Philadelphia 76ers: How much is Tobias Harris REALLY worth?

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

This isn’t just another article saying Tobias Harris is overpaid, we know that already. Instead we look at what Harris is really worth and what he should’ve gotten paid relative to other players. 

Have you ever done a math exam you studied for enough, but not an excessive amount. Like a good enough amount to get a decent grade, let’s say a 75. Then you get your grade back and see you got a 94.74 percent (Tobias got 94.74 percent of the max contract).

You open the exam and see that the math teacher put the wrong grade on your exam by mistake because your exam has too many errors for a 94.74 percent. What do you do? You keep your mouth closed and take the grade. This is what Tobias Harris did on June 30, 2019.

Tobias Harris signed a contract worth 180 million dollars and kept his mouth shut. 180 million dollars. This is the amount the class’ smartest kids will get as a grade or the amount LeBron James and Kevin Durant are worth. Before we get into Tobias Harris’ time with the Philadelphia 76ers and what he is really worth, we’ll look at his time right before the Sixers first.

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Harris’ future was always going to be limited in L.A. when he rejected an $80 million contract extension from Jerry West and the Los Angeles Clippers in the summer of 2018. West, regarded as the NBA’s best executive ever knew what he was doing at the time, offering Harris at a discount of what he thinks he is worth, while leaving room for the 2020 free agency class.

Harris averaged 18.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists while shooting the three at a 41.1 percent clip the season he got offered the four-year, $80 million contract. This is a bit low considering what he brought to the table for that one year.

The 2018-19 season saw Harris improve only marginally. In his time with the Clippers, Harris put up 20.9 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 2.7 assists while shooting the three at 43.4 percent as the team’s first option. Once he got to Philadelphia, his role was minimized and was regarded as the fourth scoring option. Nonetheless, he still put up solid numbers — 18.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists, shooting only 32.6 percent from three. Not exactly a 180 million dollar player… but let’s look even further into it.

Let’s use the Value over Replacement Player — most commonly referred to as VORP — statistic to compare him with other players and their contracts. For those who are not aware of what VORP is, Basketball Reference explains it best:

"“(VORP) converts the BPM rate into an estimate of each player’s overall contribution to the team, measured vs. what a theoretical “replacement player” would provide, where the “replacement player” is defined as a player on minimum salary or not a normal member of a team’s rotation.”"

While BPM (Box Plus/Minus) measures a basketball player’s contribution to the team when he is on the court. For reference, a player with a VORP of over two is usually an all-star level player.

So now that we know VORP, let’s begin by exploring this scatter plot that looks at the correlation between VORP and this year’s salary of players in the league. For Tobias Harris, his average annual salary used was $36,000,000. Players who are still on rookie contracts were excluded, and for players who had new contracts that were kicking in next year, that contract was taken instead of this year’s — think Ben Simmons and Jamal Murray, who are both starting year one of their $170 million contract next season.

We can see an obvious trend here, as VORP goes up, players get paid more. Like any scatter plot, there are some outliers, and in this particular case… it’s Tobias Harris (VORP is 1.5). There is also Russell Westbrook (VORP is 1.8), but Westbrook has consistently had a VORP of over 4.7 since the 2014-15 season — including a VORP of 9.3 his MVP season. Harris’ highest VORP was his 2018-2019 season, with a VORP of 2.6. It’s crazy to think that Westbrook and Harris’ salaries are not that far off from each other.

Players averaging a VORP in the range of 1.3 to 1.7 (including Harris) have an average salary of $15,866,981. Harris is worth surely more than only that, so we’ll evaluate him based on last season’s VORP which was 2.6.  The value of players’ VORP in the 2.4-2.8 range, have an average salary of $28,229,051. This is a bit more fair value for Harris, but when you look at the players in that range: Nikola Vucevic, Kemba Walker, Bradley Beal, Kyle Lowry, Hassan Whiteside (makes Harris’ contract look good), Zach Lavine and our beloved Joel Embiid. All players who are more important to their team than Harris (besides Whiteside), all players who have been All-Stars or have an accolade to their name (sorry Lavine, the dunk contest does not count). I do believe however, that he belongs in the tier right under those players.

The value of players’ VORP in the 1.8-2.2 range, have an average salary of $24,064,239. This totally seems like a fair price for Tobias Harris. Some players getting paid around this salary are Buddy Hield (kicking in next year), Serge Ibaka, Malcom Brogdon, Danilo Gallinari and even LaMarcus Aldridge. Adding Tobias Harris with the list of these players doesn’t seem ludicrous at all.

There is more than just VORP to value a player, but in this case VORP was a good statistic to use. VORP doesn’t take into consideration defense as much as it does offense. On defense, at least for the first part of the season, Tobias seemed really good. He seemed locked in, had big blocks and it seemed as if it was a new Tobias. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long and Tobias seemed like his regular “average” self on defense. It is unfortunate it derailed, because if Harris is not hitting his shot, he isn’t providing much else for the team.

The Sixers were also banking on Harris being their closer. But despite Harris’ ability to score from pretty much anywhere, Harris can’t be the closer. He seems to get tunnel vision all too often, lacks that burst of speed to get off his man, and just seems all around hesitant to shoot. Even if the player in front of him is Isaiah Thomas. Paying all that money for someone who can’t close, when you DESPERATELY needed a closer is very scoffable.

There are always the intangibles that should be accounted for as well, like leadership and good locker room presence. Something Tobias seems to be doing well for the Sixers, which is good because the Sixers needed that, especially this season.

I am not at all blaming Tobias Harris for the Sixers lackluster season, Harris is exactly the player we expected — although, we hope he can shoot the three better. So far this season, he has been having a good season overall and at the age of 27, I don’t think anyone and myself included was ever expecting a big jump from him this season. He is getting paid the same as LeBron James and Kevin Durant and that is not okay.

When their top scorer Tobias Harris left the team? Teams get worse when their best player leaves, because they can’t replace what they lost. The Cavs became a lottery team when LeBron worse, the Thunder never won a playoff round since KD left. With Harris, you can replace what he brings to the table with two capable shooters. That is why his contract makes absolutely no sense.

Although, I was never the kid who got that 94.74 percent percent unless it was an accident by the teacher. It does not take a genius to say that the Sixers have dug themselves a very big hole here. Harris doesn’t seem like he can be included in any trade, and for that price I don’t believe any team would ever want him, except the Knicks.

Next. Sixers, rest of NBA should move to Wyoming. dark

If we have learned anything, Jerry West is that old history teacher that will never ever make a mistake when grading. Elton Brand, however, he is that math teacher that was mentioned in the beginning.