Are 76ers the Best Value for East Title After Tobias Harris Trade?

Are 76ers the Best Value for East Title After Tobias Harris Trade? article feature image
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Kelley L. Cox-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Tobias Harris

  • The 76ers acquired Tobias Harris on Tuesday night, adding an offensive weapon who fits their existing personnel perfectly.
  • The move might make Philly, which still sits at 5-1 to win the East, the best betting value on the board.

The Sixers didn’t try swinging for the fences. They decided to position themselves at third and get a healthy lead out for home.

On Tuesday night, ESPN reported that the Sixers had agreed to trade a young player, some good picks, and an expiring contract for a major offensive weapon, whatever Boban is, and an underrated stretch four.

The Sixers are going all-in, with intentions to keep Harris as a free agent along with Jimmy Butler:

The move is fairly brilliant. While the Lakers chase Anthony Davis, and the Knicks chase cap room to land Davis and/or Kevin Durant and/or Kyrie Irving, and the Celtics try and land Davis, the Sixers snuck in and struck a deal with the Clippers, who themselves are trying to get in on the free agent mania this summer.

In doing so, Philly got a 20-points per game scorer with 49-42-88 shooting splits and eight rebounds a game.

The key here is to think of this not from an overall evaluation of the trade in which they gave up a lot, but to see it as the Sixers essentially shooting a gap.

While everyone else is making moves for this summer, the Sixers were largely stuck in traffic. The Raptors and the Celtics were already ahead of them, with more talent, better systems and tactical advantages based on Philly’s roster limitations. Then the Bucks leapfrogged them this summer by hiring Mike Budenholzer and unlocking Giannis, tea bagging the Process in the process.

Philly’s now back in the hunt for the East title. Its issue vs. the Celtics last year was that when Boston stoned Joel Embiid with Al Horford and Aron Baynes, the rest of the offense had little recourse. Now that’s no longer an issue, with Butler and Harris both able to create on their own.

Harris looks on the surface like a spot-up weapon — he’s in the 95th percentile in spot-up points per possession via Synergy Sports. But he’s also 11th best in pick and roll efficiency as the ball-handler (minimum 200 possessions) and seventh best in isolation scoring per possession (minimum 100 possessions). The Sixers can stagger units with Butler and Harris and always have a wing on the floor who can get a bucket on his own. That’s huge for limiting the damage of their bench, which was already not great and gets worse with this deal.

The concern with Harris is defense, as the Clippers were 4.9 points worse per 100 possessions defensively with Harris, a trend that goes back to last season. And not just in L.A., but in Detroit. There’s a real drag defensively and Harris may wind up being the member of the starting five that gets targeted, along with J.J. Redick.

But the offensive advantage is huge. This slots in Harris as a deadly third option with Simmons as the engine and Butler, Harris and Embiid as the tip of the spear. That’s a model that gives them the firepower to stand toe-to-toe with the Raptors and Celtics. If the Raptors’ offense was being boosted by Serge Ibaka’s strong year, the Sixers have added a superior stretch four. Harris’ presence makes it harder to contain the Sixers’ offense and gives them a third scheme-breaker.

No, the Sixers probably won’t win the title. But you have to get to the Finals first, and tactical matchup issues were keeping Philly from being taken seriously. There are still concerns about Butler’s leadership, Embiid’s maturity, Simmons’ lack of floor spacing, and a host of other issues, but the Sixers made themselves better here.

It cost the 76ers future assets, but at some point you had to go all in. The big issue for Philly this year was the glaring sense that Simmons and Embiid weren’t going to work together long-term because of their strengths and weaknesses. Harris resolves that, creating a bridge between the two, covering for Simmons’ lack of individual shot creation as Simmons helps cover for Harris’ defensive issues. Harris makes Simmons and Embiid fit together better, and that alone is worth the cost of doing business.

Their bench has been decimated, but Boban Marjanovich is good for a fun, effective 10 minutes per game every three games or so and the secret get here is Mike Scott, a true stretch four who sets great screens and gives them another long, rangy defender who can switch.

The Sixers’ odds to win the East had fallen to 5-1 on Monday. They’re still at that number at Westgate as of Wednesday morning, behind the Celtics (+160), Raptors (+160) and Bucks (+250).

This move likely shoots them up a bit while dropping Boston and Toronto, so the futures move might be to go in on the Bucks if you haven’t. Milwaukee has the best record in the league and continues to find ways to counter the adjustments teams have made against them.

But it’s hard to blame you if you jump on Philly. With Simmons, Embiid, Harris, and Butler, the Sixers’ top four is as good as any team in the East, and the talent fits much better. Their ability to counter counters in the playoffs has improved, as well.

The risk might be that this creates a hard ceiling, but on paper, this makes the Sixers just as good as the rest of the East. It eliminates the gap between them and the top, and allows them to continue to focus on their two young players. This isn’t moving on from the Process. This is the final stage of it.