Whenever an NBA player is traded midseason, there is typically a difficult adjustment period. Some players get acclimated quicker than others, but there’s no question that it’s a hectic time for the individual. The player must uproot their life in an instant and then figure how to succeed in a different city and system with new teammates and coaches. It’s often a culture shock – on and off the court.
And Tobias Harris’ adjustment from the Orlando Magic to the Detroit Pistons is arguably even tougher than most. That’s because Detroit acquired the 23-year-old forward with the hope that he would be a big-time contributor and one of the Pistons’ leading offensive weapons going forward.
Upon joining the team, Harris became their highest-paid player (earning $16 million this season), raising the pressure even more. Not to mention, he’s learning from Stan Van Gundy, who is the Pistons’ head coach and president of basketball operations. Van Gundy is a bona fide basketball genius, but he is known as a perfectionist who can be hard on his players. If the two can stay on the same page and work well together, Van Gundy should get the most out of Harris and be excellent for his development. But make no mistake, there will likely be a lot of screaming along the way.
Now, as the Pistons make a playoff push in the Eastern Conference, Harris is a key piece for his new franchise. He joins a young core that also includes Andre Drummond, 22, Reggie Jackson, 25, Stanley Johnson, 19, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, 23, among others. This group has a ton of potential and, if all goes as planned, they should be a threat in the Eastern Conference for years to come.
However, Van Gundy isn’t the type of coach to sit on his hands and wait for results. He’s determined to end the Pistons’ six-year playoff drought this season.
Detroit is currently 34-33, putting them in ninth place in the increasingly competitive East. In the past, being a .500 squad is typically all it took to be a playoff team in the East, but not this year. Right now, the Pistons have the same record as the eighth-seeded Chicago Bulls, but Detroit doesn’t hold the tiebreaker. Fortunately for the Pistons, the Bulls have been struggling as of late – dealing with injuries to key players and dropping 11 of their last 17 games. The Pistons are on the verge of entering the playoff picture in the conference and a trip to the postseason is a realistic goal at this point.
Interestingly, Detroit is the only East team in the race for eighth that has a positive average point differential (+0.5). The top seven teams in the conference have a positive differential, which makes sense, but the Pistons are the only other squad in the positive. Each of the other teams fighting for one of the final seeds in the East have a negative average point differential: the Bulls (-1.3), Washington Wizards (-1.6), Orlando Magic (-2.0), Milwaukee Bucks (-3.7). In fact, Detroit’s average point differential is greater than four teams currently holding onto a playoff spot in either conference – beating out the Bulls, Memphis Grizzlies (-1.4), Houston Rockets (-.5) and Dallas Mavericks (-.3).
The addition of Harris has certainly helped the Pistons as they battle for a playoff berth. Detroit has won seven of its 11 games since acquiring Harris, and that includes impressive victories over talented teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors, Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks among others.
Since joining the Pistons, Harris’ numbers have improved drastically. He’s currently averaging 16.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists. His field goal percentage (50.3 percent) and three-point percentage (39.1 percent) are both career-highs. The advanced stats are impressive too. Thus far in Detroit, he’s posting career-highs in offensive rating (118 points scored per 100 possessions), defensive rating (106 points allowed per 100 possessions), player efficiency rating (18), box plus/minus (1.6), true shooting percentage (.600) and assist percentage (12.1).
Those stats are up from his Orlando numbers. In Harris’ 49 games prior to the trade to Detroit, Harris’ scoring average (13.7 points) with the Magic was his lowest since becoming a full-time starter in the NBA. It was a disappointing regression for Harris, who was expected to elevate his game with the Magic after inking a four-year deal worth $64 million this past offseason.
Detroit actually showed interest in Harris over the summer when he was a restricted free agent, but they didn’t extend an offer sheet since it was no secret that Orlando wasn’t going to let him walk away and lose a key asset without receiving some form of compensation.
But what makes the acquisition of Harris even sweeter for Detroit is that they didn’t have to part with much to add him. The Pistons only shipped out veterans Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings in the deal. The move was widely regarded as a steal for the Pistons since they didn’t have to give up a draft pick in the transaction. (By comparison, the Washington Wizards and Los Angeles Clippers had to part with first-round selections to add Markieff Morris and Jeff Green, respectively).
