#1: Stop Giving Up So Many More Shot Attempts
The Sixers are 30th in the NBA in Field Goal Differential, or dead-last. They are currently giving up 6.3 more shot attempts per game than they take. If they expect to win, they have to be more efficient with their amount of shots.
You may ask, “Can you give consistently give up more shots than the opponent and win?”
This season, the answer seems to be yes.
In the chart below, you will see that the Raptors, Warriors, and Sixers all rank near the bottom of the league in FGA differential, despite being among the NBA’s royalty. Also noteworthy, is that the variation from the Mean # of wins (~10) increases as you approach the bottom of the league — some elite teams show their ability to overcome this gap with efficient offense and usually, great transition defense.
The orange line is comprised of all 30 NBA teams ranked by Field Goals Attempted Differential — #1 is the Detroit Pistons at +6.3 more FGAs per game than opponent. The blue line has those teams corresponding win totals, illustrating the relationship between these two statistics.
The Sixers find themselves dead-last in the NBA this season in FGA Differential. It is even more pronounced in their losses this season (Non-OT):
- 10/16 vs. Boston (-10 FGAs)
- 10/23 vs. Pistons (-10 FGAs)
- 10/24 vs. Bucks (-8 FGAs)
- 10/30 vs. Raptors (-1 FGA)
- 11/4 vs. Nets (-45 FGAs!!!)
- 11/10 vs. Grizzlies (-18 FGAs)
- 11/14 vs. Magic (+6 FGAs)
- 11/23 vs. Cavaliers (-18 FGAs)
- 12/5 vs. Raptors (-12 FGAs)
Writing that out made me a little sick-to-my-stomach. An average of 12.9 fewer Field Goal Attempts per game than their opponent in the losses this season.
High free-throw games could be a natural explanation for this phenomena — maybe that’s why the Sixers are getting fewer shots? Let’s examine the free-throw differentials in these games:
- Boston (+9 FTAs)
- Pistons (+1 FTAs)
- Bucks (Even FTA)
- Raptors (+2 FTAs)
- Nets (+23 FTAs)
- Grizzlies (+1 FTAs)
- Magic (-7 FTAs)
- Cavaliers (+10 FTAs)
- Raptors (-8 FTAs)
An average of 3.44 more free throws attempted per game in their losses, or a little more than 2.5 points worth per game.
Can 2.5 extra free-throw points make up for 12.9 fewer FGAs? HECK NO!
This brings me to my next point — turnovers. First, let’s look at turnovers generated by the Sixers defense. I made crude classification groupings based the proxy variables “Live Ball TO% (generated) and Points Surrendered Per 100 possessions:
As illustrated, the Sixers do not generate many live ball turnovers and their overall defense is mediocre. The goal is to move as low as possible on this chart (fewer points). My contention is that the Sixers have to move rightward (more Live Ball TOs) to achieve this.
In fact, look at the same graph from the 2017-18 season, where the Sixers’ defense ranked off considerably higher:
For such an ancillary relationship, the trend between good defense and generating live ball turnovers is quite linear, after providing some causal explanations to the outliers:
For example, Boston was a half court stonewall who rarely gambled for steals.
Milwaukee had the personnel but a broken scheme. Last but not least, the tanking teams that stink on defense but generate turnovers randomly.
Why are they getting less attempts?
Points off turnover and 2nd-chance points could be a major culprit. If you add up the Sixers league rankings in these categories & the ranking of their opponent’s, you’ll see they rank towards the bottom of the league.
Via Cleaning the Glass, Sixers opponent’s are 26th in the league Offensive Rebounding percentage. So, clearly that is not what’s leading to so many second-chance points, right?
The Sixers are directly in the middle of this graph, probably indicating that 2nd chance points aren’t a central issue.
The Sixers halfcourt defense is 20th in points per possession surrendered, at 0.947 PPP, indicating they are not doing a great job at stopping the opponent.
Why do the Sixers turn the ball over so much?
Joel Embiid is a high-usage big, who’s constantly doubled and who’s nursing a chronically sore hand. He’s also clumsy when he’s fatigued and has played with Simmons and Fultz a lot which kills spacing. Later I will touch on what Brett Brown is doing to address this problem.
Ben Simmons produces turnovers in a much different variety — about half of his turnovers are high-risk passes that end up in the first row or the opponent’s hands. Many came from gingerly handling the ball after his back injury, which I expect to improve as the season goes on.
Both of them have combined for 30 offensive fouls thus far, far too many. LeBron & Harden have 11, Anthony Davis has 6. Basically, they are charging to the basket out of control, mostly due to lack of a perimeter game.
Embiid, who’s showed flashes of an outside shot, doesn’t look like he’s materializing as a shooter. Here I made a chart showing a running total of 3P% over the the last two seasons. It’s not clear that Embiid has improved his outside shooting after all. Fatigue certainly plays a big part in capping his three-point upside.
