Analyzing the Detroit Pistons trade for Tobias Harris

Jan 6, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic forward Tobias Harris (12) drives to the basket against the Indiana Pacers during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 6, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic forward Tobias Harris (12) drives to the basket against the Indiana Pacers during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Detroit Pistons have made the first trade deadline move with a deal sending Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova to the Orlando Magic for Tobias Harris.

The Detroit Pistons were widely expected to have a fairly quiet trade deadline, but we’re quickly learning that head coach and President of Basketball Operations Stan Van Gundy simply doesn’t do quiet trade deadlines. Last year he acquired Reggie Jackson right at the virtual deadline, and this year he swung for the fences with the first big trade of the season.

The Pistons acquired Tobias Harris from the Orlando Magic for Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings, which means that Harris will slide into the starting lineup at the power forward spot right away. In what was already a coup of a trade for the Pistons, they were able to acquire Harris straight up, as it appears that no draft picks or cash considerations were included in this deal.

The Pistons acquired the 23-year old 6-foot-9 Harris who can play either the three or the four, and who is under contract for four more years with what will become a fairly team-friendly $16 million a year under the new salary cap.

Harris has taken a bit of a dip in production in his one and only season under Magic head coach Scott Skiles, who isn’t really known as an offensive guru in spite of his stellar record as an NBA point guard. Last season in his contract year Harris averaged 17.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game and had shooting splits of .466/.364/.788, and this year he is averaging 13.7 points and seven rebounds per game on shooting splits of .464/.311/.784.

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Harris’s usage also dropped under Skiles, from between 22 and 23 percent under the previous three-year regime of Jacques Vaughn, under whom he scored 16.1 points per game.

As you might notice, his field goal percentage is essentially the same, and his three-point percentage has dropped 53 points. That could be a result of anything from simple noise and variance to Skiles’ schematics simple not providing him with the same quality of outside shots he got a year ago. Either way, he’s comfortably at least a 30 percent shooter from the outside, which is a rate that will stretch the floor by default.

As I wrote about a couple of months ago, the best defense against a three-pointer is to prevent the shot from going up in the first place, which means that just the threat of him popping outside for a three is enough for defenses to cling to him off the ball, and it will prevent them from being able to pack the paint in an effort to keep Andre Drummond off the boards and away from the rim.

Harris should fit in fairly well with Van Gundy’s four-in-one-out methodology, although his three-point shooting will be a bit of a downgrade from Ilyasova’s. He does shoot 40 points better from the floor than Ilysova, though, which highlights Harris’s versatility edge. Ilyasova played admirably while he was here, but he was essentially a three-point shooter who took charges, and more will be expected from Harris.

As for what the Pistons are losing, Ilyasova’s outside shot will surely be missed. He gave great effort on a nightly basis, and the Pistons were lucky to have gotten him for a steal when they acquired him from the Milwaukee Bucks for Caron Butler and something called Shawne Williams.

Brandon Jennings will also be missed at the backup point guard spot. The Pistons have issues at that position, with Steve Blake and Spencer Dinwiddie waiting in the wings, and the early timing of this trade leads me to believe that Van Gundy might have something up his sleeve to replace Jennings with.

As a final note, the defense should improve significantly with this trade.

Harris has length and mobility, and has the versatility to play multiple positions. He can play the three or the four in any lineup, allowing the Pistons to mix and match variations of Harris, Marcus Morris and Stanley Johnson depending on matchups. The Golden State Warriors have been a great lesson for the NBA about the value of length and positional versatility, and Van Gundy is an executive who likes to stay on the cutting edge.

All in all, this is a great deal for the Pistons and a bit confusing for the Magic. The Pistons have gotten better, both today and for the foreseeable future. The team’s core now consists of 22-year old Kentavious Caldwell Pope, 22-year old Andre Drummond, 25-year old Reggie Jackson, 19-year old Stanley Johnson, and of course Harris is 23. Once Andre Drummond gets his extension in the coming offseason, not one of these core players will be able to touch the open market until Tobias Harris’s contract expires in 2019.

If you’re curious about how Harris feels about this trade, wonder no longer.

So are the Pistons. Welcome to Detroit, Tobias Harris.