Harris a serious question ahead of next season.

Harris’ lower rank likely comes as a result of his likely place in the Sixers’ pecking order being lower this season than last year. Around this time last summer, Harris had a legitimate case that he was the Sixers’ second-best option behind Joel Embiid, with Ben Simmons calling for a trade and sitting out.

But after the addition of James Harden at the close and the rapid rise of Tyrese Maxey, Harris suddenly finds himself fourth on the Sixers’ depth chart. ESPN noted this factor in its analysis.

“For the last two months of last season, Harris settled into a groove playing alongside James Harden, who was picked up midseason and arguably played the best basketball of his career. But in a team where he is now arguably the fourth goalscorer, can he take on that sort of role over a full season? (Harris will also be spending more time at the small forward due to the arrival of PJ Tucker.),” ESPN’s Tim Bontemps wrote on Sept. 20.

In theory, the addition of Harden and the rise of Maxey should ease the pressure on Harris. On the downside, Harris risks slipping even further into the background, a factor made more difficult by his mega salary.

But the Sixers could also try to trade Harris. In fact, one analyst thinks Harris isn’t involved at all in Philadelphia’s best crunch time lineup.

Harris’ reliability and contract will likely mean he gets into the starting lineup this season, no questions asked. And during the regular season, his play could mean the difference between a game or two.

But in playoff time, the Sixers could experiment with different roster types, including one that trades Harris for De’Anthony Melton, the Sixers’ tenacious defenseman who was traded in over the summer. And it could be Philadelphia’s best-case scenario.

“Without Harris, the roster makes more theoretical sense: imagine Embiid and Tucker’s big precourt, complemented by the jarring contrast of Maxey’s and Melton’s athleticism, all orchestrated by Harden’s dazzling basketball brain. That’s the ideal that Sixers’ most optimistic forecasters have in mind,” wrote RealGM’s John Wilmes last week.

Harris’ name swirled in trade rumors all summer. And it looks like it could become Sixers GM Daryl Morey’s latest blockbuster chip.

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