Harris was one of the most talented players to change teams prior to the deadline last month, so it was a bit surprising to see him dealt for so little. Jennings’ deal is expiring after this season, making him an unrestricted free agent. As for Ilyasova, only $400,000 of his $8.4 million salary for next year is guaranteed so he can be waived to create cap space, flipped in another trade, or kept by Orlando since he does provide some much-needed shooting to spread the floor. Still, Harris was a young starter who just signed a long-term deal, yet he was moved for veterans who aren’t even starting for the Magic.
League sources told Basketball Insiders that Orlando had some other intriguing offers on the table for Harris, but general manager Rob Hennigan ultimately opted for the Pistons’ package since Jennings and Ilyasova are veterans who can score the ball and – most importantly – had each spent several years playing under Magic head coach Scott Skiles on the Milwaukee Bucks. The belief was that they could hit the ground running, create some momentum for Orlando and help the team climb in the standings. Orlando, like Detroit, entered this season with playoff aspirations; however, they are currently 29-37 (which is 11th in the East and four-and-a-half games outside of the conference’s final playoff spot).
While Harris has only appeared in 13 games for Detroit (with 11 starts), he has drawn rave reviews from Coach Van Gundy.
“He’s a really smart guy. He’s got a great temperament,” Van Gundy told Pistons.com. “He’s a good team guy. I don’t know what the players would say [but] to me, it feels like he’s been with us all year. You’re not feeling like you’ve got a new guy that’s acclimating. You feel like he’s been here all year, even in terms of the way he relates to his teammates. It’s actually been a pretty seamless transition. He’s unselfish. He’s been efficient. He hasn’t needed an inordinate amount of shots to get his stuff done. He moves the ball pretty well. It’s actually been pretty easy.”
Harris’ new teammates seem to love playing with him as well and believe he’s exactly what the team needed.
“He looks great,” Drummond told reporters when asked about Harris. “He’s doing all of the things that we need him to do. When he first came here, I told him, ‘Don’t hesitate. We’re not here to play slow. We want you to run and we want you to try to score the ball when you touch it. If you don’t have anything, free somebody else.’ He came in and he looks great.”
“I’m still trying to figure out Tobias’ game, but I know he’s a great addition to our team, that’s for sure,” Stanley Johnson told Pistons.com. “What I have figured out this far is he puts the ball in the basket and he’s an invaluable leader to our team. He’s a great locker room guy. He’s a great person to hang around, another weapon on our team that we can use in various ways. Especially on the defensive end, we can switch a lot of things.”
The team is hoping that Harris’ versatility and scoring ability can help them improve their offensive efficiency (102.6 points per 100 possessions) and pace (97.6), both of which rank 19th in the NBA.
Harris takes pride in his efficiency, so he could help Detroit in that category. As previously mentioned, his PER of 18 with Detroit thus far is the highest of his career. The forward has been a relatively efficient player throughout his career, especially when put in a proper system that utilizes his strengths and offers structure (which didn’t always happen in Orlando, particularly under former head coach Jacque Vaughn).
“I like to be an efficient player and take efficient shots – shots I know I can make and high percentage shots,” Harris said. “[I] just feed off the other guys. I think that’s one of my best aspects of the game is feeding off everybody else.”
This is Harris’ second time being dealt in a move just prior to the trade deadline. The Bucks shipped Harris (along with Doron Lamb and Beno Udrih) to the Magic in February of 2013 in exchange for J.J. Redick, Ish Smith and Gustavo Ayon.
Harris was just 20 years old and a season and a half into his NBA career. It was his introduction to the business side of the NBA, but the move actually ended up being the best thing to happen to Harris’ career. He went from warming the bench in Milwaukee (averaging 4.9 points and 2.0 in 11.6 minutes) to being a focal point in Orlando (averaging 17.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.4 blocks in 36.1 minutes that same season). The change of scenery turned Harris into an attractive asset and allowed him to get last summer’s big pay day. He’s hoping this most recent trade works out just as well.
