Exploring Alternatives to Tobias Harris Up Front

John Keeffer , 2019-05-28 16:12:42
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If you were to poll all of Jazz Nation on who their number one free agent target is this offseason, a vast majority of them would say Tobias Harris, and for good reason. He is an incredible talent and would seemingly fit seamlessly next to Rudy Gobert. The numbers over the last two seasons have consistently backed up the theory that the Utah Jazz are a better team with a stretch four next to Gobert.

If the numbers are consistently better with Jae Crowder on the floor, imagine replacing his production with Harris. Getting thrown into a crowded Sixers starting line up didn’t always shed him in the best light, so let’s just take a glance at time with the LA Clippers prior to getting traded. He averaged 20.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3 assist per game, and at 6’9″, he was also shooting a career best 42.6 percent from three.

He would provide the Jazz with a bona fide second scoring option to pair next to Donovan Mitchell. His ability to stretch the floor would create more driving lanes for Mitchell to get to the basket, and an easier path for Gobert to roll to the basket.

His numbers and skill sets are incredible, which is one of the reasons that he is going to be one of the most sought after free agents on the market this summer. 

Harris will absolutely be the number one priority for the Utah Jazz this off-season. The price will be high, but he just might be worth it. Even if they were to offer him a max contract on day one of free agency, would he accept the offer? I don’t know. I think he would be smart to, but larger markets are going to be calling as well. So if fate doesn’t happen to be on the side of the Jazz, what are the backup plans? Do they simply let Derrick Favors’ second-year salary become guaranteed? Or do they continue to pursue a more modern stretch four?

If they choose to go down the road of bringing in a replacement for Derrick Favors, there are still a few intriguing options. Lets review three potential options if the Jazz are to strike out on Tobias Harris.

Nikola Mirotic

Again? Really? Nikola Mirotic? Haven’t we been down this road already? I know, I know, but he is still an intriguing option, and it is clear that the Jazz have been interested in the past. His fit next Gobert is intriguing to think about. He is the prototypical stretch four, but has also shown a decent ability to put the ball on the floor if the defender closes out too hard. 

The best shooting four that Gobert has played with has been Crowder, who finished the past two seasons with the Jazz at just a hair (or dreadlock?) under 33 percent. Mirotic is a career 36 percent 3-point shooter, and attempted an impressive seven threes per game last season. Compared to Derrick Favors 22 percent and just one attempt per game, the Jazz would look drastically different with Mirotic on the floor. He is not necessarily a player who can take some of the load off of Mitchell, but he can potentially alleviate some of the scoring pressure, and at the very least his presence on the floor will create more room for everyone on the floor.

It is clear that Mirotic is a talented offensive player who can score the ball when given the opportunity. The knock on him has always been about everything else. He is not a great passer, and by that I mean he rarely passes. He has averaged 1.3 assist for his career. He’s only an average rebounder, and he’s never had great focus on the defensive end. 

He has clear flaws to his game, but you have to ask yourself if you believe his offensive talents outweigh those flaws.

Mirotic has greatly struggled with the Milwaukee Bucks during the playoffs, to the point that he is barely seeing the floor verses the Raptors. With that being the case, it does not seem like they will be aggressive in trying to keep him. It also has the potential to drop his standing among other free agent power forwards on the market. If Harris is off the table, don’t be surprised if discussions happen between he and the Jazz.

Harrison Barnes

Despite being a starter on a championship team early in his career, Harrison Barnes seems to be looked down upon in the majority of NBA circles. Perhaps it’s the max contract that he was given to be the successor to Dirk Nowitzki for the Dallas Mavericks. While Barnes never quite lived up to that contract, he has consistently been a solid NBA player, and has shown a clear ability to score the ball on offense. Harris may be the best stretch four on the market offensively, but Barnes is not as far behind as people may think. 

In his two full seasons with the Mavericks, Barnes averaged 19 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. He also shot 39.5 percent from three this past season, and is a career 37 percent 3-point shooter. At 6-8″ 225 pounds, he has the size and athleticism to play both small forward and power forward. Offensively, he has even shown the ability to be an effective post-up player. Similar to Harris, his ability to play from both the perimeter and the paint makes him a difficult matchup for defenders. If you are smaller than him, he can back you down to the basket. If the defender has a size advantage, he can stretch them out to the perimeter and take them off the dribble.

Just like Mirotic, Barnes is a not a great passer. When he get’s the ball in the post, he has a tendency to be a black hole. In the right system, like when he was with the Warriors, he was still able to move the ball effectively as to not disrupt the offense. Defensively, I think he would do just fine in Utah. He is not a major plus on that end of the floor, but he is also not a major negative like a player like Mirotic would be. Again, when looking back to his time with a winning team, he was able to be a part of a high level defense.

I don’t think that Barnes is meant to be the number one option on a team, which is what he was being asked to do with Dallas. When you slide him in as a second or third option though, he can be a major positive for a team looking to make a deep run in the playoffs. He’s done it before, and he could do it again for a winning team.

The biggest issue with Barnes is that he has a player option for the final year on his contract. That final year is set to pay him nearly $25 million next season. While he may have a desire to not play with the Sacramento Kings and to get back on the free market, he is not going to get close to that $25 million that he is set to receive. If he were to decide to decline that player option however, he is a name for the Jazz to seriously consider. 

Bobby Portis

Bobby Portis was someone who never even entered my mind until this past season, when he torched the Jazz to to tune of 28 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assist, and knocked down six threes. The Jazz won the game, but Portis made an impressive sales pitch to the Jazz organization. After the game, I looked up the season averages of Portis, and was shocked to find that he was having the quietest career year of almost any player I can remember. Perhaps it was because he played last season with the Chicago Bulls and then the hapless Washington Wizards. He finished the season averaging 14 points, 8 rebounds, and shot nearly 40 percent from three. 

That shooting wasn’t just an anomaly either. He has steadily improved as a shooter every year of his career. Going from 31 percent, to 33, to 36, and finally to 40 percent this past season. 

In a league that is evolving more and more each day to where your power forward must have the ability to stretch the floor, how is a 6’11” big man who shoots 40 percent from three (and also seems to care about defense), not getting more attention?

Of all the power forwards of interest for the Jazz, Portis is likely to be the least expensive option. This past season, he made just $2.5 million in the final year of his rookie contract. He is set to get a major pay raise, but I would still be shocked if he was offered a contract that paid him more than $10 million annually. He is also only 24 years of age, so he is going to be one of the youngest players you are getting with starter level talent. Which also means there is still room for plenty of growth and improvement. Especially when you consider the franchises he has played with so far. Placing him with the Jazz development staff would surely bring out the best in him. 

Honorable Mentions

Jabari Parker, Rudy Gay, Marcus Morris, Derrick Favors

John is a Multimedia Journalism major at Utah’s Weber State University, where he has been a sports reporter for The Signpost. He also has previous writing experience at his own blog, The Wasatch Front, as well as at The J Notes. John moved to Utah at a young age, just in time for the Jazz’s back-to-back Finals runs.

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