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3 observations from Sixers vs. Raptors: 3PT volume comes at the cost of attacking the rim

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NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

When Mike Scott is the most experienced player on the floor

One play in particular from last night’s Sixers-Raptors game really bugged me. In the possession below, Mike Scott identifies a mismatch in Fed VanVleet, who I’m not convinced is taller than me. Scott begins to establish post positioning and for a moment, it looks as if the Sixers have created an advantage.

The perimeter players on the court for the Sixers noticed that the Raptors’ defense was compromised and started to position themselves to spot up for some inside-out offense. Even Norvel Pelle recognized the appropriateness of a down screen on Furkan Korkmaz’s defender. If Scott is patient, at the very least he could have taken FVV one more step into the paint to build some momentum going toward the net on his attempt. But as Rondae Hollis-Jefferson sent help VanVleet’s way, Scott rushed a fading jumper that airballed, never noticing that both Raul Neto and Shake Milton had an ocean between them and the nearest defender.

It’s just one play in a late January game, but it was a crucial point in the game against a team the Sixers trail in the standings. The Sixers, after leading for most of the contest, were falling behind but still had an opportunity to squeeze out a road win. Unfortunately, due to injuries and more importantly roster construction, the Sixers found themselves, at a crucial point in the game, nominating Scott as their decision-maker on the court. Josh Richardson got injured and Ben Simmons needs a break now and again. If Josh were out there, maybe I’m not writing about this topic. But finding a initiator secondary ball-handler crunch time creator point guard to settle the offense down and take control when defenses dig in and the halfcourt seems to shrink is as big an area of need now as it’s ever been for the Brett Brown-era Sixers. Color me skeptical that the answer is either Trey Burke or Raul Neto if the Sixers’ goal is to win an NBA Finals.

To three or not to three

I’m guilty of advocating for a higher volume of three-point of attempts for the Sixers. ‘They don’t need to be the Houston Rockets (43.8 3PA/gm), but let’s get away from Texas altogether and not replicate the San Antonio Spurs (28.2 3PA/gm) either.’ But even the Houston Rockets’ shot profile would illustrate that three-point shooting shouldn’t come at the cost of attempts at the rim. Despite threes making up a league-high 44.1% of their shots, Houston’s 36.0% of shots attempted at the rim is tied for 10th, per Cleaning The Glass.

For the Sixers, their trade-off for taking 46 three-pointers was fewer attempts at the rim and subsequently, fewer trips to the line with a mere 18 FTA. (They finished with just 13 points from the line.) That correlation isn’t necessarily inevitable, as the Rockets show. But the Sixers aren’t the Rockets. Midrange attempts make up 34.2% of the Sixers shot selection (7th highest rate in the league) and they convert at a respectable rate of 42.5% (8th), per Cleaning The Glass. Tobias Harris, Al Horford, Josh Richardson, Joel Embiid, even Ben Simmons in the short midrange — these players are comfortable in that area. It raises the question as to what degree the Sixers should try to keep pace with league trends. Or, does Joel Embiid balance things out, replacing some of the more ill-advised midrange attempts with and-one dunks and silky baseline jumpers? I think it’s safe to say that the Sixers just need to find their balance. Joel’s return will certainly help, but it will be compounded if Furkan Korkmaz’s confidence and success is sustainable and the two can establish a two-man game of pick and pops and dribble-hand-offs resulting in threes.

That said, the Sixers do need to keep pace in the standings now, and last I heard, Joel hasn’t been cleared for play. In last night’s game, the Sixers converted just 8 of their 17 attempts at the rim. Per Cleaning The Glass, that’s a frequency of attempts that would rank in the 10th percentile of all games played this season and a conversion rate that would rank 5th in all games played this season. The Raptors, who while about matching the Sixers in 3PT%, took 13 fewer threes than the Sixers, made 23 of their 37 attempts at the cup.

Josh Richardson injured before crucial stretch

3 minutes and 52 seconds into the game, Josh Richardson strained his hamstring and seemed to be in pretty significant pain. After getting set defensively, Richardson reached toward his hamstring just as the ball arrived at his assignment. He immediately headed toward the sideline despite the ball still being active, motioning for a substitution.

An unfortunate development for Josh, who has been nagged by injuries this season, and the Sixers, who as we saw above, struggle to find ball handling in non-Simmons lineups. If Richardson’s recovery keeps him out even a single game, it could cost the Sixers, with a tough matchup against the 35-9 Los Angeles Lakers at the Wells Fargo Center Saturday. The Sixers’ schedule doesn’t get much easier after that. While their two games following the Lakers are against literal bottom dwellers (Hawks and Warriors), the Sixers then hit the road to take on conference rivals in the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, and Milwaukee Bucks. Gulp.