It’s too early in the season to learn a ton from statistics. They may tell us what we’ve already seen, but chances are they won’t tell us a ton about what will happen over the next 40 games. But you’re reading this because you’ve already read the big news stories, watched highlights, and still can’t get enough Sixers, and neither can I. So let’s take a look at some of the early returns on data with an assist from former Sixers’ Vice President of Basketball Strategy, Ben Falk’s great site, Cleaningtheglass.com, as well as NBA.com, basketball-reference.com, and TeamRankings.com. All the data I found I collected from these sites.
Can Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons coexist?
It’s a difficult question and looking at data from a few games isn’t going to answer it for us. But let’s just see how it’s gone so far with some better floor spacing this season. In games they've both started this year, they’ve shared the court for 293 minutes out of 528 total available minutes (over 11 games). Of course, they don’t play 48 minutes. Joel has played a total of 377 minutes (97th overall in the league) and Simmons has logged 430 minutes, (which ranks 49th in the league).
In the 293 total minutes they’ve shared they duo is a +85.
Simmons to Embiid on the break pic.twitter.com/0bAcpaIGpC— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) January 5, 2021
Last year in 840 minutes, they were a +16 across 41 games. So they’re at least off to a better start than the 2019-2020 campaign.
Here’s a table I put together looking at the minutes they’ve each played in games they were both active, the opponents, results, and the percent of their minutes they shared with each other:
(And mind you, Ben was recently in foul trouble (both in the first bout against Miami, and the most recent bout against Boston, or the sums might be even higher).
Joel playing more than 83 percent of his minutes with Ben and Ben playing over 80 percent of his minutes with Joel is pretty high. Traditionally, former Head Coach Brett Brown used to stagger their minutes more than Doc Rivers has thus far.
lineups with ben and jo look okay to me pic.twitter.com/5vM7UPuKTQ— Ben Detrick (@bdetrick) January 15, 2021
My hunch is that the Sixers wanted as much Embiid-Simmons minutes as possible in a shortened season early on in order to evaluate the duo, especially as Daryl Morey reportedly shopped Simmons for former MVP James Harden. I suspect we’ll begin to see somewhat more staggering of their minutes moving forward (unless of course Morey is still very much checking the temperature on players like Bradley Beal or Doc’s strategy is to see how far he can develop their chemistry with repetition).
But all in all, being a +85 and 10-1 in games when they both play, while sharing the floor more than 80 percent of their minutes together bodes well for the duo through 11 games. Not to say they shouldn’t consider a trade if a team called. Just presenting the data.
One question many fans had when they hired Daryl Morey is will they play a version of MoreyBall? That is, will they drastically cut down on the many midrange shots and long 2s they took a season ago and focus on 3s, shots at the rim, and free throws. Let’s see how they’ve fared in that regard so far.
The Sixers rank 10th in the league for the frequency of an attempted midrange shot with 33.8 percent of all their field goals so far coming between 4 feet from the rim extending out to the 3 point line. Only nine teams attempt a higher rate of midrange shots per field goal attempt than Philadelphia.
Before you groan, the players who shoot the most of them on the team are these two, and here’s some of how it looks:
Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey are the Sixers of the week.— The Phifth Quarter (@The_PhifthQ) January 20, 2021
Check out some of their top highlights. pic.twitter.com/ErVKO4pHag
They do violate an anti MoreyBall tenet. They rank 8th on long 2 point attempt frequency at 12.4 percent.
Mind you, Morey has suggested that he didn’t mind when Chris Paul, a former Rocket, would take midrange shots because he said he’s one of the best players of all time in the range. And these Sixers so far are hot and rank 3rd in the league at 46.6 percent from this zone. So they may not be considering a change to their shooting profile just yet.
But long twos are probably trickier right? Well so far on long 2s they’re the fifth hottest at 47.1 percent. That’s good but I always worry about regression to the mean on tough contested long 2s.
Embiid ranks in the 92nd percentile in frequency of a midranger attempted for his position (designated a big) as 51 percent of his shots have been taken in the zone. He’s also drawn a whopping 16 fouls on these attempts. Between his soft touch, his humorously deliberate pump fake, and his crafty rip-through moves it’s hard to stop this guy, your best bet is to simply sit back and let him take a shot he’s been pretty darn good at making.
Last year Joel ranked 62nd percentile in terms of his accuracy on midrangers at 41 percent.
