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Interesting Sixers Stats, Vol. 2: Ben Simmons’ surge, plus Joel Embiid’s splits and his defensive impact

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Let’s focus on the team’s two young stars

Philadelphia 76ers v New York Knicks Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Welcome to the second edition of Interesting Sixers Stats. In volume one, we evaluated Joel Embiid’s turnovers, JJ Redick’s possible drop-off, and more. Let’s get into volume two!

Joel Embiid’s first half dominance... and the occasional shakiness that may follow

statistic 1st half 2nd half
statistic 1st half 2nd half
minutes per game 16.8 16.2
points per game 15.8 10.9
rebounds per game 7.0 6.1
assists per game 1.9 1.6
field goals made 5.4 3.5
field goals attempted 10.1 8.0
field goal percentage 53.4% 43.4%
three-pointers made 0.7 0.5
three-pointers attempted 2.0 1.8
three-point percentage 34.1% 29.1%
free throw attempts per game 5.3 4.2
true shooting percentage 63.2% 55.3%
effective field goal percentage 56.8% 46.8%
turnovers per game 1.6 1.9
offensive rating 114.4 105.2
defensive rating 98.0 107.7
net rating 16.4 -2.5
usage rate 33.1 30.2
all stats via NBA.com

These numbers make it abundantly clear that as a game goes on, Joel Embiid’s production takes a fairly significant hit.

For example, the Sixers’ 16.4 net rating with Embiid on the floor in the first half is almost seven full points higher than the net rating of the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks, then drops to minus-2.5 in the second half, right around that of the 23rd-ranked Detroit Pistons.

But this is not shocking, nor is it unheard of. Let’s evaluate some possible causes...

  1. The simplest answer here is fatigue. Joel had some clear battles with his own conditioning last season, and for someone of his massive size and extreme workload, it’s easy to see how he could regularly become so tired that his statistical output takes this much of a hit.
  2. While fatigue is likely at least a minor factor here, there are other potential causes of this trend. For example, it could simply be that opposing teams are focusing extra attention on stopping him as the game goes on, often in the form of double-teams. And given Embiid’s occasional tendency to string together erratic possessions within stints of time on the court, it is conceivable that he is consistently less effective when seeing different looks from the defense.

Ben Simmons’ Sophomore Progression

statistic pre-Butler (10/16-11/14) first month with Butler (11/14-12/14) ever since (12/16-present)
statistic pre-Butler (10/16-11/14) first month with Butler (11/14-12/14) ever since (12/16-present)
games played 14 15 18
minutes per game 32.5 34.3 33.0
points per game 14.9 16.5 17.2
rebounds per game 9.1 8.5 10.8
assists per game 7.6 7.7 8.8
steals per game 1.4 1.5 0.9
blocks per game 0.8 0.9 0.7
field goals made per game 5.9 6.7 7.2
field goals attempted per game 11.1 11.0 12.3
field goal percentage 53.2% 61.2% 58.1%
free throws attempted per game 4.8 5.6 5.9
turnovers per game 3.5 3.5 3.5

These numbers make it clear that the turning point for Ben Simmons’ season was the Jimmy Butler trade. It’s likely that the trade was not the only cause here, as it is not abnormal for young players to make clear leaps within a given season. But as good as Robert Covington and Dario Saric are, it seems clear that having a secondary creator like Butler has helped Simmons considerably. In the first month with Butler, much of which could be viewed as the feeling-out process, Simmons was somewhat more assertive offensively than before the trade, and his efficiency went way up.

Since that initial period ended, Simmons has taken off. With tremendous per game averages of 17.2 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 8.8 assists, his volume on offense has gone way up. Plus, while he is shooting almost 1.5 times more per game recently, Simmons has only taken a slight dip from his hyper-efficient run in the immediate aftermath of the Butler trade.

When Joel Embiid is on the court without Jimmy Butler, Robert Covington, and Ben Simmons, the Sixers have a 105.4 Defensive Rating and +5.2 Net Rating (per cleaningtheglass.com).

To the naked eye, Joel Embiid has been great on the defensive end of the floor, but has also seemed to take a step back from his first two seasons. The numbers back up this hypothesis: his Defensive Real Plus-Minus and Defensive Box Plus-Minus are at career lows, per ESPN and Basketball-Reference.

Yet when the Sixers are without their only three positive non-Embiid defenders this year, there is no problem. Their 105.4 Defensive Rating would rank sixth among NBA teams, falling in the 84th percentile among NBA lineups, according to CTG. These numbers are pretty jarring. Just think that even in a down year (for him), Joel Embiid can still take a lineup full of clear defensive minuses and turn it into a very good unit.

Joel Embiid’s hopes to win a Defensive Player of the Year award are publicly known. Numbers like these show why he is destined to win at least one such award during his time in the NBA. It’s incredible that despite how good he has become on offense, Embiid is even better defensively. And right now, he’s helping save a roster devoid of defensive talent.


Are there any trends or types of stats you’d like to see moving forward? If so, please let us know in the comments.