“I’m just looking forward to continue to grow with everybody out here, continue to build chemistry and just continue to do all I can for our team to win,” Harris told reporters. “I’m feeling more comfortable. [I’m] just trying to continue to get a rhythm, continue to learn from the other guys, continue to find my spots out there in the offense and just continue to execute my role out there.
“For me, my whole thing is go out there and play as hard as you can and [you get] rewarded from that. That’s the mindset that I’ve always played with since I got in the NBA and that’s just how I look at the game. I don’t worry about anything else [and] just go out there, play as hard as I can and have fun.”
Harris’ first impression of the Pistons organization has been very positive. Not only does he have a lot of respect for Van Gundy, he’s excited about the group of up-and-coming players that has been assembled.
“Obviously we have a lot of young, athletic players, a lot of length out there,” Harris told reporters. “It helps having Andre in the paint also. He helps clean up a lot of stuff off of the glass. Coach puts us in good positions defensively to make plays and to help each other out. A big thing that we’re trying to do is shrink the court and make it hard for teams to attack the middle.
“I just think as a team we’re playing team basketball and we’re all looking for each other. We’re really playing unselfishly and that’s the name of the game.”
The sample size is small and this is certainly still the honeymoon period for Harris and the Pistons, but the trade sure looks like a great one for both parties thus far. If Van Gundy can continue to develop Harris’ overall game and help him reach his full potential, the Pistons may have added another cornerstone to their already impressive, promising nucleus. It seems like a low-risk, high-reward move that could pay off in a big way for Detroit.
And it’s safe to say that Harris is thrilled with his current situation.
“I love our team,” Harris told Pistons.com. “I love our core that we have here and I love everything about the city and the organization. So I’m happy and I’m excited.”
NBA Daily: Wiggins The X-Factor for Warriors
Stephen Curry will always be the face of the Golden State Warriors, and for good reason. Draymond Green spearheads their defensive attack but the key to their postseason fate lies in the hands of a guy that many people had already given up on.
The 2020-21 regular season was a strange one for many reasons, but especially for the Golden State Warriors. Shortly before the NBA Draft, the team’s championship aspirations took a major hit with the injury to Klay Thompson. The best backcourt in the league would not be on full display this season, but they still had two-time MVP, Stephen Curry, to put on a show.
Curry did just that, dazzling basketball fans on a near-nightly basis. The sensational shots, ridiculous plays and high-drama situations were must-see TV that kept the Warriors in the national spotlight. To that end, Curry captured the scoring title for the second time in his career, averaging 32.0 points per game this season.
Steph Curry edges out Bradley Beal to win the 2020-21 scoring title. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/GmiTD26aJK
— theScore (@theScore) May 17, 2021
With limited options available to fill Thompson’s void, the team managed to add Kelly Oubre Jr to the roster, although it came at a steep cost. His salary is $14.4 million this season but because of Golden State’s luxury tax bill, ESPN’s Bobby Marks noted that adding Oubre would cost an additional $82.4 million, bringing their total to $134 million.
After a career year in Phoenix, Oubre struggled mightily trying to fit in with this group. Sometimes players in new situations can try to do too much at first, or sometimes pass on open shots in order to not seem selfish. Neither of these was the case for Oubre, who simply could not put the ball in the basket. His early-season shooting struggles had the Warriors pegged for the Draft Lottery.
Oubre eventually turned it around and began playing like himself. Another new face in the Bay area was rookie James Wiseman. He too struggled at the beginning of the season, which is to be expected for someone in his situation. The seven-footer from Memphis only played a handful of games in college and was trying to learn the NBA game on the fly. A season-ending injury cut short his rookie season, but he showed promise for the future.
The future is not something that Curry has on his mind. He and Draymond Green are playing to win now. That starts on Wednesday with their highly-anticipated showdown with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers. The league has quite the matchup to cap the new Play-In-Tournament.
Amid all of the highlight plays from Curry and all of the noise surrounding Green, one player sits in the shadows and is rarely mentioned. Andrew Wiggins was all the rage when he was selected number one overall in the 2014 NBA Draft. The former Kansas Jayhawk earned Rookie of the Year honors but ultimately struggled to find his place in Minneapolis.
