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How do the 76ers’ stars measure up against the NBA’s best players?

Synergy stats, scatter plots, and surprises

Philadelphia 76ers v Washington Wizards Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The NBA All-Star game is about a month away and the Philadelphia 76ers (29-16) have already passed the half-way point logging 45 games. They have a grueling schedule ahead of them before the break. The next month will shed some light for us on their playoff projections as well as the viability of the team’s core Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler.

We know you’re going to want to have your opinions ready for who should be an All-Star and suss out how well the Sixers’ nucleus stacks up against the best players in the league. We’ll do this with a combination of data from Synergy Sports and and with a few different visualizations.

Measuring Offense

The first thing we wanted to look at was a really good measure of offense. We settled on “total points generated.” What does that mean? It’s a combined measure of points and the points the team scores when that player gets an assist.

You can’t simply add points and assists because not all assists are created equal.

When Simmons throws a dime they’re not worth a mere two points each. He was recently leading the league in dimes that lead to made triples.

Ben Simmons has 360 assists on the year and Synergy Sports says that each of those dimes are worth 2.46 points. That means his assists have produced 885.6 points. Adding the total from assists and the total from his own scoring yields his season total of 1619.6 total points generated.

In order to place the 76ers’ best players into context, we grabbed this data for 28 other elite players in contention for the All-Star game as well.

Table 1: Point Generation for Selected All-Star Candidates

Player Total Points Generated % of Team's Points Generated by Player Games Played Points Generated per Game
Player Total Points Generated % of Team's Points Generated by Player Games Played Points Generated per Game
James Harden 2283 46% 41 55.7
Kevin Durant 1926.6 36% 45 42.8
Damian Lillard 1846.5 36% 46 40.1
Giannis Antetokounmpo 1729.5 33% 41 42.2
DeMar DeRozan 1720.6 34% 46 37.4
Kemba Walker 1676 35% 43 39
Russell Westbrook 1623.9 33% 35 46.4
Ben Simmons 1619.6 31% 44 36.8
Anthony Davis 1602.9 30% 40 40.1
Nikola Jokic 1584.1 33% 43 36.8
Blake Griffin 1578.4 34% 41 38.5
De'Aaron Fox 1561.7 31% 44 35.5
Kyrie Irving 1519.9 31% 39 39
Paul George 1505.3 31% 42 35.8
LeBron James 1502.5 30% 34 44.2
Mike Conley 1488.1 34% 43 34.6
Joel Embiid 1477.4 29% 42 35.2
Stephen Curry 1454.1 27% 34 42.8
Khris Middleton 1442.3 22% 42 34.3
Luka Doncic 1414.9 29% 43 32.9
Karl-Anthony Towns 1281 26% 44 29.1
Kawhi Leonard 1274 24% 36 35.4
Nikola Vucevic 1261.9 28% 43 29.4
Kyle Lowry 1247.2 24% 35 35.6
LaMarcus Aldridge 1212 24% 46 26.4
Klay Thompson 1194.4 22% 45 26.5
Gary Harris 1153 23% 44 26.2
Marc Gasol 1150 26% 44 26.1
JJ Redick 1074 21% 43 24.9
Jimmy Butler 1014.2 - 36 28.2
Victor Oladipo 1004.3 21% 32 31.4

Below is a scatter plot (Figure 1) with the percent of made field goals that were unassisted so we could get more of a measure of the players who take on the biggest burdens for their squads. Moving towards the upper right indicates that a player both produces more points, and does it without someone feeding them assists. Of note, there is slight jittering in the following plots to allow for readability.

Figure 1: Points generated per game and percent of player’s made field goals that are unassisted

Next, we look at points generated per game and true shooting in Figure 2. Harden still has a tremendously high true shooting, despite his enormous workload. Also, Russell Westbrook is shooting at a historically bad clip.

Not all points produced are created equal (shout out Zach LaVine).

Figure 2: Points generated per game and average true shooting

Lastly, Figure 3 compares usage rate with points generated per game. Again, Harden is almost literally off the charts in this regard.

Figure 3: Points generated per game and usage rate


James Harden is in another stratosphere

The 76ers once hired Sam Hinkie as president of basketball operations for simply helping Houston Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey acquire Harden in a trade. Even if Hinkie had never drafted a player like Joel Embiid he deserves another shot in the league for his role in the Harden trade alone. The Beard is on an absolutely historic tear.

Ben Simmons surprises

If you sort the first list by points generated per game, you can see there are only 12 players who have produced more points per game for their teams. If you sort the list by percent of a team’s total produced, there are only eleven players who have shouldered a larger offensive load than the second-year Aussie.

It’s a testament to his consistency and his durability.

For example, Kawhi Leonard produces more for the Toronto Raptors than Simmons per game, but he takes many more rest games to conserve his energy and avoid injury than Ben. We were surprised to see that Simmons produces more cumulative points for the Sixers than Embiid. He has played in more games but that could also be in part because he is so greedy. He’s always looking for shots at the rim and open threes for a teammate.

He takes a lot of heat for not fitting into the modern NBA because of his lack of a jump shot but he does create lots of the most efficient shots, namely ones at the rim and open threes for good shooters.

Joel Embiid is a beast

You knew this because he’s received some MVP buzz and if anything his showing on this total offense produced scale may have been lower than you expected. But that should not be your takeaway.

Here’s another way to think about it: while he is producing about 3.8 points less per game than a scoring machine like Kemba Walker (9th overall on our list), Walker doesn’t double as an elite Defensive Player of the Year Candidate like Embiid does.

We did not look at defense in this measurement. But Joel’s impact on that end is no secret. He is shouldering a lot more responsibility than many of his offensive peers who take the chance to rest whenever their team doesn’t have the ball.

Nikola Jokic for example, produces 1.66 more points per game for his team and he does not rest on defense but the Nuggets big man will not likely be considered for an NBA All Defensive team like Embiid will.

Jimmy Butler is really good too, which gives the Sixers a rare level of two-way talent

Butler was 26th in our list in points produced per game. He did not spend the entire season with the Sixers so it pays to keep that in mind (data is cumulative across both teams). But on the year, he gives the Sixers three players who rank in our top 26 for points produced per game. And again, we’re not even considering defense.

Many teams don’t boast three stars of that caliber offensively. And some with one or two aren’t even close to the types of defenders the Sixers trot out on a nightly basis. There is a lot of talent on this team and they likely have some more gelling to do.

Feel free to explore the data yourself and hit us up on twitter or in the comments. Who do you think is All-Star worthy based on what the numbers show? And do the Sixers have a core that can deliver a title one day?

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