Sixers Half Court Offense Not Ready for Prime Time

Earlier today I wrote about the tall task the Sixers defense had in slowing down the Heat, now I'm going to take a look at the other side of the ball.   As impressive as the Heat offense is, they boast a top 5 defense as well.

Much has been made in the media about the Sixers improved half-court offensive play, with it being cited as one of the reasons this years playoff run will be different than the ill-fated runs against the Pistons and Magic in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

Don't get me wrong, the Sixers are improved.  In 2007-2008 the Sixers were the 2nd worst half-court offensive team in the league, which they improved upon in 2008-2009 to become the 3rd worst half-court offensive team in the league.  They're not that bad, anymore.  They've moved all the way up only being the 3rd worst half-court offensive team in the playoff, coming in as the 19th best half-court offense in the league.  Memphis (21st) and Indiana (22nd), both 8th seeds, have worse half-court offenses.

Improvements, for sure, but not enough of an improvement to base hope around.

A few numbers after the jump, and some thoughts

Here I'm going to take a comparison to the previous three years, having made the playoffs in 2007-2008 and 2008-2009, and missing it last year.  The biggest jump in half-court offense came last year, their worst year of the four record wise. 

The categories here are offensive rating, points per possession, field goal percentage, league-wide rank (based on points per possession), how much of the Sixers offense comes in the half-court (frequency), ft rate and turnover rate.  Outside of oRTG, all the other values are in half-court situations only, disregarding transition buckets to more narrowly focus in on the issue being debated.

Year oRTG (rank) pts/poss fg% 1/2 court rank freq ft% to%
2010-2011 17th 0.894 43.8 19th 85.3 9.2 11.5
2009-2010 20th 0.890 44.2 21st 82.5 9.2 13.3
2008-2009 19th 0.867 43.6 28th 83.7 11.8 13.2
2007-2008 18th 0.852 42.7 29th 81.2 10.6 12.4

 While the field goal percentage has stayed roughly the same, and the free throw rate has actually dropped, the Sixers half-court offense has improved largely on the back of taking care of the ball (this year is by far their best of the 4) and a change in shot distribution.  The Sixers are now up to 23rd in the league in three point attempts (up from second last in the league in 2007-2008 and 2008-2009), and make a far better percentage of them.  Here's a quick look at three point shooting over that four year stretch:

Year 3pta 3pta (rank) 3pt% 3pt% (rank)
2010-2011 1248 24 35.5 15
2009-2010 1381 21 34.3 22
2008-2009 1072 29 31.8 30
2007-2008 952 29 31.7 30

Moving up to league average offensively in shooting the three is a huge boon to the Sixers offense.  While it was great that the previous playoff teams knew its limits and didn't attempt all that many, being able to take (and make) three's improves a teams overall efficiency, both because of the extra point the three awards as well as the floor spacing it provides.

This improvement is primarily on the backs of Jrue Holiday taking over for Andre Miller (who wasn't a three point threat) and Jodie Meeks getting meaningful minutes, although Louis Williams has improved in this facet of the game as well.

The next chart is a look at players and their half-court effectiveness.  I've limited it to primarily players who could see time in the playoffs.

Player points/poss fg% ft% to% league rank freq
Iguodala 0.842 39.2 11.7 12.3 37 79.7
Holiday 0.833 42.2 6.8 16.4 35 85.4
Meeks 0.980 37.9 8.5 9.6 83 72.2
Brand 0.972 50 9.4 8.7 81 91.4
Hawes 0.811 45.3 5.8 13.3 31 92.9
Young 0.943 49.8 7.4 10 72 84.4
Williams 0.950 39.8 15.4 9.4 75 87.3
Turner 0.826 40.8 8.6 11 34 83.5
Nocioni 0.869 40.6 7.3 15.3 46 78.6
Speights 0.929 48.9 9.3 11 66 92.9
Battie 0.882 46.2 6.4 10 50 96.5

The columns should be getting familiar by now.  "freq" is the frequency (RE: percent) of the players overall possesions come in the half-court.  League rank is the percentile the player falls into in terms of half-court points per possession.

Obviously, this isn't a 100% perfect view, as it doesn't take into account points generated for other teammates, this is only looking at their own offense.  Take that into account, particularly for the perimeter players.

The number that jump out are Jrue Holiday's rate at drawing free throws (worst perimeter player on the team), which really hurts his overall effectiveness, to the point where Evan "the bust" Turner is nearly as efficient of a scorer as he is in the half-court.  Hopefully as Jrue's game continues to mature this is an area of his game that he can improve, but that's not likely to happen between now and the end of the playoffs.

Similarly on the negative side of the docket for Jrue is his turnover rate.  If you want to know why Collins has gone towards Iguodala as a half-court facilitator, that's a big reason why.  Iguodala sports a 2.8/1 assist to turnover rate in the half-court.  Jrue Holiday, by contrast, has a 2.2/1 assist to turnover ratio in the half-court.  Again, hopefully this is something that can improve with time, but that's not likely to change by today's 3:30 tipoff.

Iguodala is, and always has been, a mediocre half-court scorer on his own.  It's no surprise that the teams best half-court scorers are Jodie Meeks, Elton Brand, Thaddeus Young, and Louis Williams.  Outside of Louis Williams, none in that group consistently create for themselves, instead in the role of finishers on high percentage opportunities.  Meeks in particular is the benefit of extremely good shot distribution, with virtually all of his offense coming off three pointers or easy finishes at the rim.

Finally, I'm going to look at where the Sixers half-court offense ranks with the rest of the playoff teams.  Below is each playoff teams half-court efficiency in points per shot, fg%, playoff seed, and their league rank in points per shot on half-court attempts.

Team points/poss fg% rank seed
Denver 0.9728 45.9 1 5
San Antonio 0.9636 46.1 2 1
Miami 0.9544 46.1 4 2
New York 0.9512 44 5 6
Dallas 0.9507 45.9 6 3
LA Lakers 0.9458 45.5 7 2
Orlando 0.9385 45.6 8 4
Oklahoma City 0.9385 44.2 9 4
Boston 0.9269 47 11 3
Atlanta 0.9131 44.6 12 5
Chicago 0.9051 44.6 16 1
New Orleans 0.9038 44.3 17 7
Portland 0.9012 42.9 18 6
Philadelphia 0.8943 43.8 19 7
Memphis 0.8895 44.7 21 8
Indiana 0.8835 42.8 22 8

Conclusion

The axiom that half-court offense is required to win in the playoffs is largely true, as you can see by many of the most effective half-court offensive teams being the top seeds.  While it's true that the Sixers half-court offense is improved from their previous playoff runs, they're still among the worst in the playoff field.  The Sixers have done a good job of getting to league average in terms of three point shooting, but they still are not overly proficient at it, don't have a go-to scorer in the half-court, and many of their top options don't do all that well at getting to the line, holding back their overall effectiveness.  If Jodie Meeks doesn't regain his shooting touch, the Sixers could really struggle against a very good defensive team in the Miami Heat.

If it's half-court offense you're resting your hopes on, this Sixers team may not be quite ready yet.

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