Players are much more than the statistics they produce.
The human side of the game matters a ton for a team, with qualities like instinctive on-court chemistry and locker-room synergy not entirely measurable through numbers.
With that said, we figured it would be interesting to examine a few statistical areas where the Sixers might look to improve ahead of the March 25 trade deadline. All numbers below are from Cleaning the Glass, which excludes garbage time, unless otherwise noted.
The starters are just fine
Below is a look at how the Sixers’ opening-night starting lineup of Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid have fared in 724 possessions together:
- Offensive rating: 124.4
- Defensive rating: 107.3
- Net rating: Plus-17.2
That plus-17.2 net rating is third-best among lineups with at least 300 possessions, No. 1 in the Eastern Conference.
Though the Sixers are “still seeking major moves,” according to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, the starting lineup has been a well-balanced, strong unit. Of course, that doesn’t mean potential upgrades should be off the table— a trade that added a starter-level point guard and shifted Curry to a sixth man role might help, in theory — but it’s worth considering that the Sixers have the East’s best record mainly because of how well their starters have played with each other.
Can you play with a speed demon?
We knew entering this season that playing at a faster tempo and creating more transition possessions would be keys for the Sixers. So far, so good: The team is sixth in pace after finishing 20th last season, per NBA.com/Stats, and 16.5 percent of its non-garbage time possessions have been in transition, which ranks fifth.
The ultra-versatile Simmons is naturally eager to push the ball, and Rivers has encouraged him to do so. He’s also added plenty of other responsibilities to the three-time All-Star’s plate.
“He’s setting way more picks,” Rivers said Tuesday. “Even with the ball, his dribble handoffs are flipped to picks and rolls. We have him rolling way more than he’s ever done. He has the ball in his hands probably more than he’s ever had it in the open floor. Defensively, we’re putting him on everyone. I think he has guarded all five positions already this year. His job is so much bigger than it was last year, but I think he can handle it and I think he’s showing that he can handle it.”’
Both in terms of frequency and efficiency, Simmons deserves credit for much of the Sixers’ transition success, as the below on/off statistics illustrate.
Sixers on/off differential with Simmons in transition
- Transition frequency: Plus-4.8%*
- Points per 100 trans. plays: Plus-15.9
*99th percentile in NBA
Simmons has been especially impactful off of Sixers steals. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the team is third in that category, per NBA.com/Stats, forcing 8.5 per game (0.5 more than last season).
Sixers on/off differential with Simmons in transition off steals
- Transition frequency: Plus-9.3%
- Points per 100 trans. plays: Plus-33.8
Players who can initiate transition offense with steals and also effectively complement Simmons’ exceptional speed and open-court playmaking could very well be useful for the Sixers. Half-court offense is important in the playoffs, to be sure, but it would be great to give Simmons more chances to run and further enhance his transition talents.
Two early weaknesses
Finally, we’ll note it would make sense if the Sixers targeted players who take care of the ball and have no trouble putting up outside shots.
Even after ending a stretch without exceeding 30-point attempts in a game that lasted over a month during their recent mini-series against the Raptors, the Sixers are 28th in three-point frequency (30.4 percent). The team also sits 28th in turnover percentage, giving the ball away on 15.7 percent of its possessions.
There are reasonable excuses for why the Sixers rank so low in both areas. For instance, when Toronto double teamed Embiid hard on just about every touch, more three-point looks became available. When Embiid is dominant in the low post or attacking his defender from the top of the key, the Sixers’ offense is less conducive to regular three-point shots — not always a bad thing. The turnovers could be partially chalked up to the challenges of a team with very minimal practice time in a pandemic-affected season learning a new coach’s style and system.
Still, it would be difficult for the Sixers to make a deep playoff run if these problems last into the postseason. President of basketball operations Daryl Morey is fond of shooting, and this team could absolutely use more of it.