It is clear this team has talent. After that first Rockets game, a bunch of people were in mass panic mode, and I told you all to calm down. Since then, the Sixers are 5-2, with one of those losses being to the best team in the NBA, and one of those wins being against arguably the second-best team in the league. Now all the sudden, everyone is back on board the Sixers bandwagon. I will say it again, do not over-react to a couple bad weeks for a team. Especially when it is the start of the season and the team in question is mostly first and second-year players. Their young players, with the exception of Markelle Fultz who isn’t playing, have stood out, and showed the real potential this team. Ben Simmons has been the clear ROY so far, and even with limited minutes, and not being back to his full form yet, Joel Embiid is dominating. The vets, like Robert Covington, and JJ Reddick, are playing great. TJ McConnell has been a great role player so far for them and brings a great energy off the bench. There is a lot to be happy about with the Sixers so far, and some things to be less than happy about.
The Sixers are 3rd in both 3-pointers made, and 3-point field goal percentage. Players like Dario Saric, Robert Covington, and JJ Reddick have been deadly beyond the arc for them. Covington is 6th in the league in 3-point FG%. This is a new twist the Sixers game that has been lacking for a long time. With multiple consistent 3-point shooters on the court, this not only helps the team as a whole but helps players like Embiid who operate mainly inside, as it keeps defenders outside the paint.
The Sixers are tied with the Lakers for the most amount of turnovers. They turn the ball over an average of 17.8 times per game. Now the Sixers have an offensive efficiency rate of 102.5 according to ESPN. If my math is correct, and it should be because I just used a simple proportion equation, this means losing those 17.8 possessions per game costs them 18.2 points per game. On top of that, the Sixers have a defensive efficiency of 103.6, which means these turnovers, again assuming my math is correct, are handing the other team 18.4 points a game. If they are taking 18 points off their own score, and giving their opponents 18 points, that is a big swing. Now turnovers are to be expected with a young team, and you can already see this issue improving, but still. This is a major issue for the team right now.
The Sixers are 4th in the league in terms of rebound differential. This is one of the benefits of having such a tall, athletic lineup. Both Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid soak up 10 rebounds on their own per game. Now there have been stretches where they didn’t do a good enough job boxing out on defense, but despite that, they are still one of the best rebounding teams. Imagine how good they will be once they get more experience and box out consistently.
-Free Throw Shooting
As a team, the Sixers are shooting .699 from the free throw line. That is the second worst rate in the NBA. That is just not going to get it done. When the other teams gives you a chance for free points, you have to take it. They have lost two games by less than 3 points. If they were shooting even .766 from the line, which would be good enough for being 15th in the league, they would have won the first game against the Rockets, which they lost by 1 point, and would have won the game against the Kings. Instead, they missed too many free throws and lost those games. Thee is no excuse for missing free throws at that rate. Not even for rookie players.
+Level of Competition
The Sixers have played 12 games and are 6-6. On paper that seems average. But when you take into account who the Sixers have played, it becomes more impressive. One of those losses is to the Celtics, who have won 12 straight, and have the best record in the NBA. One of those losses is to the Warriors, who are of course the reigning champs, and without a doubt, the best team in the league. One of those losses is to the Rockets, who have the second-best record in the NBA, and only beat them by 1 point on a last second 3-point field goal. They also lost to the Raptors, and the Wizards, who each are in the top 10 of the league standings. As for their wins, they beat the Pistons, 3rd best record in the NBA, and the Rockets, who again, second best record in the NBA. The Sixers hung with the Warriors through two and a half quarters, until the Warriors went on a run and put the game out of reach. This is a young team, and they have hung with, and even beaten, some of the best teams in the league.
-Too many personal fouls
The Sixers are allowing teams to shoot an average of 28.5 FTs a game. They are 29th in the league in that category. The league average is 22.6. So the Sixers are handing teams about 6 more free points per game than the average NBA team. They are fouling 3-point shooters. On top of all of this, the high amount of fouls puts their players into foul trouble. There have been games where important players had to take a seat because they racked up too many fouls too early. There have been games where the Sixers couldn’t play the type of defense they want to because they are already in the bonus and any found will send the opponent to the line. Getting into early foul trouble limits you in more ways than one, and hands-free points to the other team. They will have to fix this before they take the next step.
The Sixers are second in the league in assists, with 26.3 per game. This is part of the reason their 3-point FG % is so high because they find shooters wide open beyond the arc. After a few passes, the opposing defense starts to break down, and it is more likely someone will be open for a high percentage shot. The Sixers have been good at this, mostly because Ben Simmons has been great at finding to open guy, even when the passing lanes are tight. But it isn’t only him. Embiid, McConnell, and others have also done a great job passing the ball around until they find the open guy. However, when they cannot find an open guy, the Sixer have a tendency to force things or hold onto the ball too long.
-Ben Simmons needs to shoot more
Simmons is a special player. He averages 17.4 points per game, 9 rebounds per game, and 7.8 assists per game. Thos numbers are great for anyone, especially for a rookie. Only 4 other rookies have ever done that in a rookie season, and all 4 are hall of fame players. However, he needs to add a jump shot to his game. He does not need to be a great shooter, but defenses need to respect his shot. As it is, when Simmons has the ball, defenders can give him space to protect the lane because any outside the paint he will not shoot. As good as he is now if he can hit the occasional three, and hit some longer twos, his game will jump to an even higher level. There are times where he is wide open and does not shoot. There is nothing wrong with his motion, he has the potential, he just needs to get a mental state where he is comfortable putting it up.
Now on the surface, the Sixers defense does not look good. They are ranked 25 in Points allowed per game, 109.8. But, as I mentioned, a lot of that is because of turnovers on offense giving the other team fast break chances, and because they foul too much. Teams are not converting at a high volume against the Sixers. They are 7th in the league in FG% against, with teams converting only 44% percent of shots.They are 6th in the league in 3-point FG% against, with teams converting at a rate of .329. They are 10th in steals with 8.4 per game. The defense has had bad stretches, but they have also had stretches of dominance. Once this team gets more chemistry, and experience, they could be elite.
-Embiid forcing it at times
Embiid can be a bit overzealous at times. He can get tunnel vision when he gets the ball, and try to score when he doesn’t have a shot. This has led to a lower FG% than the Sixers would like to see from him, and some bad turnovers.
+Will only get better
The best thing about this team, they are young. They are going to get better, and these little problems will be fixed. They are already facing off against some of the best teams and holding their own. They have a chance to be truly special down the road.