Now he’s all the way up to 80th percentile of bigs connecting at a 53 percent clip. Maybe all that time with trainer Drew Hanlen (who has also helped finetune Jayson Tatum and Bradley Beal’s jumper) working on his shot has paid off. He has also significantly improved his 3 point and free throw percentage.
The scorching center has firmly established MVP candidacy through the 12 games he’s appeared in. He’s taking a lot of midrange shots, he’s making them, and he’s drawing loads of fouls.
As for rookie Tyrese Maxey, he’s is in the 90th percentile on frequency of midrange attempts at his position (designated combo) with 47%. That’s quite high. You can easily picture all of the midrange pull ups and floaters he loves:
I was going thru some Tyrese Maxey floaters and noticed he's got the off foot (right foot jump) going nicely. A quick check at @instatbasket shows he's 8-19 on all floaters so far this season. pic.twitter.com/0bYOHHpv8g— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) January 9, 2021
But Maxey hasn’t drawn any fouls on these types of shots from outside 4 feet and inside the arc.
And I wondered after the win against Boston if he might hear about taking a 3 instead of a long two in a situation like this one:
I wonder if Doc or Morey will talk to Maxey here. Could have side stepped into a corner triple ala Eric Gordon for the potential extra point instead of the long 2. pic.twitter.com/OAcU98yI4t— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) January 21, 2021
The next thing for the rook to work on might be converting his long 2’s into 3s, and drawing more contact on his drives. Not that it’s a fair comparison, but James Harden draws loads of contact while also taking tons of floaters, so it’s not as if the two plays are mutually exclusive, it’s all about reading the defense and taking what they give you.
In terms of accuracy, Maxey is a lot more lethal when he avoids the long 2s. He’s in the 68th percentile of combo players, with a healthy 48% from midrange, however when he ventures out to the long 2 zone (14’ out until the 3 point line per CTG.com) he predictably dips down to 52nd percentile at 41 percent.
Then comes Shake Milton who ranks 83rd percentile (as a combo) in terms of frequency with 43 percent of his shots coming in the midrange with an impressive 7 fouls drawn. The fouls buttress his relatively low accuracy on midrangers coming in at 48th percentile for combos at 39 percent. Perhaps he can find a way to take more 3s or get an extra step to the rim? Or maybe he’ll regress to the mean and is due for a heater from ~14 feet.
Next up of the midrange shooters is Seth Curry (curiously designated a wing instead of a combo like the prior two) with a midrange frequency attempt rate of 20 percent which ranks 92nd percentile for wings. He’s in the 99th percentile hitting 63 percent of all his midrange attempts so far. He is literally one of the best shooters of all time, and should have a green light from deep and midrange. He’s even in the 88th percentile on long 2s with 56 percent accuracy on those. This dude is a pure marksmen.
And finally there’s Tobias Harris with a midrange attempt frequency of 80th percentile among forwards with 40 percent of his shots coming from the zone. In terms of accuracy he ranks 79th percentile with 49 percent.
A year ago during the regular season, Harris ranked in the 91st percentile of midrange attempt frequency with 42 percent of his shots coming from there. And 77th percentile in terms of accuracy with 44 percent.
So Harris has altered his shooting profile a bit under Doc Rivers, the Tobi Whisperer. He’s taking a few less long 2s, a few more 3s, and is pickier on his midrange looks. As such he’s up from 47 percent from the field a year ago to 50 percent so far this year. And he’s picking up more blocks and steals as well. Well done Tobias “The Rock” Harris:
BTW, Tobias Harris is on pace to be the first player in Process Sixers history for whom "He just needs to be more consistent!" is 100% invalid. He has scored between 16 and 26 points (on between 10 and 20 FG attempts) in every game this season but the first. Absolute rock.— Andrew Unterberger (@AUgetoffmygold) January 21, 2021
Today, the sixers rank 11th in the league at 54.6 percent in eFG percent.
They rank 16th overall in offensive efficiency with 110.9 points per 100 possession.
Here’s a surprise. They actually scored 111.9 points per 100 possession a year ago ranking 12th overall.
This year’s team is not scoring more points per 100 possessions than last year’s. Any theories?
Defensively last year they ranked 7th in points per possession allowed with 109.1.
Now, Defensively, they rank 8th in points allowed per 100 giving up 108.5.
Maybe it’s just small sample bias.