After more than five seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Wiggins was traded to the Warriors in February of last season. Now having played a full season in a Warriors uniform, Wiggins could be their x-factor in the postseason.
One of the knocks on Wiggins has always been his drive, and his passion to reach his full potential. He has all of the physical tools and attributes to be one of the most prolific two-way players in the league. Sometimes the effort just isn’t there, but that narrative seems to have gone out the window. Wiggins has been playing excellent on both ends of the floor, which has translated to wins for the depleted Warriors.
While many people point to his scoring slightly declining, he still scored 19 points per game despite playing the fewest minutes of his career. He finished inside the top 40 in scoring this season. The real story for Wiggins is his efficiency, which has been incredible. He shot a career-high 48 percent from the floor this season and a career-best 38 percent from three-point range. His 54 percent effective field goal percentage is also the highest of his career.
Andrew Wiggins is gonna end the regular season averaging ~19 & 5 on 48/38/72 shooting.
Missed only 1 game, and that was for rest. Was tremendous defensively, night in and night out.
He’s had a great year.
— Brian Witt (@Wittnessed) May 16, 2021
As they prepare to battle the Lakers for the 7th seed in the Western Conference, Golden State must find ways to get stops on the defensive end. Stopping the likes of James, Davis and Dennis Schroder on the perimeter will be paramount to their success. It is easier said than done, but this is where Wiggins’ value can be felt. The Toronto native will be called upon to match up against James often, with Green defending their big men.
Wiggins finished fourth in Defensive RPM (2.72) this season at his position, 21st among all players in the league. That is by far the best of his career, as he ranked 85th last season among small forwards. He also finished inside the top five in the league in terms of contested three-point shots. That is important for the Warriors going forward, should they face the Phoenix Suns or Utah Jazz in the first round. Utah was the top three-point shooting team in the league and Phoenix was seventh-best in terms of percentage.
As if facing James and Davis weren’t difficult enough, the Warriors will have their hands full no matter which opponent they face next. Both have dynamic backcourts with Mike Conley/Donovan Mitchell in Utah and Chris Paul/Devin Booker in Phoenix. Wiggins will be tasked with trying to slow them down as well. There is elite talent everywhere you look out West.
Golden State finished the regular season with a 110.1 defensive rating, which was top five in the league. They managed to do that despite having a depleted roster and having the third-highest pace (102.2) in the league. Much of the credit will go to Green and Oubre but Wiggins has been a major factor in their defensive schemes.
Curry and Green have combined to play in 235 playoff games during their careers. Wiggins has only appeared in five playoff games, so this will be a new experience for him. The pressure always goes up in the postseason, and the Play-In Tournament is no exception.
Shortly after acquiring Wiggins, Steve Kerr put All-Defense expectations on him. “Defensively, we will ask him to take on the challenge of what that position entails. Guarding some of the best players in the league and adapting to our schemes and terminology.” To his credit, Wiggins has done just that.
Wiggins will not win the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award this season. He isn’t going to win the Defensive Player of the Year either. While those accolades matter to a lot of players, Wiggins is just focused on improving and winning games. The Warriors hope to do the same as they return to postseason play.
NBA Daily: Examining Michael Porter Jr.’s Ascension
Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. is averaging over 25 points per game and looks like a future All-NBA player. Bobby Krivitsky examines Porter’s ascent and the questions that come with it.
Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. has taken his game to new heights.
In the wake of Murray’s ACL tear in mid-April, Porter’s playing time has gone from 30.6 minutes per contest to 35.7, while his shots per game have risen from 12.6 per game to 16.5. The increased responsibility has fueled his ascent. He’s knocking down 56.3 percent of those attempts. He’s taking 8.2 threes per game and making a blistering 50 percent of them. As a result, Porter’s gone from averaging 17.5 points per game to 25.1. He’s also grabbing 6.1 rebounds and blocking almost one shot per contest.
At the time of Murray’s injury, the Denver Nuggets were in fourth place in the Western Conference. They remain there now, 9-4 in his absence, and they boast the eighth-highest net rating in the NBA.
