Small sample size theater: Tobias Harris fits with the Pistons

Feb 24, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons forward Tobias Harris (34) waits for a rebound during the second quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 24, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons forward Tobias Harris (34) waits for a rebound during the second quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports /

The Detroit Pistons landed the steal of the trade deadline when they acquired Tobias Harris from the Orlando Magic, and he has fit with his new team nicely.

The Detroit Pistons won the trade deadline when they picked up Tobias Harris from the Orlando Magic in exchange for Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova, and Harris wasted no time in stepping into the starting lineup in place of the injured Anthony Tolliver. To be fair, Harris was likely going to be worked into the starting lineup sooner than later anyway, but Tolliver’s sprained knee accelerated the timeline.

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Harris has been just the piece the Pistons needed, at least at the trade deadline. Since that trade, Tolliver and rookie Stanley Johnson were added to the injury report, and another move expected to add depth to the roster fell through when Donatas Motiejunas failed his physical, so things aren’t perfect on the Pistons’ active roster right now. Depth issues aside, Harris has delivered so far in the six games he’s played with the Pistons.

Harris has been at his best in the starting lineup in Tolliver’s absence, and the Pistons have been at their peak when he’s been on the floor with the starters. According to NBA Wowy, the Pistons are outscoring their opponents 115.7 to 101.1 points per 100 possessions when Harris is on the floor in a sample of 369 possessions across 191 minutes, but when he plays with the starters, the numbers take a big uptick.

When Harris is on the floor with Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris and Andre Drummond, the differential is significant. The Pistons outscore their opponents 122 to 101 points per 100 possessions, which is a net rating of 21 points. That’s over a sample of 200 possessions across 106 minutes. This is a small sample, hence our title, but it’s worth being aware of considering just what Tobias Harris is expected to provide to the Pistons.

It’s a bit of a misnomer that the floor can only be spread for the offense by dead-eye shooting from beyond the three-point line. While a player who can dependably knock down 40 percent from long range can obviously warp and manipulate defenses in ways that most other player types can’t, it’s not necessary to be able to hit the three at a drastically above-league average (which happens to be 35.3 percent, which is the the second-lowest rate since the 2003-04 season) rate in order to open the lanes for drives from the perimeter and for big men in the paint.

The threat of a player who can hit at a rate near that mark is incentive enough for defenses to guard the perimeter against a player like Harris, who is a 32.2 percent shooter from long range in his career (remember, the best three-point defense is always to prevent the three-pointer from wherever it may come), but has shot as high a percentage as 36.4 percent as recently as last season in Orlando under head coach Jacques Vaughn. Late last season Vaugh was fired and replaced by Scott Skiles. In spite of Skiles’ offensive abilities as a point guard in the NBA, he’s no offensive genius in the coaching department.

Some optimists chalk up Harris’s dip to 31.1 percent from three-point range this season in Orlando to inefficiencies in Skiles’ offensive schemes. Whether that’s the case, or whether it’s noise due to the fact that three-pointers are a fairly high-variance shot for players who are not elite from long-range, or perhaps Harris simply isn’t a 36 percent shooter from outside the arc, he has been undeniably hot with the Pistons from both the floor and from three.

From a personal statistic standpoint, the 23-year old forward is averaging 17 points per game on 51.3 percent shooting from the floor and 42.9 percent shooting from three-point range. Mind you, this small sample size means that he’s hit nine of 22 three-pointers as a Piston in his six games with the team, so we can comfortably chalk that up to statistical noise at the moment, but Harris is a guy who can attack from anywhere.

Tobias Harris has more ways to come at defenses and much greater athleticism than either Ersan Ilyasova or Anthony Tolliver, and his presence on the offensive side of things is a big jolt for the Pistons.

On the defensive side of things, Harris has been no slouch from a statistical point of view. His differential percentage, which is the difference between a guarded player’s shooting percentage on the season versus his percentage when he is guarded by a defensive player, is -1.6 percent. This means that Harris is yielding a shooting percentage 1.6 percent lower than his opponent’s season average, so what you’re aiming for as a defender is a negative differential percentage.

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Against two-point field goal attempts, facing an average of 6.9 attempts per game, Harris is yielding a differential percentage of -2.6. Against shots less than ten feet from the basket, he has a -5.4 differential percentage, and from six feet of less it’s a similar rating of -4.7.

All in all, Harris has been an excellent addition for the Pistons. He has provided a kick that they needed on offense, and he’s been nothing shy of competent on defense. Much like the Pistons got a huge steal last season at the trade deadline in the form of Reggie Jackson, all signs point to Harris being a tremendous part of the Pistons’ core going forward for years to come.