First off let me just say, I'm a huge fan of Tobias Harris. When we acquired him from the Milwaukee Bucks in the J.J. Redick deal, I was skeptical at first. I like many of you, was completely unaware of either his character or the NBA skill set that he possessed. During the 2012-13 season he played in 27 games for the Orlando Magic. During that stretch his per game averages are as follows, 17 points, 8.5 rebounds while showing a hint of promise from deep at .310%. He dazzled us with his athleticism as well as competitive desire to win! Pundits even dared to grace him with Carmelo Anthony comparisons. His emergence at the end of a disappointing season left us with hope for the future!
Tobias Harris's performances early in the 2013-14 season has left many of us shaking our heads. His statistics have taken a hit in multiple categories. Sure the excuse that he was hampered by a high ankle sprain can be made, but in the last two weeks, he appears to be completely healthy. I would agree that a healthy 2 week sample size is small, but in my mind, it has justifiably raised some old questions in regards to Tobias Harris and what position he should play in the NBA. The main talking point in regards to Tobias is his label as a tweener. Is he a small forward or a power forward? This issue has dogged him since his collegiate career and more importantly during the vetting process of the 2011 NBA draft. It seems the Magic have decided that Tobias Harris is best served as a NBA power forward. Is the front office and coaching staff correct in this decision? Below I will discuss three scenarios for Tobias Harris and his future with the Orlando Magic
1. As a power forward Tobias is a mismatch for defenders, he has shown the ability beat larger, slower players of the bounce and finish at the rim. He has also shown he can stretch the floor and create spacing by forcing defenders to guard him on the perimeter. On offense it appears he can be successful! Trouble for him begins on the defensive end, he is lacking the size and strength to contain larger, more powerful opponents. A familar scene consist of Tobias getting backed down and bullied in the post. He also struggles rebounding against these taller, longer power forwards. If he is to be an NBA starting PF he needs to transform his body. I will say his increase in muscle mass this season is noticeable, but its just the beginning. He needs to undertake a massive weightlifting and strength training regiment. He needs to add enough strength so that he can't be bullied in the post, as well as the ability to hold his box outs for an extended length of time.
2. As a small forward he could also be successful. My opinion is that his ceiling as a small forward is a lot lower. On offense he doesn't have the advantages he has against the larger, slower power forwards. He has a higher likelihood of posting up defenders rather than trying to beat the quicker, more agile small forwards off the bounce. His abilty to defend small forwards depends greatly on his lateral quickness. If he can keep small forwards from penitrating the lane, he has a distinct advantage on the boards. In my opinion, if Tobias is going to become a small forward, he needs to pull a Sylvester Stallone from Rocky III. He needs to engage in a conditioning program designed to make him as quick and agile as possible. He would need to bring his body fat to an absolute minimum in order to justify extended minutes as a small forward.
3. Tobias may never be able to shake the tweener label. He may never be able to be a huge success at either forward position. The reality for him and the Magic, may be that he is best served as a sixth man off the bench. In that role he would most likely face up against opposing teams bench players. His size and speed disadvantages could be minimized against players that aren't as physically gifted or talented. I know many would see this as a failure for him and the organization, but I don't think he would be considered as a failure or a bust. As a sixth man he could provide great line up flexibility as well as a nice insurance policy for injured starters.