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Sixers Check-In: Fourth 10 Games

A 7-3 segment of the season brings us to the halfway point

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Los Angeles Clippers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

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, third ten games.

Welcome to the fourth installment of our season-long check-in series! The Sixers had yet another successful stretch, going 7-3 over their last ten games. They currently hold a 26-14 record and maintain fourth place in the Eastern Conference.

Now, in a normal world, we would be focused on how well the team is doing on the court. The Sixers are on pace to surpass last year’s 52 wins, which was the highest mark since the 2000-01 team that went on to reach the NBA Finals. These should be exciting times! Ideally, we would discuss nothing more than the little tweaks and roster adjustments that could help Philadelphia climb up those last few rungs of the standings. After all, the Sixers are only 3.0 games back of the best record in the NBA!

Of course, these are our 76ers, so nothing is ever as simple as what happens on the court. When you try to make a list of people or entities that know drama, the Sixers probably slot in somewhere between Shakespeare and TNT. The latest kerfuffle was the ESPN report regarding Jimmy Butler “aggressively challenging” Brett Brown in what was deemed a disrespectful exchange at a team film session.

Since the report, both Brown and Butler have downplayed the situation, maintaining they have a healthy working relationship and the team is going to continue to improve and grow together. That’s all great to hear if you’re a Sixers fan. You want to believe things will work out with Butler, and that he and the team are set to have a harmonious future together. However, generally speaking, when’s there’s smoke, there’s fire. It’s definitely not the best sign that these wisps are already floating into the air around a guy who had a reputation of playing with matches in his two previous stops.

We’ll see what happens going forward. This appears to be the type of situation where no news is good news, so hopefully the topic isn’t even addressed in our next check-in. Now, as always, let’s take a look at the team-wide numbers (stats are for the last 10 games, compared to the season as a whole, and as of 1/7/2019):

Offensive rating: 111.2 - 10th in NBA (Season: 109.7 - 13th in NBA)
Defensive rating: 107.8 - 9th (107.6 - 11th)
Net rating: +3.4 - 9th (+2.1 - 10th)

Pace: 103.32 - 5th (102.9 - 7th)
eFG%: 53.9% - 9th (53.0% - 11th)
FTA rate: 0.319 - 2nd (0.320 - 2nd)
TOV%: 13.1% - 9th (14.8% - 21st)
OREB%: 24.2% - 26th (26.4% - 20th)
OPP eFG%: 51.3% - 10th (50.3% - 3rd)
OPP FTA rate: 0.275 - 22nd (0.276 - 22nd)
OPP TOV%: 12.5% - 23rd (12.7% - 28th)
OPP OREB%: 23.6% - 2nd (26.3% - 7th)

Bolstered by some very healthy wins over Cleveland, New York, Toronto, and Utah, the Sixers’ net rating continues to climb. The one thing that really jumps out, though, is how the Sixers have done a much better job taking care of the ball recently. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons have been good in this regard lately — at or slightly better than their season averages in terms of TOV% — but the real boon has been Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick.

Across the last 10 games, the two starting wings have the third and fourth highest usage rates on the team among regulars, but each sports a turnover percentage just slightly above 6 percent. A good chuck of the team’s offense is coming from players who only turn it over slightly more than once per game. Both players have assist-to-turnover ratios above 2:1, great for secondary playmakers. It’s something Redick especially doesn’t get enough credit for, with people thinking of him mainly as a spot-up shooter.

Things to watch

I’m most interested in seeing if we have a “squeaky wheel gets the grease” situation on our hands, and the team opts for more pick-and-roll and isolation plays with Butler. It was definitely something the team employed more against the Clippers, the lone game Butler has played in following when the infamous film session would have taken place. It wouldn’t appear to be the team’s best strategy when Butler, Embiid, and Simmons are all sharing the floor, but when either Embiid or Simmons is on the bench, I would definitely like to see more pick-and-rolls with Butler as the ball handler and one of the other stars as the roll man.

We might also be looking at some sort of roster move in the near future. Obviously, the team will look to replace the China-bound Demetrius Jackson with another two-way player, and we may get a Haywood Highsmith sighting. But we also might see the vacant regular roster spot filled soon. Teams starting releasing players yesterday to avoid triggering contract guarantees, 10-day contract season is nearly upon us, and the Sixers are eligible to trade Justin Patton at the end of this week. All of those things indicate we might see another new face in Sixers red, white, and blue soon.

Finally, the Sixers may be hard-pressed to maintain their streak of above .500 play across every 10-game stretch. The team is about to enter its most difficult part of the schedule for the season. The back end of these next 10 games goes Indiana-Oklahoma City-Houston-San Antonio-Denver. That brutal run continues with seven more games against projected playoff teams, but we’ll address that in our next check-in.

All stats courtesy of NBA.com/stats, unless otherwise noted.