Every ten games, we’ll be checking in with how the team has been playing recently, looking at trends in style of play, shifts in the rotation, etc. For the first ten games, we’ll be drawing comparisons to the 2017-18 season.
We are less than three weeks into the season and there is good news and bad news. Good news: the Sixers are undefeated at home. Bad news: they’ve yet to win on the road. I guess we can all pencil in a 41-41 campaign. Let’s check back with the team in mid-April for the first-round matchup between the 7th-seed Sixers and the 2nd-seed Raptors.
Realistically, each of the four losses had some sort of extenuating circumstance associated with it. The loss to Boston was on the road against the Eastern Conference favorite, and considering it was the opening game of the entire NBA season, the Garden was bound to be even more of a hostile environment than usual. The Pistons loss came in overtime without Ben Simmons available. Both the Bucks and Raptors losses were on the second nights of back-to-backs. Still, there are certainly some legitimate concerns with the team. Let’s first take a look at the stats, and then dive into them.
Record: 6-4, .600 winning % (Last season: 52-30, .634)
Offensive rating: 106.4 - 23rd in NBA (Last season: 108.3 - 14th)
Defensive rating: 105.6 - 7th (Last season: 103.8 - 3rd)
Net rating: +0.8 - 15th (Last season: +4.5 - 4th)
Pace: 105.11 - 8th (Last season: 100.9 - 4th)
eFG%: 50.2% - 22nd (Last season: 53.5 - 7th)
FTA rate: 0.307 - 7th (Last season: 0.263 - 10th)
TOV%: 14.4% - 18th (Last season: 16.3% - 30th)
OREB%: 25.9% - 23rd (Last season: 28.6% - 5th)
OPP eFG%: 48.8% - 4th (Last season: 49.2% - 1st)
OPP FTA rate: 0.266 - 15th (Last season: 0.293 - 29th)
OPP TOV%: 12.9% - 24th (Last season: 14.1% - 19th)
OPP OREB%: 25.8% - 9th (Last season: 26.4% - 12th)
Defensively, the Sixers have still been an above average unit this season. A team with Joel Embiid manning the paint and Robert Covington and Ben Simmons on the perimeter will always have a high floor for success on that end. The biggest change from last year has involved the team trying to switch everything more often. Philadelphia is fouling less, but also forcing fewer turnovers. Nothing too drastic in terms of the defensive side of the ball, however.
The offensive end has been the biggest cause for consternation for Philadelphia. Despite drastically lowering their turnover rate, something largely due to Embiid dropping his rate from a team-worst 13.8% last season to just 8.0%, the Sixers have been one of the worst offenses in the league because they just aren’t hitting shots. I can pinpoint two main reasons for the team’s struggles. Let’s start with the less-pressing one first.
Dario Saric’s Slump
Saric has the worst eFG% on the team among players who have regularly received minutes (39.5%). He has also turned the ball over more frequently than last year (12.2% to 11.1%) and has largely been a revolving door on defense. Both Dario himself and Brett Brown have made mention that he’s tired from playing international ball overseas during the offseason. However, busy offseasons have always been a part of Dario’s life, and last season, Saric had an eFG% of 48.9% across his first 10 games. Maybe the NBA regular season starting earlier than usual was a factor. Maybe this is just a regular-old slump, something that happens to every NBA player over a small sample size at one time or another. Regardless, it’s certainly something to keep an eye on moving forward.
The Ben Simmons-Markelle Fultz Pairing
Aside from whatever happened in Toronto, Simmons has been very good this season. He has two triple-doubles already and a handful of other near-misses. The defense has been strong. Markelle Fultz has been up-and-down, reasonable for a 20-year-old who has yet to play a half season’s worth of NBA games. Still, he has looked increasingly confident, played a major role in the Clippers win, and is gradually picking up the nuances of playing NBA defense to become an impactful player on that end. He has even hit 4 threes! So everything is good here, right? Wrong.
As many people have discussed, these two guys playing together has not been conducive to success for the Sixers. Both players are best with the ball in their hands, surrounded by teammates who can space the floor. Fultz has been unable to play crunch time, even in games he has played very well, because the offensive end of the floor with the pairing on the floor is more crowded than an underfunded public school. Here are the updated numbers, per NBAWowy:
Simmons and Fultz both on (93 minutes): 0.871 points per possession
Simmons on, Fultz off (186 minutes): 0.940 points per possession
Fultz on, Simmons off (147 minutes): 1.028 points per possession
Fultz has shown sporadic willingness to shoot outside shots, so it’s possible he continues to improve in that area, enabling him to play off-ball more effectively alongside Simmons. At the moment though, it’s concerning two players the Sixers hope are franchise cornerstones can’t co-exist together.
Let’s finish on a positive note, though. Namely...
Joel Embiid is a force of nature
29.6 points per game - 2nd in the NBA
12.4 rebounds per game - 6th
2.3 blocks per game - 5th
More impressive than the raw numbers, however, is the fact that Embiid hasn’t missed a game and his minutes per game have risen to 34.4, second on the team and 15th overall in the league. I already mentioned how well Embiid has down in cutting down on his turnovers. Conditioning and taking better care of the ball were two of the main areas for improvement for the 24-year-old big man and the early returns look terrific. He’s producing nightly performances that compare only to guys like Wilt Chamberlain and Allen Iverson in franchise history. The Sixers have a legitimate MVP-caliber star on their hands.
All stats courtesy of NBA.com/Stats, unless otherwise specified.