Grading the Tobias Harris Trade

(Lynne Sladky/Associated Press)

By: Ravneet Singh

Detroit Pistons

Received: Tobias Harris

To the casual fan Tobias Harris is good player, but among NBA front office personnel it is often debated as to how good he really is. It’s also still debated as to whether he is better suited at the three or four. He is playing more minutes at the four this year due to the abundance of wing players on the team, but his numbers are lower. His minutes are down by about two per game, but his points per game has dropped off from 17.1 to 13.7, according to Basketball-Reference.com. Below you can see his shot charts from last year and this year, via NBASavant.com:

(NBASavant.com)

I don’t believe Stan Van Gundy thinks that Tobias is the ideal fit next to Andre Drummond. Just like his Orlando Magic teams with Dwight Howard, Van Gundy likes to surround his dominate big man with many shooters. Drummond can handle the interior defense and rebounding. Ryan Anderson makes a lot of sense for Detroit as a result, but Detroit has opted for Tobias Harris to fill that void. I suspect Stanley Johnson is the future three for the team and not Marcus Morris, which means Tobias is going to play most of his minutes at the four with Detroit.

As you can see from the shot charts above, Harris isn’t the greatest three point shooter. However, that’s a vital part of playing the stretch four in Stan Van Gundy’s offense. The Drummond-Jackson pick and roll has been very difficult to stop, but it could be even more difficult if the Pistons were a better three point shooting team. They rank 23rd in the league in three point percentage, shooting at 33.7%. Tobias Harris is shooting 31.1% from three this year, but was shooting 36.4% a year ago from range.

After the Drummond-Jackson pick and roll, the other team’s four usually helps covering Drummond, which means open three for Tobias. These are the types of three’s that Ersan got that Tobias will likely see:

Tobias isn’t better at making those shots than Ersan necessarily, but he also hasn’t had the daylight that Ersan has had in Orlando and has a quicker release than Ersan. He should be able to shoot better from distance than he did in Orlando, but Detroit is still going to have to find better three point shooters. 

(NBASavant.com)

Ersan wasn’t playing well on defense this year. He was allowing his opponents to shoot 4.9% better from the floor than their average, according to NBA.com. Harris is about average on that end, holding his opponents to 1.4% less than their average. Unlike Ersan, he will be able to switch on the smaller guards. However, he is a weakness when it comes to guarding the pick and roll as you can see here:

Overall, Harris is not a bad defender, but there are areas where he could improve still. In terms of what the Pistons gave up for Tobias they have to be pleased. Jennings just wasn’t going to have the same role after Reggie Jackson took over the starting role and ran with it. Harris is an upgrade over Ersan, even though he may not be the shooter they are looking for.

Grade: B

Orlando Magic

Received: Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings

Scott Skiles coached both Ersan and Brandon back with his stint with the Bucks. One has to think that Skiles had a lot to do with convincing management to make this trade. A lot has changed since then. Ersan fell out of relation with the Bucks and was traded to the Pistons. Jennings was also traded to the Pistons and was having arguably a career year till he suffered from a torn Achilles. You can see below Jennings numbers a year ago compared to this year:

(NBASavant.com)

His numbers have declined on every single spot on the floor. That’s not surprising considering that he suffered of the worst injuries in basketball. Elfrid Payton hasn’t shot a lot better, and his shot might be broken. There is a slight chance that Jennings could take over the starting gig, but more likely than not he will be the backup. Brandon is also a free agent after this year and could leave if he so chooses.

The Magic realized that a Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic front court was not going to work defensively. Aaron Gordon is more athletic and works better with Vucevic on defense. With Mario Hezonja, Victor Oladipo and Evan Fornier taking time at the three, there was little time for Harris left at the there. He ended up playing more time at the four this year, but the Gordon-Vucevic combo has out-performed the Harris-Vucevic one.

Because the Magic realized that Harris and Vucevic wasn’t the long term solution they decided that they would have to trade one of them. Vucevic may have been the harder player to sell, so the Magic sought get rid of Tobias, who was on contract for another three years. If Jennings can find his form of last year before the injury, this trade could end well for the Magic. However, the Magic created extra cap room for free agency. Maybe, they will go after the four they are looking for to pair with Vucevic. It’s hard to judge the trade for them until then.

Grade: C-