On Feb. 16, 2016 the Detroit Pistons acquired the steal of the NBA trade deadline. In a package deal that sent both Ersan Ilyasova and fan-favorite Brandon Jennings to the Orlando Magic, the Pistons picked up their power forward of the future in Tobias Harris. Harris played a third of the season with his new squad and immediately stepped in and contributed, when most thought it would take ample time for him to fit in.
It was a crucial time for the Pistons, as they were currently riding a losing streak, and quickly losing ground in the playoff race. The Pistons were on the outside looking in at the time, but shortly after the trade finalized, Detroit never looked back.
In order to understand Harris' 2015-16 campaign, it's important to look where he started the season, and that's in the Sunshine State. While with the Magic, Harris averaged a respectable 13.7 points per game on 46 percent from the field. He was a below average three-point shooter, averaging only 31 percent from deep, and a very solid rebounder averaging 7.0 rebounds per game. Production aside, Harris was underachieving and frankly did not fit with the Magic (I'm not sure who fits in Orlando). He seemed destined to be one of those clearly talented players, who were never able to find a home, while playing their best brand of basketball.
More important than Harris' offensive stats, was his offensive style. Scouts and analysts cautioned that Harris was a ball-stopper, who needed the rock in his hands, off the dribble or in the post, in order to create offense. This perceived persona was the main reason some Pistons fans (counting yours truly) were concerned about acquiring Harris, especially after trading away our only reliable starting three-point shooter in Ilyasova, and offensive minded back up point guard in Jennings.
Once Tobias arrived in Detroit, he adopted the Stan Van Gundy ways, and immediately found his place in the starting lineup. Harris proved that he could perform well off the ball, and was able to increase his three-point shooting by 6.5 percent, good for an admirable 38 percent while in Detroit. This was just what the doctor ordered, as Detroit could ill-afford an even more clogged driving lane. His scoring increased too, finishing the season averaging 16 points per game with the Pistons.
Harris' ability to create for himself off the dribble was like a fresh glass of lemonade on a hot summer day. The Pistons badly needed someone not named Reggie Jackson to take advantage of mismatches, and to take over an offensive possession when others were shooting poorly, or standing still. Detroit finished the season with a 17-11 record with Harris on the team, good enough for the 8th seed in the playoffs and a date with the buzzsaw-wielding Cleveland Cavaliers.
Many of Harris' flaws were on display in the playoffs. There were times where he looked lost, standing still on offense, and missing shots when he had the advantage. His inability to guard Kevin Love and LeBron James was also a major issue for the Pistons, as the Cavaliers bum-rushed Detroit, eventually sweeping them out of the playoffs.
Is Tobias Harris a finished project? Nope. He's only 23 years old, and is still growing as an NBA pro. There are areas where he definitely needs to improve if the Pistons are to make a serious run in the playoffs, and that starts on the defensive side of the ball. He'll also have to prove that he can continually hit the three at an above-average rate, in order to provide the spacing both Jackson and Andre Drummond need to operate. If he can improve in those two areas, then it's not unthinkable that he'll be able to become an All Star. I'm not saying he will, but he has the skill-set to get there.
On a final note, can we give a little love to SVG? We know he just finished 8th in Executive of the Year voting, and that's because of moves like the Tobias Harris trade. This move solidified Detroit's place as a playoff team (this past season, and into the future). The Pistons now have Harris under contract until the 2019 season, on a very team-friendly deal, paying out on the pro-rated $64 million contract, which is cookies compared to some of the deals you'll be seeing this offseason.
Your turn, DBB Nation. Do you think Tobias Harris could become an All Star with the Pistons?