Landry Shamet was quoted saying his rookie hazing includes: “Chick-Fil-A, it’s about a $200 or $220 tab … road trips, anytime we get on a plane, I have to get Chick-Fil-A … Joel [Embiid] specifically has his four cookies and cream milkshakes he requests.”
I will address this head on: the first time I questioned how healthy 4 Large Cookies-and-Cream milkshakes the day before a road game was, I was scoffed at — the sentiment was that Embiid is a 7-1, 280-lb behemoth who doesn’t adhere to normal dietary guidelines.
Breaking news, but I agree, normal rules need not apply to Embiid! Joel Embiid can probably eat 6,000 calories without causing any issues.
The problem here is sugar.
This much sugar would be unhealthy for the Incredible Hulk, let alone a professional athlete who’s no stranger to minutes restrictions. Consuming over 350 grams (!!) of sugar in a small-time frame is nearly guaranteed to adversely affect your sleep quality. Sleep quality is one of the major factors in athletic recovery and ultimately, performance.
Although there was a recent movement, as of today, the FDA doesn’t mandate publishing the percent of Daily Value for Sugars (the worst thing of the bunch). Proposed guidelines for an adult male recommend less than 50 grams of [added] sugar per day. Even with the most extreme extrapolation to Embiid (4x average male), that would recommend “less than 200 grams per day.”
So even if Embiid comfortably ate over 8000 calories per day and over 500 grams of protein, this Milkshake Feast would exceed the recommended sugar amount by 25 sugar packets!
If that didn’t convince you that it might be an issue, I’m not sure anything will. Perhaps you’ll point to the hot-dog and beer guzzling Babe Ruth, but I bet even the Great Bambino would have the jitters after four large Cookies-and-Cream milkshakes.
Road Embiid is markedly worse than Home Embiid:
Less efficient from the field, doesn’t get to the line as much, turns it over more, plus-minus is much worse — buy hey, at least he racks up assists. Take the team off the Chick-Fil-A regimen (and Buddakan) and see if their road numbers stabilize some.
#2: A Backup Big
Amir Johnson is no longer a part of the Sixers rotation, this means that Muscala is getting serious time at the five, which is a huge blow to the bench’s defensive efforts.
If you haven’t noticed yet, Brett Brown has a new solution:
1. Embiid + Redick + Bench
2. Simmons + Butler + Bench
Expect to see this lineup construction going forward. Brown will blend these pairings at the start of the 1st & 3rd quarters & end-of-games, otherwise these tandems are the ones they want to foster going forward.
I believe the Sixers Analytics department is a driving force behind these pairings.
- Green means these are great pairings.
- Yellow is okay.
- Red is “avoid at all costs.”
Muscala can only piggy-back as PF with Embiid and Redick, otherwise he hurts the team. The Sixers have a dilemma: either play someone who can’t defend the rim (Muscala), or run Embiid into the ground, ensuring you get inferior defense from him.
Acquiring a backup big should be among the Sixers Front Office’s highest priorities.
Who are potential targets?
- Salah Mejri (2019 UFA making $1.5M) — 2.75 D-PIPM
- Zaza Pachulia (2019 UFA making $2.4M) — 1.25 D-PIPM
- Brook Lopez (2019 UFA making $3.4M) — 0.65 D-PIPM
- Kyle O’Quinn (2019 UFA making $4.5M) — 1.33 D-PIPM
- Boban Marjanovic (2019 UFA making $7.0M) — 0.95 D-PIPM
- Dewayne Dedmon (2019 UFA making $7.0M) — 1.74 D-PIPM
Personally, I like the idea of a big you can match with Simmons and Butler, who can defend the rim and hit threes. Dedmon and Lopez probably fit the bill the best, if Milwaukee can’t resign Lopez.
There is another route you can go: Ben Simmons as the backup center. I think Simmons could play a Jokic-like role vacuuming up defensive rebounds and hitting people streaking down the court. You would build your lineups differently, probably going for more wing-oriented UFAs like Jeremy Lamb.
#3: A Real Point Guard
Recently on NBA Twitter, someone ask me if Portland decided to unload Damian Lillard and wanted Ben Simmons in return, would I do it?
This is a hypothetical roster after spending to the cap and using the Non-Tax MLE ($9.2M) and Bi-Annual Exceptions ($3.5M):
Is this good enough to win a championship if the Warriors break up? Perhaps.
I think the roster construction makes a lot more sense than the current Sixers roster, which completely lacks playoff-level wings. As fellow contributor Randy Cohen mentioned, the Sixers are probably two wings short of being playoff-ready.
Who are some other realistic backup PGs?
- Devin Harris (2019 UFA making $2.4M) +0.69 PIPM
- JJ Barea (2019 UFA making $4.0M) +1.64 PIPM
- Patrick Beverley (2019 UFA making $5.7M) -0.25 PIPM
- Darren Collison (2019 UFA making $10.0M) +0.36 PIPM
- Delon Wright (2019 RFA making “$Rookie”) +0.17 PIPM
Comment with your Sixers holiday wish list!