How Does the Tobias Harris Trade Affect the Balance of Power in the Eastern Conference?
On Tuesday night, the Philadelphia 76ers were 2.5-point favorites at home against the Toronto Raptors. Both teams were, for the most part, healthy, and the game was nationally televised in prime time. It was a chance for Joel Embiid and company to make a big statement heading toward the All-Star break.
Instead, the Sixers were handed a 119-107 loss as Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors proved oddsmakers right in installing them as favorites to win the Eastern Conference (odds as of Tuesday via FanDuel Sportsbook).
Even before Tuesday's loss, which placed them fifth in the standings, Philly was tied with Milwaukee for the third-best odds in the betting market. And after a 12-point loss on their home floor, it was clear that they needed to do something at the trade deadline in order to improve their chances.
Elton Brand said, "Why wait?"
In the wee hours of the night, a Woj bomb hit Twitter as the 76ers and Clippers agreed to a six-player deal that would land forward Tobias Harris in Philadelphia. Mike Scott and Boban Marjanovic -- Harris' best friend for life -- will accompany him in the move, while Landry Shamet, Mike Muscala and Wilson Chandler head to L.A.
The Sixers are also sending two first-round picks and two second-round picks to the Clippers. But through the eyes of our nERD metric (a player ranking that measures the total contribution of a player throughout the course of a season, based on their efficiency), here's how the ins and outs look for the players involved.
|76ers Get:||nERD||Clippers Get:||nERD|
|Tobias Harris||3.6||Landry Shamet||0.2|
|Boban Marjanovic||2.1||Mike Muscala||-0.6|
|Mike Scott||-1.5||Wilson Chandler||-1.2|
How much has that affected both teams' odds of making the playoffs and winning a title, and particularly the Sixers' chances of winning the Eastern Conference?
An Ancillary Result
For the Clippers, it's quite simple. This move brings back assets for an expiring deal and creates a pathway to two max contract slots this summer. They could pursue Anthony Davis via trade or try to lure Kawhi Leonard there in free agency.
In the short-term, it decreases their chances of making the playoffs and increases their chances of keeping their first round pick this year, which is protected as a lottery selection. Otherwise, it would convey to Boston (the Clippers are currently the 8 seed in the West), who continue to express interest in the disgruntled Davis.
Basically, the Clippers have advanced their odds at adding Davis while simultaneously diminishing the Celtics' arsenal for doing the same.
Eastern Conference Power
Despite another loss to the Raptors, the Sixers' odds of winning the East have grown to +350, surpassing the 1 seed Bucks and giving them an implied probability of 22.22% -- just 7.19% back of the 3 seed Celtics. The Raptors are still favorites at +180, but the Sixers have planted some doubt with their new-look starting lineup.
While Toronto boasts a great bench lineup, we all know that starters get more run in the playoffs when it matters most. So, facing a starting five of Harris along with Embiid, Jimmy Butler, Ben Simmons and J.J. Redick is a scary proposition for the East.
Meet The Sixers pic.twitter.com/4BqTaS3gFG
— Kirk Goldsberry (@kirkgoldsberry) February 6, 2019
Last season, a similar version of this lineup -- with Robert Covington and Dario Saric in place of Butler and Harris -- played to a net rating of 21.0 in 601 minutes, with a record of 33-16 in 49 games, per NBA Stats. On top of its net rating, the group's 113.6 offensive rating and 92.6 defensive rating both ranked first among all lineups to log 500-plus minutes together in 2017-18.
This is a different pairing at the forward spots, though, as Butler and Harris are of a higher caliber in both talent level and experience. With Harris now aboard, Jacob Goldstein's Lineup Predictor tool projects a net rating of 15.7 with a 120.7 offensive rating and 105.0 defensive rating.
Although those are projected numbers, it's worth noting that only three teams -- the 1991-92 and 95-96 Bulls, along with the 2016-17 Warriors -- have ever posted an offensive rating of at least 115 and a defensive rating of 105 or lower. They had a combined win percentage of .873 across those three regular seasons. And when you throw in the six other teams to ever post a +10.0 net rating you get a win percentage of .832, so even if we temper expectations during the adjustment period, it's not a stretch to say this Sixers team could win 75% of their games the rest of the way.
According to FiveThirtyEight's updated predictions and rotation ratings, the Sixers carry an expected win total of 60 games for an 82-game season -- the exact same number as the current Bucks team. However, in accounting for where it is in the season, they have them projected at a 54-28 record -- right on par with the Celtics and not far behind the Raptors (59-23). Things haven't changed much from a week ago, either, as their projected record remains the same, but their chances at making the NBA Finals have increased from 13% to 16%, narrowing the gap between them and the C's and taking a few percentage points from the Raptors.
In our own power rankings, there hasn't been a major shift, either. We have the Sixers finishing as the 5 seed, though it's more likely that they capture the 4 seed over the Victor Oladipo-less Indiana Pacers. They are our eighth-best team overall and, according to our models, possess a 3.9% probability of winning the title.
As with most notable trades, it appears the needle hasn't moved as much the public would expect. Expectations shouldn't be super-high, but the advanced numbers tell us that the upside for Harris and the Sixers is. They are a real contender and are worth betting on even before they take the floor together for the first time.