After putting the Detroit Pistons to bed early and carving out a bit of old school load management for their few-of-us-are-100-percent-this-time-of-year-crew, the Philadelphia 76ers have crept their way into fourth place in the East. Joel Embiid, James Harden, Tyrese Maxey and co. are now 25-15, and have just passed the Cleveland Cavaliers (26-16) in win percentage.
Here’s a snapshot of the Eastern Conference Standings, per ESPN.com:
And here’s how it looks, league wide:
The Sixers have the sixth-best win percentage in the league. Not shabby!
Stats and Numbers
The Sixers have the 8th best offensive rating (114.4 points per 100 possessions).
They have the 4th best defensive rating (109.8 points per 100 possessions allowed).
(I suppose you could argue that the Cavs and Bucks each boasting DPOY candidate duos-Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen in maroon, Giannis and Brook Lopez in hunter green-and enjoying a top three defense is a testament to Joel Embiid in some roundabout way. Joel doesn’t have a fellow DPOY running mate helping to anchor his top four D and yet his Sixers are still right there.)
Ranked by ESPN’s point differential metric, the Sixers actually fare a shade better than their current fourth place, moving up to third in the East, outscoring opponents more than the Bucks and Nets have, but less than Donovan Mitchell’s Cavs:
Oddly enough, the (22-19) Knicks have more than double the differential as Giannis’ Milwaukee Bucks. We can remind ourselves it’s still early, dismiss the metric altogether, or begin to wonder if the Knicks are a tad better and the Bucks a tad less strong than we once thought.
The Deer are now 4-3 with their stud wing, Khris Middleton back in the fold. But when he finds his legs again, the 2021 champs certainly might have another gear.
[Sidebar: personally, I think the Bucks would have knocked off the Celtics in round two last season if Middleton never got injured, and while I’m at it, maybe the Miami Heat would have also if the refs didn’t epically blow the Max Strus triple call. Does the fact that we saw the Celtics make the Finals increase our belief they’ll do so again? Does that factor into the subconscious minds of power rankers, fans, players, or perhaps most vitally, NBA officials? Could we have some multiparty fulfilling prophecy based on semi-random past outcomes? Could the fact Doc Rivers and the Sixers all have the rep they don’t get out of the second round work against them, the way us seeing a team succeed in the past work in said team’s favor? A cascade of perception, bias, and fulfilled prophecies?]
Sixers fans familiar with the site founded by Nate Silver will remember the 538 algorithms always seem a bit higher on Philly’s chances than mainstream. If we sort by projected record, the bots like Philly to nab a three seed (shoutout Silversun Pickups) for the upcoming playoffs, finishing behind only the Celts and Brooklyn Nets:
And I’m pretty confident the machine above doesn’t know that Nets’ MVP candidate Kevin Durant is about to miss extended time with an MCL sprain. Brooklyn suffered an 11-game losing streak just over a year ago when KD suffered a similar ailment to his other knee. We wish nothing but the best for the living legend, still astoundingly in his prime, but the Sixers may have more ground to cover here, should the Nets (winners of 18 of 20!) sputter sans Slim Reaper.
Flipping on over to Cleaningtheglass.com, founded by a former Sam Hinkie lieutenant in Ben Falk, we see that Philadelphia ranks sixth in expected wins with 51.1:
According to Tankathon.com, the Sixers have the hardest remaining schedule in the entire NBA:
This is a double whammy because some teams that haven’t begun really tanking their darndest yet will eventually start
playing their worst players more limiting veteran minutes, and managing injuries more conservatively. That means that the Sixers will have already played (and potentially lost to) some middling teams that will completely fold later when they face say Cleveland (fifth-easiest schedule remaining) by late March.
Going by ESPN.com’s power rankings, the Sixers rank seventh overall. The (1st) Celtics, (2nd) Nuggets (3rd) Grizzlies, (4th) Nets, (5th) Bucks and (6th) Cavs all came in ahead of Joel Embiid and co. in that order. But you already knew mainstream would #hatetheprocess at least a little bit.
Betting odds are probably my favorite metric to check, as the aggregate of the minds and machines programed to make money forecasting tend to fare better than power rankings, in my humble opinion.
On DraftKings, the Sixers have the eighth-best title odds (+1800). That translates to an implied 5.26 percent, although oddsmakers bumps these up a bit to ensure their own profit; their true value is likely lower than five percent in the “minds” of Vegas. The Sixers trail the Celtics (+360) Nets (+550) Bucks (+750) in the East, and the Warriors (+900), Nuggets (+900), Grizzlies (+1000), and Clippers (+1000) out West on DK’s book.
The way Vegas sees it, the Celtics are in a tier alone in the East, followed by the Nets and Bucks in Tier 2. And then we see a big drop off for Tier 3 where the Sixers and Cavs come in in terms of title odds.
Pulling it all together
All in all, not bad considering Doc Rivers’ team has dealt with a variety of injuries.
Embiid has appeared in 29 of 40 games, Tyrese Maxey has appeared in 21 of 40, and James Harden has appeared in 25 of 40, a combined 45 games missing at least one of their top three stars. And for you math wizards, yes, that’s more than their total number (40) of games played so for too many contests they were missing two, and occasionally even three, stars.
We’re trying here but it’s especially difficult to assess the Sixers’ stock for this reason. They’ve done better than expected despite all of the injuries, on the one hand. But on the other, it’s no given that this team is going to be at full strength for the part of their schedule that starts to become much more difficult; let alone the playoffs.
If you were worried they have one of the highest injury risk profiles of any team in the game, you were right. And that may remain a problem. If you’re looking forward to more health in the future than they’ve had in the past, there’s plenty of reason for cautious optimism. These competing factors tempt us to throw our hands up and say let’s see how they look when Embiid, Harden and Maxey have played more than just 332 possessions, just 263 with their original starting unit adding in Tobias Harris and P.J. Tucker.
If we generously (‘cause remember Vegas gives a boost) take the average of Fivethirtyeight.com’s and DraftKings’ implied title percents, we get a very respectable 8.5 percent your boys get some jewelry this June. So I suppose that makes this stock a narrow buy, as they get healthier.
We’ll check back on them again soon. They’ll hopefully be healthier, just as the schedule gets substantially more challenging. And hopefully our real Sixers will please stand up.