The only way for the Nuggets to fall from fourth would be if they lost their four remaining games and the Dallas Mavericks won their final five contests because the Mavericks have the tiebreaker since they won the season series. On the more realistic end of the spectrum, Denver sits just 1.5 games back of the Los Angeles Clippers, who occupy the third seed in the West. The Nuggets won their season series against the Clippers, meaning they’d finish in third if the two teams ended the regular season with the same record.
There’s a bevy of questions surrounding Porter’s recent play that need to be asked but cannot get answered at the moment. That starts with whether this is anything more than a hot streak. While it’s impossible to say definitively, it’s reasonable to believe Porter can consistently and efficiently produce about 25 points per game. He was the second-ranked high school prospect in 2017 and entered his freshman year at Missouri firmly in the mix for the top pick in the 2018 NBA draft. That was thanks in large part to his offensive prowess as a 6-10 wing with a smooth shot that’s nearly impossible to block because of the elevation he gets when he shoots.
A back injury cost him all but 53 minutes of his collegiate career and caused him to fall to the 14th pick in the draft. He ended up in an ideal landing spot, going to a well-run organization that’s also well aware of its barren track record luring star players looking to change teams, making it vital for the Nuggets to hit on their draft picks.
Porter’s first year in the NBA was exclusively dedicated to the rehab process and doing everything possible to ensure he can have a long, healthy and productive career. Last season, finally getting a chance to play, he showed off the tantalizing talent that made him a top prospect but only took seven shots per game while trying to fit in alongside Nikola Jokic, Murray, Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant.
More experience, including battling against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, an offseason, albeit a truncated one, to prepare for a more substantial role with Grant joining the Detroit Pistons and Millsap turning 36 this year, helped propel Porter.
But for the Nuggets, before Murray’s injury, the perception was that even though they weren’t the favorites to come out of the Western Conference, they were a legitimate title contender. How far can they go if Porter’s consistently contributing about 25 points and over six rebounds per game while effectively playing the role of a second star alongside Jokic?
It seems fair to cross Denver off the list of title contenders. But, if Porter continues to capably play the role of a second star alongside Jokic when doing so becomes more challenging in the postseason, the Nuggets can advance past a team like the Mavericks or Portland Trail Blazers. And at a minimum, they’d have the ability to make life difficult for whoever they had to face in the second round of the playoffs.
Unfortunately, the timing of Murray’s ACL tear, which happened in mid-April, means there’s a legitimate possibility he misses all of next season. Denver’s increased reliance on Porter is already allowing a young player with All-NBA potential to take on a role that’s closer to the one he’s assumed his whole life before making it to the sport’s highest level. If the Nuggets are counting on him to be the second-best player on a highly competitive team in the Western Conference next season, it’ll be fascinating to see what heights he reaches and how far they’re able to go as a team.
Theoretically, Porter’s growth could make it difficult for Denver to reacclimate Murray. But given Jokic’s unselfish style of play, there’s room for both of them to be satisfied by the volume of shots they’re getting. Unfortunately, the Nuggets have to wait, potentially another season, but Jokic is 26-years-old, Murray 24, Porter 22. When Denver has their Big Three back together, they could be far more potent while still being able to enjoy a lengthy run as legitimate title contenders.
NBA Daily: D’Angelo Russell Back on Track
D’Angelo Russell lost much of the 2020-21 season to injury. Drew Maresca explains why his return will surprise people around the league.
D’Angelo Russell was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves last February, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the entire season. But we’ve yet to see what Russell can really do in Minnesota.
The Timberwolves acquired Russell in late February in exchange for a future first-round pick – which transitions this season if they pick later than third – a 2021 second-round pick and Andrew Wiggins.
Sidenote: For those keeping score at home, the Timberwolves currently have the third-worst record in the league with five games remaining. It would behoove Minnesota to lose as many of their remaining games as possible to keep their 2021 pick. If the pick does not transition this season, it becomes unrestricted in 2020.
Trying to turn an owed pick into an unprotected future first is usually the wrong move; but in this instance, it’s better to keep the high first-rounder this year with an understanding that your 2022 pick will probably fall in or around the middle of the lottery.
