Philadelphia 76ers: Was the Tobias Harris trade a mistake?

Tobias Harris | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Tobias Harris | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Was the Philadelphia 76ers’ trade deadline blockbuster worth it?

When the Philadelphia 76ers traded for Clippers forward Tobias Harris and company on February 6, the team looked primed to make a deep playoff run and contend for an NBA championship.

But now, just weeks after being ousted in the second round of the playoffs for the second year in a row, the Sixers should really be wondering if the trade was a mistake, and if Harris is worth a max contract, which is what Keith Pompey says it will take to keep Tobias in Philadelphia.

Back in February, the trade seemed to put the Sixers over the edge in the Eastern Conference. Tobias was a player who fit in seamlessly with our offense. He could make threes at a high clip, showcased by his 43 percent mark from three-point range with the Clippers. He was also a very good off-ball player, as well as an adept pick-and-roll ball handler. His versatility made him a clear upgrade over his predecessor, Wilson Chandler, who was sent to Los Angeles in the deal.

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The Sixers also acquired forward Mike Scott and the larger-than-life Boban Marjanović from the Clippers. They sent sharpshooting rookie Landry Shamet and stretch big Mike Muscala, along with the Sixers’ 2020 first round draft pick and the Miami Heat’s 2021 first round pick, to LA.

Before Tobias’ Sixer debut on February 8, the team held a 34-20 record. Harris played 27 out of a possible 28 games for the Sixers, and the Sixers went 16-11 in those games, which isn’t exactly amazing, but with Joel Embiid missing 14 of the final 24 games, their record is respectable.

Interestingly enough, the Clippers went 19-9 in their games without Tobias on the team, and actually saw their points per game increase between the time of the trade and the end of the season.

With Philadelphia, Harris averaged 18.2 points per game in the regular season, a solid number considering the number of scorers on the roster. However, he shot just 32 percent from three with the Sixers on five shots per game, down from the 43 percent he shot with the Clippers with virtually the same (4.7) attempts.

For a team already in need of more shooting, his sudden cold streak was worrisome, especially with the playoffs coming up. Some blamed it on his lack of familiarity with the Sixers offense, and others said it was purely a slump he would get out of. Either way, the Sixers desperately needed Harris to regain his form from beyond the arc if they were going to make a deep playoff run, but he never really ended up doing so.

In the regular season, the five man lineup of Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Jimmy Butler, Harris, and Embiid boasted a +17.6 net rating in the ten games that they played together. While their net rating is certainly impressive, the five man lineup of Simmons, Redick, Butler, Chandler, and Embiid had a +13.0 net rating of their own in 23 games. The difference in net rating between the two lineups are simply not enough to think Tobias had a huge difference on the team’s overall performance. Even with Wilson Chandler in the lineup, who averaged just 6.7 points in Philadelphia, the Sixers still had one of the best net ratings in the NBA.

In the playoffs, the Sixers defeated the Brooklyn Nets in five games in the first round before losing in heartbreaking fashion to the Toronto Raptors in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. In the playoffs, Harris averaged 15.5 points on bad efficiency, which included a lackluster 34.9 percent from three, in close to 37 minutes per game. Harris was streaky, to say the least.

In Game 1 against the Nets, Harris dropped a whopping four points in 40 minutes of play. But in Games 3 and 4, he bounced back and scored an impressive 29 and 24 points, respectively. In round one, he wasn’t bad. But the Nets were worse than the Sixers, so Philly defeated them handily, which they were expected to do.

However, against Toronto, he never scored more than 16 points in a game, which he did twice, and he made just 27.9 percent of his three-pointers. His mediocre play, along with a host of other things, surely contributed to why we lost the series.

Without Tobias on the roster, would the season’s final outcome had been any different? I think not.

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At the time of the trade, the Sixers were the fourth seed in the East and just half of a game behind Indiana for the three seed, who were 34-19 at the time. Down the stretch, the Pacers went 14-15.

Without Tobias, the Sixers still would have likely jumped Indiana for the third seed and defeated Brooklyn in the first round of the playoffs thanks to a relatively easy end to the regular season.

In the final quarter of the season, Philadelphia enjoyed an easier schedule than Indiana, who struggled down the stretch, going 14-15 in their final 29 games. Without Tobias, the Pacers still would have had struggled down the stretch, allowing Philly to overtake them in the standings. And a Sixers team that included Wilson Chandler in its starting lineup would still have done well thanks to a favorable schedule. Their exact record without Tobias and company is difficult to predict, but they likely still would have been able to pass the Pacers in the standings.

If the Celtics ended up with the third seed and the Sixers got the fourth seed, it’s hard to imagine the Sixers losing to Indiana in the first round of the playoffs. Without Harris, Scott, or Marjanović, the Sixers were still a better team than the Pacers and would have likely still reached the second round. What would have happened in the second round against the Bucks is hard to say, but Philadelphia would have no doubt been the betting underdogs in every game of the series.

Tobias was okay in the playoffs, but the Sixers were still bounced in the second round for the second consecutive season, which probably would have happened without the trade. I would argue that, in the playoffs, the most impactful player we received from the Clippers wasn’t even Tobias Harris — it was Mike Scott, who hit a game-winning three-pointer at the end of Game 4 and was a crucial player off of the bench.

Harris is a fine player, but his time in Philadelphia last season left a lot to be desired. Sure, he’s only 26 years old and played only a few dozen games in a Sixers uniform, but his acquisition probably would not have changed the season’s outcome if we did not trade for him. Perhaps he will be a key player for us in the future — if he re-signs — but for this season, he did not move the needle all that much.

So was the trade for Tobias Harris a mistake for Philadelphia? Only time will tell.

If he re-signs, then we will have several years to assess whether the initial trade was worth it. But if Tobias walks in free agency, the Sixers would have essentially traded Shamet, a young, promising player and future Redick replacement, plus two future first-round picks, for a player who really didn’t do anything of substance in Philadelphia.

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However, with free agency looming, the jury is still out on this one.