Harris Finds a Home?

The 2019 NBA trade deadline has come and gone and I wanted to take a moment to comment on one of my favorite deals that was struck before the clock hit 3:00 PM. Tobias Harris is a player that is no stranger to relocating mid-season. The twenty-six-year-old is currently in his eighth NBA season and just received news that he has been traded from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Philadelphia 76ers. This will be the fifth team that Tobias Harris will play for in his professional career (He previously played for the Milwaukie Bucks, Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons).

Tobias Harris 2-7-19
Tobias Harris: Photo Credit usatoday.com

It didn’t take long for Harris to show his excitement. After he was informed of the trade, Harris responded via Twitter with the following post, “Excited for this new opportunity with the @sixers, let’s get to work and bring another championship to Philadelphia”. The post trade tweet from Harris perfectly captures the direction of the 76ers organization. We can see that the team has clearly committed to a win now strategy as they have not been shy dealing young assets and plenty of draft picks to make what I believe is now the strongest starting lineup in the East.

Overall, this seems to be one of the better trades we see at the deadline for both teams involved. The Clippers have fallen through the rankings after a very strong start this season. It seems that now, competing for an eight seed in the West, they have decided that their current roster can’t top the best teams in the league and they are looking to rebuild with future assets as opposed to pushing for what would likely be an early departure from the playoffs.

Tobias Harris Graphs Stacked
Top: Tobias Harris’ Shooting Percentages; Bottom: Tobias Harris’ Scoring Efficiency

Philadelphia on the other hand is bringing in a talented young player who is in the midst of a season where he is posting career bests in three-point percentage, overall field goal percentage, and points per game. Tobias is a player that can contribute in every column on the stat sheet and will be a welcomed addition to this youthful starting lineup.

With the last-minute moves made this season it appears that “The Process” or re-build of the 76ers roster is just about complete. Outside of the Tobias Harris deal, Philadelphia also added depth to their roster with the acquisition of James Ennis from the Houston Rockets and Jonathan Simmons from the Orlando Magic. Many sixers fans are thrilled with the aggressive work of the front office at the trade deadline. It puts the team in a strong position to make a push deep into the playoffs and maybe to their first NBA finals appearance since 2001. The big question that we will have to wait and see the answer too will be can this team really pose a threat to the best rosters in the league? Golden State is boasting a starting lineup of All-Stars and will be a tall wall for any team to conquer this season.

Regardless of where the 76ers season ends, it is nice to see Harris finally find his way to a competitive roster. In his career thus far, Harris has only been on a playoff qualifying team once (Detroit 2015-16) and they were eliminated in just four games by that years Eastern Conference Champion Cleveland Cavaliers. I know I speak for a lot of fans when I say I can’t wait to see how this Tobias new Sixers roster mature together.

The Wild West

For quite a while now, there has seemed to be a discrepancy between the competitiveness of the Eastern and Western Conferences in the NBA. And, for as long as I can remember, the discrepancy has always seemed to favor the West.

In recent years and this season especially, we continue to see this difference in the NBA’s competition level.  This year, eight out of 15 teams in the East that have a 50 percent winning percentage or greater. In the West, there are 11 teams at or above the 50 percent mark in winning percentage. If any of the top 12 teams in the West were to move to the Eastern conference today, they would be a playoff-qualifying team. This seems to happen every year. There are always a few teams in the East who make the playoffs that wouldn’t even get a sniff of them if they were competing for a sport with teams in the West.

The discrepancy between conferences seems to grow almost every year when the free agency rolls around. In recent years, some of the biggest names to flip from the Eastern Conference over to the West are Paul George, DeMar DeRozan, and LeBron James. There doesn’t seem to be one clear answer as to why the West tends to attract and retain better talent. We have seen players move from team to team to follow friends, All-Stars, and coaches while other players seem more interested in large sums of money and the local nightlife. Perhaps some of the movement is based on the competitive nature of players. To some players, it may have felt less rewarding to be one of the best in the East so they moved over to take on a new challenge. Whatever the players’ reasoning for choosing their teams it seems like the majority of big names in basketball end up in the West.

