Noah Levick

FiveThirtyEight's statistical model gives Sixers best chance of any team to win NBA Finals

FiveThirtyEight's statistical model gives Sixers best chance of any team to win NBA Finals

The Sixers, according to the statistics-centric website FiveThirtyEight, have a 55 percent chance to make the NBA Finals and a 27 percent chance to win it all — both the highest of any NBA team.

FiveThirtyEight's "Way-Too-Early Projections" for the 2019-20 season give the Sixers a greater than 99 percent chance to make the playoffs. The Houston Rockets have the next-best odds to win the title at 24 percent.

It's important to note, of course, that teams' rosters will change between now and the start of the regular season, and we still don't have a schedule.

Its model incorporates heaps of data and does "50,000 simulations of the schedule." A new element this year is the DRAYMOND defensive metric, which gives greater weight to how a defender impacts opponents' shooting percentage.

The fact that Joel Embiid has the second-best DRAYMOND rating since the 2013-14 season might, in part, explain why this year's model is so high on the Sixers. Conventional wisdom would suggest that the Giannis Antetokounmpo-led Milwaukee Bucks (26 percent chance to win the East, 10 percent chance to win the championship) and star-studded Los Angeles Lakers (13 percent odds to win it all) and Clippers (5 percent chance to win it all) have a better shot than FiveThirtyEight gives them.

In case you somehow missed it, a lot has changed for the Sixers this offseason. The team's new starting unit of Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Embiid is locked in for the long term, while Mike Scott and James Ennis are again expected to feature off the bench. It's a big, defensively imposing team.

Ennis has said he thinks the Sixers can "walk to the Finals in the East." If you trust FiveThirtyEight's model, his view might not be so outlandish.

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Will Kyle Korver return to Sixers? Elton Brand drops an interesting hint

Will Kyle Korver return to Sixers? Elton Brand drops an interesting hint

Elton Brand’s busy offseason is not over.

The Sixers’ general manager acknowledged Tuesday morning in an interview on 97.5 The Fanatic’s “Farzetta and Tra in the Morning” show that he’s still working to fill out the Sixers’ roster. The team currently has 13 players on the roster and could add two more. 

When Marc Farzetta asked Brand about adding a player with similar shooting abilities to the departed JJ Redick, Brand dropped an interesting hint.

We’d love to have that. Spacing is key. We’re going to hang our hats on defense, but when it’s crunch time you’re going to need spacing to operate. So we are looking for players that can space the court. We are in talks with a few of them, so we’ll see how that goes. Hopefully the city will have someone that they know and can receive them well. 

He didn’t use his name, but Brand sure seemed to be talking about former Sixer Kyle Korver. Some Sixers fans might be familiar with available free agents like Thabo Sefolosha and Jose Calderon, but Brand has to be aware that fans know all about Korver.

The Sixers are reportedly a frontrunner to land the 38-year-old, who’s an unrestricted free agent after being waived by the Phoenix Suns. Korver is a career 42.9 percent shooter from three-point range and has made the fourth most threes in NBA history. 

Given the Sixers’ salary cap situation, Korver would need to be willing to accept a veteran minimum deal to come back to Philadelphia. 

A return to the city where he started his professional career would make a lot of sense for both parties. As Brand said, the Sixers could use some outside shooting. And for Korver, you’d think the chance to play for a team that looks poised to contend for a championship would be appealing. 

You can listen to the full interview with Brand here

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What Al Horford's unique development as a shooter can tell us about Ben Simmons

What Al Horford's unique development as a shooter can tell us about Ben Simmons

Al Horford hasn’t always been good at everything.

As a 33-year-old with 12 seasons of NBA experience and five All-Star appearances, Horford is skilled in most aspects of the game. Interior defense? He’s excellent at it and was named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 2017-18. Passing? The big man averaged 4.6 assists per game in his three seasons with the Celtics. Setting good screens, marshalling the defense and generally making smart, winning plays? It’s his trademark.

But it took a while before Horford added outside shooting to his long list of tools. Looking back at the early history of Horford’s career, his stats give you no indication that he’d eventually be a “stretch five” type of player, someone who’s shot 37.1 percent from three-point range on 927 attempts over the last four years.

He made no three-point shots in his three college seasons at Florida and was 0 for 6 from long range in his first two NBA seasons. Horford was named to his first All-Star Game in 2009-10, a season in which he made his one and only three-point shot, and he hit 9 of 22 over the next four years. He took a small step forward in 2014-15 for the 60-win Atlanta Hawks, converting 11 of 36 threes.

It wasn’t until the 2015-16 season, at 29 years old, when Horford started to let it fly with regularity, attempting 256 threes — 220 more than the season prior — and making 88.

Ben Simmons, like Horford, had no three-point makes in his first two professional seasons. According to Tobias Harris — a player who also has improved remarkably as a shooter over his career — Simmons was knocking them down from the perimeter during a recent workout in Los Angeles. 

 … He's in the gym religiously every day — grinding, getting better," Harris said at a press conference Friday. "He's in great shape. Everyone was trying to figure out why I was guarding him at the three-point line. It was really because he hit two of them. I dared him to hit two of them and he hit two in a row — that's why I was there. He's made big improvements on his game. His jump shot is looking really good. He has confidence to shoot it. I just kept telling him there, even in these workouts when you’re playing, have the confidence to shoot them and don't get discouraged when you miss …

The Sixers have committed $170 million to Simmons over the next five years in spite of his lack of a reliable shot and because, as was the case with Horford, he didn’t need one to be a deserving All-Star. Horford’s development as a jump shooter is unique, but it helps provide context for Simmons’ situation.

Perhaps the most important takeaway is that there’s no shared path — jump shots don’t all evolve at the same pace. Improvement is contingent on factors like fixing flawed form, natural touch and, as Harris alluded to, the confidence to take jumpers in games and the go-ahead to do so from teammates and coaches.

It’s also not blindly optimistic to review Horford’s past, consider Simmons’ future and conclude that the 22-year-old All-Star is likely only going to get better as a shooter. After hitting 25 of 99 shots from 10 feet and out last season (25.3 percent), it would be very surprising to see Simmons regress.

It would be stunning if Simmons followed Horford’s trajectory, too. You’d imagine his form will have to undergo significant remediation before he’s a good three-point shooter — players with flared elbows and inconsistent mechanics don’t typically fit that description.

However, two seasons is far too small of a sample size to judge Simmons’ shot a lost cause.

As we noted on the night he agreed to join the Sixers, Horford shared that same opinion a little over a year ago. 

“He’s already difficult to guard,” Horford told NBC Sports Philadelphia during the Sixers’ 2018 playoff series against the Celtics. “Like all players, we all make progressions. When I came in the league, I wasn’t shooting much outside the paint. And over the years, I’ve expanded my game — you can say that about a lot of guys. And I feel like with him, it’ll just be another weapon in his arsenal, that he will continue to develop that [jumper].”

His perspective is one worth listening to. 

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