The 76ers are officially title contenders.
If you were to design some sort of computer program capable of customizing the perfect player to round out the Sixers lineup, that player would look a heck of a lot like the one they just acquired. In fact, nobody should be surprised if Tobias Harris ends up sticking around town longer than Jimmy Butler. But that’s a conversation for later.
For now: The Sixers have added their ideal fit, a 6-foot-9 player who can guard the power-forward position and also happens to shoot 40-plus percent from downtown. He is the stretch-four they have secretly and not-so-secretly lusted after since even before the trade that sent Dario Saric to Minnesota for Butler in November, a player who suddenly gives the Sixers the ability to open up the court for Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
That might sound like a weird way to describe a power forward, but look at the numbers. Since the start of last season, only four players in the entire NBA have knocked down a better percentage of their attempts from beyond the arc on at least 600 attempts:
- Buddy Hield, .445
- Stephen Curry, .437
- Joe Harris, .433
- Kyle Korver, .430
- Tobias Harris, .420
Harris isn’t the volume shooter that any of those players above him are, but he has averaged four-plus attempts per game during that stretch. And he is more than a sweet shooter. In 55 games for the Clippers this season, he is averaging 20.9 points and 7.9 rebounds and also connecting on 52.3 percent of his shots from two-point range.
All those numbers have been steadily climbing over the last four seasons, a trajectory that helped make him the centerpiece of last year’s trade from the Pistons to the Clippers in exchange for Blake Griffin. And he is just 26 years old.
On the one hand, the price was as steep as you could imagine. On the other, it was a culmination of a carefully laid plan that began on draft night, when the Sixers shipped Mikal Bridges to the Suns for a 2021 unprotected first-round pick. That pick and rookie guard Landry Shamet, whom the team later drafted at No. 26, form the keystones of the package the Sixers will reportedly send to L.A. Also included are Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, and this year’s first-round pick.
That is a lot of quantity. And, in Shamet and the Heat first-rounder, some quality. But all those core assets were ones the Sixers added after the end of last season. Why did it make sense to trade Bridges to the Suns? This is why. Frankly, it is a bit of a coup that the Sixers were able to make this deal without including Zhaire Smith.
It is also a bit of a coup that they managed to secure two other pieces that fill out needs in their rotation in backup big man Boban Marjanovic and forward Mike Scott. Scott, also a power forward who can knock down a shot (39.1 percent on 2.6 three-point attempts per game in 14.4 minutes this season), will help patch Muscala’s departure. Marjanovic, a 7-3 behemoth, will give Brett Brown another option for protecting the rim while Joel Embiid is on the bench.
Now, suddenly, the Sixers have the sort of rotation that could make them the prohibitive favorites in the Eastern Conference. The big question — unanswered at this early hour — is whether they stick with Butler or look to flip him ahead of Thursday’s deadline. Frankly, there are arguments on both sides of that dilemma. But assuming they keep him in the fold, here is what the starting five looks like:
- Ben Simmons
- JJ Redick
- Jimmy Butler
- Tobias Harris
- Joel Embiid
That’s four present or former All-Stars, plus Redick, with a bench that features Scott coming in at the four and Marjanovic coming in at the five.
Don’t be surprised if Elton Brand isn’t done. The Sixers should be one of the most attractive destinations on the buyout market, which gives them the potential to add a player such as the Knicks’ Wesley Matthews to take a backup wing spot.
Make no mistake, though: This is all about Harris. Looking long-term, you can consider him as insurance against losing Butler, but that would assume the Sixers swung this deal without committing themselves to re-signing him. There is a strong argument to be made that Harris should be their No. 1 priority this offseason.