Philadelphia — Last season was a good year for Tobias Harris. It just wasn’t an excellent one.
The Detroit Pistons missed the playoffs, and although he had good numbers, Harris hadn’t quite found his groove in the offense, shuttling back and forth between starting and reserve roles.
Going into the summer, he had some specific homework: improving his 3-point shooting. He began work with his trainer, Nate Brown, in New York and the regimen was grueling — but it’s proven effective.
He hit a respectable 35 percent from beyond the arc last season, but coach Stan Van Gundy had visions of a bigger role for Harris in the offense, so Harris and Brown went to work.
“Our biggest thing was getting high-quality reps in and then making sure the shots were game shots with elevation on the jump shots and being able to get it off quick and fast,” Harris told The Detroit News. “We got to the lab and the first two weeks, I was only shooting with one hand from the 3-point line. It was just building that foundation, and then we starting ramping it up.
“It was a lot of reps. I don’t know the amount — probably about 500. Some days it was more than others.”
Harris started the regular season hitting more than 50 percent of his 3-pointers and has cooled relatively to 44 percent. The hard work and grind of the summer has paid off in the steady improvement of his game.
Harris, 25, is leading the Pistons with a career-best 18.1 points this season and has solidified his spot, starting in all 36 games. He’s more versatile, working at either forward spot, but has found his niche as a key offensive weapon in Van Gundy’s lineup.
That was the clear objective for Van Gundy in the offseason: horde as many 3-point shooters as he could. That led to drafting Luke Kennard and signing Reggie Bullock, Anthony Tolliver and Langston Galloway in free agency.
As a team, the Pistons are shooting 38 percent from 3-point range, ranking sixth in the NBA. Unlocking more of Harris’ potential has been one of the key developments in the Pistons’ good start.
The summer assignment helped smooth out some of those rough edges.
“There were other things but (3-pointers were) the main thing,” Van Gundy said. “You’ve seen that he hasn’t been stripped driving the ball as much — that was a problem last year — and he drives the ball better to his right hand now than he did.
“Tobias made some significant improvements and really put in a lot of work, as he always does.”
At one point, Harris was in the All-Star conversation, but with so many talented frontcourt players in the Eastern Conference — teammate Andre Drummond is eighth — it’s seeming less likely.
Moving to power forward has made things easier, as more of Harris’ 3-point shots are coming around the top of the arc, where he’s shooting around 44 percent, more than eight percentage points above the league average. In the right corner, he’s at 50 percent, almost 10 percentage points over the league average.
“More are out top. You get the ones in the corners sometimes in transition,” Harris said. “Coach told me in the beginning of the year that he’d need me to let it fly. He said to get my confidence and shoot the ball.”
In the early All-Star voting, the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo (863,416 votes) was the surprise leading vote-getter in the East, about 7,000 votes ahead of LeBron James. The Sixers’ Joel Embiid was third, at 433,161; Drummond ranked eighth at 85,374. Voting ends just before midnight on Jan. 15.
PISTONS VS. ROCKETS
Tipoff: 7 p.m. Saturday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
TV/radio: FSD/WXYT 1270
Outlook: The Rockets (27-10) will be without James Harden (hamstring) and are in their toughest stretch of the season, losing six of their last eight games. Chris Paul and Eric Gordon combined for 58 points in Thursday’s loss to the Warriors.