It is certainly much harder for players to make the NBA All-Star team in the West due to the saturation of star players. In the interest of basing these claims on statistics, a friend and I took a minute to look at each player and make a list of this seasons star caliber players based on their performance thus far. Labeling of these players was discretionary based on this year’s performance only compared to the rest of the players in the league (scoring, assists, rebounds, steals, shooting percentages, and blocks were considered in the decision making). After sifting through the data, we found that there were only 18 star players in the East Compared to the 28 star players in the West (full list in table below). Every team in the West has at least one star player while in the east we see five teams (Brooklyn, Miami, Chicago, Atlanta, Cleveland) with no star caliber players at all. Many of these teams do have up and coming talent such as Trae Young, but they just aren’t performing at a level that puts them above and beyond their competition yet.

NBA Star Players as of 11-21-18

If the skill level discrepancy was a once and a while issue, it wouldn’t be a problem. But, year after year we see deserving teams miss the playoffs just because they happen to be surrounded by stronger competition. I believe that the best teams should be represented in the playoffs regardless of their geographic location and under the current system they aren’t. The NBA should make playoff qualifying decisions based on overall record and not solely on conference placement.

Another Coach Bites the Dust

Cleveland Cavaliers Tyronn Lue is the latest coach to be fired after a poor start to a season. The announcement that Cavs GM Koby Altman had relieved Lue of his coaching duties came out early yesterday morning, October 28th. Lue and the Cavaliers opened the season with an 0-6 record, which didn’t come as a surprise to many with the current roster and early season injuries.

When a team has a bad record the person that takes the majority of the blame is the head coach. The coach is the easiest person to blame because they are who we see making decisions on the court. The truth is, they really aren’t making all of these decisions alone, and when a coach gets fired because of a bad record it is usually hiding a bigger problem.

Tyronn Lue Released as Cavs Head Coach
Former Cavaliers Head Coach Tyronn Lue: Photo Credit ESPN.com

Every NBA team has a front office staff with analysts that aid in decision making. They are involved with decisions like signing players and identifying what lineups play best together on the court. Even though the coach decides who is in the game in real time, there is analysis and statistics to back the decisions that were made.

When you really think about it, coaches have much less impact on the game than we give them credit for. When the game is on the line, a coach can draw up the perfect play or have the perfect plan, but if the players don’t perform the team loses. Even if the players do perform, there are times that the opponent is flat out better and still outperforms your team even when they play their best. If your roster isn’t good enough to compete with the others in the league, it doesn’t matter who your coach is. The next coach of the Cavaliers will have the same exact roster and the same challenges ahead of him, so I find it hard to believe that the coaching change will have a big impact on the team’s performance.

Even though a coach doesn’t have as much impact over a team’s success as we often believe, they are still more than just a figurehead. I believe the main thing a coach brings to an organization is their coaching system. This is probably where the coach has the most impact on a team’s performance.

Mike D'Antoni - Houston Rockets Head Coach
Mike D’Antoni Houston Rockets Head Coach: Photo Credit Wikipedia.com

The most sought-after coaches in the league are appealing because they have a system with a unique identity that has proven to be successful in the past. Mike D’Antoni, now coaching the Houston Rockets, is known for his jump-shot heavy, offensively potent coaching style.

D’Antoni has had a marvelous coaching career when it comes to his win loss ratio and has had no shortage of stars. He’s even had the pleasure of coaching MVP caliber players like Kobe Bryant and James Harden. When you look at D’Antoni’s worst seasons, they just happen to be with his worst rosters. When he had 27 wins with LA in the 2013-14 season, he found himself guiding a Lakers team that had two key starters, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, appearing in only 21 combined games due to injury.

The fact of the matter is good players can play well with or without good coaches. It’s ideal to have a good coach along with good players, but if your roster is not skilled enough to compete with the rest of the NBA no coaching change can make up for skill level gaps.

In the case of Tyronn Lue, replacing him with another coach isn’t going to turn Cleveland’s season around and I don’t think that the Cavs believe that either. I think Cleveland has identified what type of roster they are hoping to have long-term and don’t think Lue’s system will work with it. If the Cavs want to see an immediate change in the win column, they will likely need to see significant changes in their roster, not their coaching staff.