Harris’ approach to reserve role is example for Pistons

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — For a good part of the season, Tobias Harris wasn’t happy — but he didn’t show it publicly.

Last week, Marcus Morris had had enough — and he did show it.

The Pistons’ two starting forwards have two of the more distinctly different personalities on the team, but they’re both becoming leaders in their own ways. And in some respects, they’ve been two of the biggest keys to the Pistons’ turnaround in the past few weeks.

That the Pistons are surging and trending toward a playoff spot isn’t due to only one or two players — Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Ish Smith and others each has played a significant role during a short period, to keep the team on track.

Harris went about his business quietly after he was sent to the bench in favor of Jon Leuer in late December. It wasn’t that Harris had done anything wrong; rather, coach Stan Van Gundy was looking to get better chemistry out of the starting lineup and bench.

That meant change — and change isn’t always easy for players to absorb or comprehend.

“Like coach discussed, when he first decided to make the move, that it was a move for the team to bring more balance all around,” Harris said this month. “Any time a coach comes and explains that to you and lets you know it’s not a demotion — that it’s just as a team trying to figure out ways to capitalize on the floor — you get a sense of understanding.”

After starting the first 31 games and posting 15.6 points and 4.9 rebounds, Harris went about his business, grousing to himself. As the team’s leading scorer this season, he knew the change wasn’t a punishment and he accepted the role of sixth man.

And that turned into leadership of a different sort — the quiet leader.

“Our guys have great respect for Tobias, what he brings, what kind of pro he is and the team guy he is,” Van Gundy said Wednesday. “He’s one of the first guys in the gym getting his work done; he’s very routine-oriented and always getting his work in.”

With the Pistons’ young roster — only Aron Baynes (30) and Beno Udrih (34) are older than 28 — the leadership is more of a group mentality than any one individual who is the team voice. Morris took on some of that responsibility with his tirade last week during the big win over the Cavaliers.

But Harris also is leading by example, by what he’s doing on the court during games and in practice — and what he didn’t do when he got the news that he wasn’t starting.

“It is a move at first that I didn’t really like, but you have to be a professional and do what’s best for the team,” Harris said. “We’ve shown some flashes and that’s the main thing, what you come to work for every day.”

In the 33 games since going to the bench, Harris increased his production to 16.9 points and 5.4 rebounds, including seven starts — because of Leuer’s injuries. He got comfortable on the court in the role of super-sub, getting more opportunities to score and shouldering most of the offensive responsibility in the second group.

Trading for Harris just before the deadline last season has paid off so far — and with his experience, he looks to be a piece that will continue to be valuable.

“Tobias has been around a little while and the way he carries himself and his maturity. I look at our other guys as being young — he’s 24 years old,” Van Gundy said. “He’s a young guy with a lot of development ahead of him. His production has gone up this year and he’ll continue the way he works to keep taking jumps. We’re excited about the future.” @detnewsRodBeard