The thinking around the deal was that Minnesota could qualify for the playoffs as soon as this season by swapping Wiggins’ contract for a young, talented lead guard in Russell. It has not played out as planned.
COVID resulted in a play stoppage shortly after the deal, robbing Russell of the opportunity to ramp up with his new team. When the NBA returned to finish the 2019-20 season, the Timberwolves failed to qualify for bubble play – and considering the US was still battling a global pandemic, Russell couldn’t easily practice with his new teammates and/or coaches.
The 2020-21 season began weirdly, too. The NBA proceeded with an abbreviated training camp and preseason. And while this impacted all teams, Russell was additionally hindered by the decision.
Ready or not, the season began. In 2020-21, Russell is averaging a near-career low in minutes per game (28.2) across just 36 games. He’s tallying 19.1 points per game on 43.6% shooting and a career-best 38.8% on three-point attempts. He’s also he’s posting a near career-best assist-to-turnover ratio (5.7 to 2.8).
Despite Russell’s contributions, the Timberwolves have failed to meet expectations. Far from the playoff squad they hoped to be, Minnesota is in contention for the top pick in this year’s draft. So what has gone wrong in Minneapolis?
Russell’s setbacks are fairly obvious. In addition to the lack of preparation with his teammates and coaches, Russell was diagnosed with a “loose body” in his knee, requiring arthroscopic knee surgery in February. As a result, he missed 27 consecutive games. Russell returned on April 5, but head coach Chris Finch revealed that he’d been on a minutes restriction until just recently.
Minnesota is clearly being cautious with Russell. Upon closer review, Russell has been restricted to under 30 minutes per game in all of his first 10 games back. Since then, Russell is averaging 31 minutes per game including an encouraging 37 minutes on May 5 in a four-point loss to Memphis.
Since returning from knee surgery, Russell is averaging 27 minutes per game across 16 games. Despite starting 19 of the team’s first 20 games, he hadn’t started in any game since returning – until Wednesday.
On the whole, Russell’s impact is about the same as it was prior to the injury, which should be encouraging to Timberwolves’ fans. He’s scoring slightly less (18.8 points since returning vs. 19.3 prior), shooting better from the field (44.9% since returning vs 42.6%% prior) and has been just slightly worse from three-point range (37.4% since vs. 39.9 prior). He’s dishing out more assists per game (6.5 since vs. 5.1 prior), too, and he posted three double-digit assist games in his last five contents – a feat achieved only once all season prior to his last five games.
Despite playing more and dropping more dimes, there’s still room to improve. Looking back to his career-bests, Russell averaged 23.1 points per game in 2019-20 in 33 games with Golden State (23.6) and 12 games with Minnesota (21.7).
But his most impactful season came in 2018-19 with the Brooklyn Nets. That season, Russell averaged 21.1 points and 7.0 assists per game, leading the Nets to the playoffs and earning his first trip to the All-Star game. He looked incredibly comfortable, playing with supreme confidence and flashing the ability to lead a playoff team.
At his best, Russell is a dynamic playmaker. The beauty of Russell is that he can also play off the ball. He has a quick release on his jumper and impressive range. His game is not predicated on athleticism, meaning he should stay at his peak for longer than guys like De’Aaron Fox and Ja Morant.
And while he’s been in the league for what feels like ever (six seasons), Russell just turned 25 approximately two months ago. Granted, comparing anyone to Steph Curry is unwise, but Curry wasn’t Steph Curry yet at 25. Former MVP Steve Nash hadn’t yet averaged double-digits (points) at 25. Twenty-five is also an inflection point for Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook. And the list goes on.
To be fair, Russell was drafted at 19 so he’s more acclimated to the league at this age than most, but his game will continue expanding nonetheless. He’ll develop trickier moves, become stronger and grow his shooting range. And a good deal of that growth should be evident as soon as next season since he’ll be fully healed from knee surgery and have a full offseason and training camp to finally work with teammates and coaches.
So while Minnesota’s 2020-21 season was incredibly bleak, their future is quite bright – and much of it has to do with the presence of Russell.