76ers

What we'll learn about the Sixers over the holidays

76ers

Thirty-three games into the season, it feels like we know a good amount about the Sixers.

We know that they:

-Have three stars in Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler
-Are very good at Wells Fargo Center (15-3, the best home record in the NBA)
-Have the worst depth of the top five teams in the Eastern Conference
-Struggle mightily against “live dribble” guards 

Over these next six games, we should learn a few more things. After playing the shorthanded Raptors on Saturday night, the Sixers begin a five-game road trip with a Christmas Day game in Boston. Their next four games are against the Jazz, Trail Blazers, Clippers and Suns — get ready for some late-night basketball.

Can they beat good teams?

The Sixers (21-12) have six more wins at this stage of the season than they did last year. But their record is inflated by an easier schedule.

Against above-.500 teams, the Sixers are 5-6, including three straight losses. Three of their above-.500 wins are against the 16-15 Hornets; the 21-12 Pacers are the best team they’ve beaten, on Nov. 7.

Four of the Sixers’ next six opponents are above .500, and the 16-17 Jazz, who just crushed the Trail Blazers, won’t be pushovers either. There just aren’t any automatic wins over the holiday stretch besides, perhaps, at Phoenix on Jan. 2. And even that one might be a challenge; the Suns have won four straight, and the Sixers will be finishing up a long road trip, on the second night of a back-to-back.

 

Can they win on the road?

After an 0-5 start on the road, the Sixers are trending in a positive direction, with four wins in their last six away games. That said, winning in TD Garden or Staples Center is a lot harder than winning in Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena.

Will Redick regress to the mean?

JJ Redick has had a weird start to the season — he’s shooting a career-low 35.1 percent from three-point range and a career-high 54.2 percent from two-point range. He’s 4 for 22 on three-point shots from the right corner, yet averaging a career-high 18.0 points per game.

You’d assume his shooting stats will eventually normalize and wind up somewhere near his career averages. The more serious concern for the Sixers is whether the same thing will happen with his defense. His defensive box plus-minus is a career-worst minus-4.0.

Defensive box plus-minus is, of course, just one of many stats. Opponents are only shooting 39.7 percent from the field when guarded by Redick, and his 102.2 defensive rating is actually a tick better than Joel Embiid’s.

Still, when you watch him play, it does appear Redick might be slipping a little bit defensively. He’s always had to rely more on his shrewdness than his athletic ability on defense, and that’s especially true at 34 years old.

While we’re on the topic of regressing to the mean: Jimmy Butler is shooting 41.2 percent from three-point territory in his 16 games with the Sixers. He’s never shot higher than 37.8 percent from three-point range over a full season, so that’s likely not sustainable.  

Just how good is the starting lineup? 

On Wednesday, Brett Brown said the Sixers have “the best starting five in the NBA.” 

Embiid, Butler, Redick, Simmons and Wilson Chandler have a plus-20.6 net rating in 159 minutes together, an excellent performance in a small sample size.

Thanks in large part to that unit, the Sixers have outscored opponents by 3.9 points per game in the first quarter since Nov. 14, Butler’s first game with the team.

Because of the bench’s struggles, there’s pressure on the starters to lift the Sixers to early leads. Can they keep doing it? 

Just how bad is the bench? 

Since Butler’s Sixers debut, the bench has a minus-0.4 plus-minus, 16th in the NBA. While that number might be a little better than you’d expect, you have to consider that it’s boosted by games like Sunday’s 23-point win over the Cavs and Wednesday’s blowout of the Knicks.

We know the bench is a weakness, but Landry Shamet, Furkan Korkmaz, T.J. McConnell, Mike Muscala have all had bright moments. We’ll see if they get exposed against better competition.

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