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. You can look back at past analyses: first ten games, second ten games.
In the NFL, a common refrain is to divide the season into four-game segments, and if you go at least 2-2 in each segment, you’re going to have a successful year. If we apply a similar line of thinking to the NBA, then the Sixers are having a successful season. They’ve been better than .500 in each 10-game stretch, going 6-4 over their most recent 10 games. Currently, their 19-11 record has them sitting 5th in the Eastern Conference, 3.5 games back of the first place Raptors.
The two most recent home losses to Brooklyn and Indiana are at least partially attributable to Jimmy Butler sitting out with a groin injury. While Furkan Korkmaz has used the increased playing time to have some solid performances of late, Butler’s absence has exposed some very real depth concerns for the team.
With recently signed free agents now eligible to be traded, people are speculating ways the Sixers can bolster the rotation. One possible avenue would be trading away Markelle Fultz, who is currently rehabbing for a new thoracic outlet syndrome diagnosis. Of course, a repaired relationship with the guard that sees him retake the court in a Sixers uniform could also provide a boost for the team.
Before diving deeper into those depth issues, let’s examine the team-wide numbers (stats are for the last 10 games, compared to the season as a whole, and as of 12/15/18):
Offensive rating: 113.0 - 7th in NBA (Season: 109.2 - 13th in NBA)
Defensive rating: 108.5 - 16th (105.6 - 13th)
Net rating: +4.4 - 8th (+1.7 - 10th)
Pace: 101.05 - 9th (102.76 - 8th)
eFG%: 54.6% - 8th (52.6% - 11th)
FTA rate: 0.289 - 5th (0.320 - 2nd)
TOV%: 14.5% - 17th (15.4% - 25th)
OREB%: 28.1% - 13th (27.2% - 17th)
OPP eFG%: 50.6% - 6th (49.9% - 2nd)
OPP FTA rate: 0.279 - 21st (0.276 - 21st)
OPP TOV%: 13.8% - 20th (12.8% - 28th)
OPP OREB%: 28.5% - 22nd (27.2% - 14th)
Bolstered by a pair of blowout victories over the Knicks and Wizards, the Sixers actually boosted their net rating quite a bit over the last few weeks. Their offense continues to improve — Jimmy Buckets has indeed been getting buckets; he has the second-best offensive rating among Sixers this season, while shooting 41.9% on 3-pointers since coming to Philadelphia.
However, the team’s defensive rating has steadily plummeted in the wake of Robert Covington’s departure. The list of opposing guards who have gone off for season or career-highs is growing as long as Arya Stark’s bedtime recitation. Getting a strong on-ball perimeter defender should be a top priority for general manager Elton Brand in the trade market. Good thing 3-and-D players are so readily available, right?
The Sixers have been excellent over the last 10 games whenever Joel Embiid or Jimmy Butler has been in the game. Looking at on/off splits, the team’s net rating drops into the negatives when either of those guys is on the bench, but maintains a positive number when any other player hits the pine.
Ideally, the Sixers would turn to their third star, Ben Simmons, to keep things afloat when Embiid and Butler are out, but that has not been the case lately. Per NBA Wowy, the Sixers have scored just 0.814 points per possession over the last 10 games in the 49 minutes Simmons has played without Embiid and Butler (meanwhile, opponents have scored 1.195 PPP).
One problem is Simmons being surrounded by players who are almost strictly spot-up shooters at this point of their careers (Landry Shamet, Mike Muscala, JJ Redick, Furkan Korkmaz), While this strategy makes sense under the “surround Simmons with shooters” philosophy, the shooters have been so in name only during these Simmons-led minutes. Shamet has shot 1-for-10 from the field, while Redick has shot 4-for-20, and Korkmaz has been a little more respectable at 5-for-14.
Clearly, the Sixers would be improved by having another player capable of creating his own shot to assist Simmons with those bench-heavy units — a role Markelle Fultz was supposed to fill with aplomb upon being drafted first overall two summers ago. Whether Fultz can fill such a role upon a possible return or the Sixers need to obtain such a player via trade remains to be seen, but an upgrade has to come from somewhere.
As frustrating as some of these losses have been, the Sixers are still in a good position. Recall that through 30 games last season, Philadelphia was just 14-16. The team has performed extremely well with Jimmy Butler on the court, and aside from one comment by Embiid overblown by the media, Butler seems to have fit in nicely (#HeadbandBrothers4Life).
Nevertheless, roster tweaks almost certainly need to be made. With the December 15 trade eligibility deadline behind us and Trevor Ariza already heading to Washington, we’ll see if any come about prior to our next check-in.
All stats courtesy of NBA.com/stats, unless otherwise noted.