Their FT rate is third best in the league, at 22.1 attempts per 100 field goal attempts. Way up from their 20th rank last year at just 19.4. Embiid has been an absolute force.
Thanks to a pair of familiar names, both Joel Embiid (5th in the league in free throw rate) and Ben Simmons (9th overall). They’ve both improved their ranks here from a year ago in this crucial metric:
Simmons in particulars FTr is up from a season ago, when he was .461. A significant jump so far. Ben getting downhill:
Ben Simmons could probably draw 1 or 2 if not 3 more of these per game if he was as hellbent on taking that extra dribble to get to the rack like he did here. Maybe getting his legs back slowly after the back, the knee, and all the time off in between. pic.twitter.com/ej5TARBtQV— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) January 21, 2021
Philadelphia is 7th in the league with 9.7 percent of all of their field goals coming from corner 3s. They shoot 34.6 percent of all their field goals from beyond the arc, which ranks 21st in the league.
For contrast, last year’s team only took 7.3 percent from corner 3s which ranked 21st, so this year’s team is getting a bit more of those coveted looks:
They’re 15th in the league in terms of accuracy on corner triples, and 16th overall on all 3s connecting on 36.9 percent from deep. They’re running their offense through Joel, and it has led to some very good looks from downtown:
A lot of talk about Joel Embiid's hockey assists, so here are the 12 baskets I'd classify as hockey assists that stem from his scoring gravity this season. pic.twitter.com/hJCrIVkPq6— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) January 5, 2021
Location adjusted field goal percentage is defined by CTG as “If this team shot the league average FG% from each location, what would their effective FG% be?” It gives us a sense of the efficiency of a team’s shot profile. Hint, Morey’s Rockets had the best in the league last season and the Sixers clunky O ranked bottom four at 26th.
This year the Sixers are up a bit, coming in 21st. It’s still nowhere near a Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets’ profile, where they tried to mostly shoot 3s, layups, and free throws. But it’s better than last year.
The Sixers takes a higher than average amount of what we might describe as “suboptimal” shots league-wide so perhaps there’s a little tweaking to do if they want to crack that top ten in offensive efficiency. They would need another 1.6 points per 100 in order to crack the top ten offenses.
Per TeamRankings.com the Sixers have the 7th best differential per game (your total points scored minus your opponent's total points, divided by the number of games you’ve played).
Per Clean the Glass, these Sixers are about a 47.2 wins per 82 game season the way they’ve played so far, based on their total efficiency. I suppose the Sixers would argue that should be substantially higher considering they were forced to play severely undermanned due to health and safety protocols while some other teams enjoyed the benefit of postponement. (Conspiracy theory for Reddit: could this be why they cut Dakota Mathias, to hopefully get a game or two postponed falling short of the number of players available required?) But they’re not yet on the level of the champs, or even the team they outsmarted and outmuscled last night, the Bucks, per this telling metric.
While Doc Rivers would rightly be quick to point out how much of this young season he’s been forced to rely on depleted rosters and rookies, the Sixers do rank 27th in turnovers per game with a whopping 16.8. But over their last 3 games, where they had Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid active for two contests, they still averaged 16.7 turnovers per, so it’s something to improve upon for sure.
Fast Break points
Remember that number 16.8? The amount of turnovers they average, that we saw was among the league’s worst? Well they average 16.8 fast break points per game, and that leads the entire NBA. Your granddaddies clunky ill-fit all bigs roster this group is not. They’re playing faster. What a nice dime by Ben and reverse Furkan jam by Korkmaz:
furkan korkmaz reverse slam, plus the foul?!?!?! did not know he had this in his bag. pic.twitter.com/oUzVcn41qW— JM3 (@JM3Hoops) January 21, 2021
Sixers rank 5th in the league with 55.8 rebounds per game. They’re cleaning the glass.
They’re merely an average assist-accumulating team with 25.3 per contest, ranking 13th overall.
Like I said at the top, it’s probably early to glean much from all this. In my opinion, the most important thing isn’t to focus on the accuracy so much as the attempt frequency early on in order to gauge what the team is trying to do on a nightly basis. Player percentages will fluctuate all year with cold or hot streaks. But we can see this team is certainly not a stereotypical MoreyBall team. Doc Rivers has them playing to their strengths, and with the Eastern Conference’s best record, it’s hard to argue their process has been very bad. I guess limiting the long 2s and turnovers would be the best place to start.