76ers

Conventional wisdom about Sixers' offensive drop-off doesn't match the numbers

Conventional wisdom about Sixers' offensive drop-off doesn't match the numbers

Monday night is Game 41 for the Sixers, the official halfway point of the regular season. It’s a perfect opportunity to see if the conventional wisdom about the team entering the season matches how it has performed on the court.

Predictably, replacing JJ Redick with Josh Richardson and the addition of Al Horford have helped make the Sixers a better defensive team. They rank sixth in the NBA in defensive rating, allowing 106.1 points per 100 possessions. That’s a significant improvement from last season, when the Sixers ranked 15th in the NBA, allowing 110 points per 100 possessions.

That defensive upgrade has come at the cost of the offense, but probably not for the reason you’re thinking. For all of the consternation about perimeter shooting, the Sixers' three-point numbers are almost identical to last season’s statistics. Take a look at the numbers:

2018-19/2019-20
PPG: 115.2/109.3
3PM: 10.8/10.8
3PA: 30.2/30.1
3P%: 35.9/35.9
FTM: 21.2/16.2
FTA: 27.5/21.7

Just like last season, the Sixers are making 10.8 three-point field goals per game and shooting 35.9 percent as a team from beyond the arc. They’ve made up for Redick’s 3.2 made threes per game with a collective effort. Seven different players average at least one three-point attempt per game, led by Richardson with 1.8 threes per game. So, while it feels like three-point shooting is this team’s Achilles’ heel, the numbers say otherwise.

Instead, the drop-off in offense is directly related to the reduced number of free throws the Sixers have made this season. The Sixers are getting five fewer points per game from the free throw line. That almost entirely makes up the 5.9-point difference in scoring from last season.

There are a few different culprits. Joel Embiid is making 1.4 fewer free throws per game this season. Ben Simmons is down from 3.3 made free throws per game to 2.6 per game. Jimmy Butler took his 4.8 made foul shots per game to Miami, which is the same number as Harris and Richardson have made combined.

Saturday’s loss in Dallas is a perfect example of why the lack of free throw attempts matters. On a night when the Sixers shot 9 of 27 from the three-point line, they also made just 8 of 12 free throws. If you can’t get easy points at the free throw line, it makes it that much tougher to halt opposing runs when the threes aren’t falling.

Yes, the three-point line matters. But the free throw line matters, too. That’s something to keep in mind as the Sixers enter the second half of the season.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

'It's a gift and a curse' — Steve Nash shares his thoughts on Ben Simmons

'It's a gift and a curse' — Steve Nash shares his thoughts on Ben Simmons

On the surface, Steve Nash and Ben Simmons don’t have a ton in common. 

Nash, inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018, shot 42.8 percent from three-point range and 90.4 percent from the foul line in his NBA career. Simmons’ shooting is not a strength.

However, the two chatted Saturday night at Madison Square Garden after Simmons’ 21-point, eight-assist performance in the Sixers’ win over the Knicks (see observations).

Simmons told reporters he talked with Nash, a co-owner of the MLS’ Vancouver Whitecaps FC, about soccer.

“He was such a great leader, a competitive spirit,” Simmons said. “Just watching highlights and some of his games, the way he played, he was just relentless. He played through anything." 

Nash sees a lot to admire in Simmons’ game, too. He said he thinks Simmons is worthy of being an All-Star for the second straight season.

Ben’s a generational talent. Crazy athlete, can play multiple positions on offense and defense. Obviously his glaring weakness is the shooting, but he’s so gifted that he can make up for it in other ways, and it’s about finding a way for him to be at his best for this group. And that’s a challenge for this club, is how do all the pieces fit together? Ben’s ability at both ends of the floor is unique and he’s a special, special player. 

“I wouldn’t put it past him to become a reliable shooter at some stage in his career, but he still does so many things at both ends of the floor that if you could find a way as an organization to promote that, you have an incredible, incredible piece. That is a huge challenge — how do all the pieces fit? … I think it’s something that Brett [Brown] and everyone are working through every day. It’s a gift and a curse.

Though his game isn’t much like Nash’s, Simmons said he can still take a lot from the 2004-05 NBA MVP. 

“He’s a legend, so definitely,” Simmons said. “I definitely want to talk to him and pick up things.”

Nash was asked whether Simmons can keep going as an infrequent jump shooter. 

“He can, in the right environment,” Nash said. “If he can figure out how to make some shots in some parts of the court, it can change everything. … He can do so many things. He can change positions four or five times in a game. That in itself is huge. So, how do you absorb that? That’s the challenge. Like I said, it’s a gift and a curse, and they’ll have to figure that out.”

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

Tobias Harris trolls Ben Simmons before and after Sixers' win

Tobias Harris trolls Ben Simmons before and after Sixers' win

There are probably quite a few people that would like to be Ben Simmons.

Tobias Harris took that a step further before the Sixers game Saturday night against the Knicks, rocking Simmons' expensive looking neckwear.

The Sixers sweated out a win and snapped their six-game road losing streak at Madison Square Garden Saturday (see observations). Harris had a rough night, going 5 of 13 overall, but he did hit a huge three with 28.2 seconds left off a Simmons’ inbounds pass to give the Sixers a two-point lead.

“I was just trying to get it in,” Simmons told reporters postgame. “I don’t think we had any timeouts left, so I’m glad he came to the ball and put up a great shot. He made it look good.”

The chemistry between the two seems to be paying off on the court.

“He’s locked in,” Simmons said. “He’s been aggressive taking shots. We want him to keep shooting the ball and taking those open looks. He’s a great player."

Postgame, Harris went back into Simmons mode.

The team also had a little fun with Harris’ “Fresh Prince” impersonation.

Simmons had a big night, posting 20 points for the fourth straight game — the first time in his career he's done so. The duo of Harris and Simmons also combined for the biggest defensive play of the game, trapping Julius Randle and causing a turnover with 7.6 seconds left.

Even though Harris accidentally gave Simmons a smack in the face in his haste while celebrating.

The Sixers have won three games in a row and it looks like they’re having fun again.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers