Examining whether Anderson was a better fit than Harris for the Pistons – CBSSports.com

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The stretch-four position in Stan Van Gundy’s team construct is the glue that keeps everything together. It isn’t just about hitting 3-pointers, although that spacing can be the life force to maximizing the pick-and-roll-heavy offense. It’s also about having someone who can defend the other end of the floor for Van Gundy, and is comfortable doing so either in the paint or on the perimeter. While Rashard Lewis had his faults and was paid an exorbitant amount of money, he was able to fill that role quite well for Van Gundy in Orlando.

With Stan taking over the Detroit Pistons, he needed to reshape his roster. In about a year and a half, we’ve seen a confusing group of players and skill sets turn into a more balanced attack that spreads the floor and complements each other nicely. But the roster was such a mess that Van Gundy is still trying to find the right pieces, including that vaunted stretch-four option. Tuesday, two days before the trade deadline madness, the Pistons made their move to fill that role.

They acquired Tobias Harris from Orlando for Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings. It was a move by Van Gundy that raided the already thin rotation of capable players by going 2-for-1 in the swap. But that short-term potential strain on the depth chart was worth it to Van Gundy as he used those expiring deals to lock up a caliber of player who may not have been available to Detroit this summer.

Harris is owed $48 million over the next three years, and it’s a declining salary year-to-year. For a combo forward who can be a monster in the post, step out and knock down a midrange jumper, Harris has the potential to hit the 3-point shot down the road, and play some solid defense. That’s a potential steal in the NBA today. But according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, it may not have been Detroit’s first option. They apparently had serious talks with New Orleans about acquiring Ryan Anderson, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.

The New Orleans Pelicans are pushing hard to find a trade for forward Ryan Anderson, whom they expect to lose in summer free agency, league sources said.

Teams trading for Anderson believe he’ll command a starting salary of $16 million-$18 million a season in free agency.

New Orleans and Detroit had serious talks on an Anderson deal in the past few days, sources said, but the Pistons ultimately reached an agreement with Orlando on a trade for Tobias Harris on Tuesday.

The issue for the Pistons – and several teams around the league interested in Anderson – remains this: How much will it cost to re-sign Anderson this summer in free agency? With Harris, the Pistons have cost-certainty on the three-years, $48 million on his deal through the 2018-’19 season.

The questions for Van Gundy basically became whether it was worth acquiring Anderson if you couldn’t guarantee keeping him in the offseason, and if not, whether the baseline of that money going toward Anderson is better served going toward Harris.

There are two main issues with Harris as a player. First, he has been one of the worst isolation defenders in the NBA this season and he’s struggled a bit defending the pick-and-roll. Part of the struggles in defending big men in the pick-and-roll is because Nikola Vucevic doesn’t provide a lot of back line help. The thing with the isolation defense is guys are just beating him to spots on the floor to get off good shots. That’s why they’re shooting nearly 50 percent against him in these situations. That’s correctable with buying into Van Gundy’s defensive principles.

The second issue is his 3-point shooting. It’s bad. He’s had one good season shooting from beyond the arc and that was last year in his contract year. Other than that, he’s been basically a Josh Smith-level disaster without the Josh Smith volume. In the year he made 36.4 percent of his 3s, he shot 37.7 percent from the left corner 3 and 51 percent from the right corner 3. Every other season of his career, he’s been a combined 28.1 percent from the left corner and 30.8 percent from the right corner. He’d almost be better off blindfolded.

Detroit has a feeling its offensive system, which is definitely more open and more confidence-inducing than what Scott Skiles puts together, can help correct some of the shooting issues Harris has had, especially from the corners. This is important because the alternative of acquiring Anderson meant they’d be adding one of the most prolific outside shooting stretch-four’s the game has ever seen.

In terms of what it would’ve done for the Pistons the rest of the season, our SportsLine projections give us a glimpse into maybe what to expect the rest of the way. The 2-for-1 swap of Jennings and Ilyasova for Harris actually drops the Pistons’ win total the rest of this season and decreases their playoff odds by 6.3 percent. They still likely finish eighth in the East no matter what.

Had the Pistons made the same trade for Anderson (assuming it would’ve been a similar framework of a deal), the Pistons are roughly 0.7 wins better the rest of the season and have a 79 percent chance at the playoffs. Over the course of a full season, Anderson would be worth at least two more victories.

It’s worth noting that SportsLine also projects the difference between Harris’ Pistons and Anderson’s Pistons being quite minimal when projecting Harris as his contract year 3-point accuracy of 36 percent or better.

Anderson has been a much better isolation defender than Harris, but he also doesn’t defend small forwards nearly as much as Harris was required to in Orlando. Harris is much better at closing out on spot-up shooters (44.9 percent eFG vs. 50.9 percent eFG). Overall, players shoot 1.5 percent worse against Harris, and just 0.1 percent worse when they shoot against Anderson. It was on Van Gundy to weigh the risk of losing Anderson in the offseason and factor in the cost difference there would be between the two.

Harris’ contract calls for $17.2 million in 2016-17, $16 million in 2017-18, and $14.8 million in 2018-19. Because of the outrageous spending to come and premium service Anderson provides, expecting him to get a starting salary at $18 million isn’t absurd, like Wojnarowski reported. The difference between what Harris does and what Anderson does makes the spending in 2016-17 quite favorable to wanting Anderson. If the difference in salary is negligible, then you definitely try to acquire Anderson.

But what happens in 2017-18 when Anderson is making nearly $19 million because of the 4.5 percent raises in the deal? What about the next season when there will be nearly a $5 million gap between the two salaries? Is a 30-year old Anderson a couple years from now $5 million better than what a 26-year-old Harris will be? Probably not.

The move for Anderson would help now and probably next year, too. But two years from now, having Harris over Anderson could be a no-brainer, especially if Tobias learns how to reclaim that contract year 3-point accuracy.

Would it make more sense to have pushed for Ryan Anderson? (USATSI)
Would it make more sense to have pushed for Ryan Anderson? (USATSI)

Examining whether Anderson was a better fit than Harris for the Pistons – CBSSports.com