JJ Redick

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.

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Tobias Harris delivers, Norvel Pelle brings the energy (and the blocks) as Sixers top Pelicans

Tobias Harris delivers, Norvel Pelle brings the energy (and the blocks) as Sixers top Pelicans

BOX SCORE 

The Sixers’ home record is still unblemished.

They beat the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night, 116-109, to move to 20-7 on the season and 14-0 at Wells Fargo Center. This was New Orleans’ 11th straight defeat. 

Tobias Harris scored a team-high 31 points on 12 for 20 shooting, helping the Sixers to overcome an uneven effort. 

Here are observations on the win: 

Harris and Simmons strike the right balance 

Yet again, Harris struck the right middle ground between letting the game come to him and forcing the issue offensively.

He scored nine points in the third quarter, including a three from the right corner when the Sixers were searching for something to wake them up. 

For Harris, this was another game in which he seemed to both understand and provide what the Sixers needed. 

Simmons imposed his physical advantages well and finished with 24 points, 11 assists and just one turnover. He missed three of his first four free throws when New Orleans turned to the "Hack-a-Simmons" strategy, then converted his next four.

Norvel Pelle, undeterred 

Two-way player Norvel Pelle initially received the backup center minutes over veteran Kyle O’Quinn.

In his third NBA regular-season game, Pelle quickly picked up two fouls on aggressive challenges at the rim. The 26-year-old was, as usual, undeterred. He blocked former Sixer Jahlil Okafor, leading to a Simmons dunk on the other end, then swatted Brandon Ingram’s dunk attempt and watched from the floor as the Sixers started a fast break that ended in a three by James Ennis.

Pelle earned First Team All-Defense honors last season in the G League with the Delaware Blue Coats. After an unconventional route to the NBA that took him to Taiwan, Lebanon and Italy, he’s flashed some of the same skills that made him a star attraction at his other stops. On Nov. 30, Brett Brown said he thought Pelle was “an NBA player.”

Whether or not his chance comes with the Sixers, Pelle took another step toward showing he has a future in the league Friday night, though his fouls (five in 12 minutes) are a concern. Despite the irregular playing time and uncertainty about when he’ll have opportunities, he was ready to go vs. the Pelicans. 

“Preparation is the main thing, especially being on this level,” he said Nov. 12. “Getting your number called and coming in, doing what you’ve gotta do — that’s the main thing. Focusing on your job and excelling at that job. I’ve learned moving forward, just be ready. Always be ready.”

What the Sixers do with him moving forward will be interesting. Since he’s signed to a one-year, two-way deal, he can spend a maximum of 45 days with the Sixers between the start of Blue Coats training camp and the end of the G League regular season. He’s currently ineligible for the NBA playoffs. 

Pelle had six points, five rebounds, three blocks and two assists.

Redick’s return 

JJ Redick had 19 points on 6 of 15 shooting in his return to Philadelphia. The 35-year-old guard, who signed a two-year, $26.5 million deal with the Pelicans this offseason, shared his thoughts on Joel Embiid, Simmons and the Sixers’ new offensive identity earlier in the day (see story).

The Sixers showed a tribute video for Redick in the first quarter. 

Redick beating Furkan Korkmaz back door and then sprinting around screens to create a small gap for a leaning three a few minutes later was an odd sight, even if the plays themselves were familiar. 

A lousy stretch

The Sixers started the way they were supposed to, taking a 39-23 lead after the first quarter.

Their defensive execution went downhill from there as the Pelicans went on a 48-31 run to take the advantage.    

Redick, Ingram and the Pelicans deserve part of the credit for their shotmaking, but the Sixers’ defensive intensity — fighting over screens, boxing out, closing out — deteriorated. 

They looked like a team playing the second game of a road-home back-to-back, confident that their superior talent would win out in the end. Their surge to retake the lead was impressive, though the way they finished the game did not inspire confidence.

Embiid not quite as dominant 

The night after his 38-point, 13-rebound performance vs. the Celtics, Joel Embiid did not reach that same elite level again.

He did look to attack favorable matchups in the first half against Derrick Favors and Okafor and yes, he appeared to be having fun. 

Embiid just wasn’t as efficient as he’d been in Boston (24 points on 6 for 16 shooting), though he mostly did well when double teamed. He had 11 assists and four turnovers over the back-to-back. 

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Sixers vs. Pelicans: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers vs. Pelicans: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

After the Sixers' win over the Celtics on Thursday night at TD Garden, they're one of two remaining undefeated teams in the NBA, along with the Heat. Miami hosts the 22-3 Lakers on Friday night.

The 19-7 Sixers can move to 14-0 at Wells Fargo Center tonight with a win over the 6-19 Pelicans.

Here are tonight’s essentials:

When: 7 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Wells Fargo Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia (NBC Sports BetCast on NBCSP+)
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

No Horford again 

Al Horford will miss his second consecutive game with left knee soreness and left hamstring tightness.

The regular starting lineup was briefly intact for Tuesday's win over the Nuggets in Richardson's first game back after a six-game absence because of a hamstring injury, but that didn't last long.

Mike Scott took Horford’s place Thursday and played well in his second start of the season, scoring 15 points and making 5 of 7 three-pointers.

“I just do my job,” Scott told reporters. “Catch and shoot, move the ball, play hard on defense. Same role when I come off the bench, so it's pretty easy.”

Joel Embiid, after a 38-point, 13-rebound night against the Celtics, is not listed on the NBA’s official injury report, so it looks like he’ll play in the second game of this back-to-back.

Redick is back in the building 

JJ Redick is set to play his first game against the Sixers since signing a two-year, $26.5 million with the Pelicans this summer.

Though the Sixers’ offense has missed Redick’s outside shooting, savvy screening and two-man game with Embiid, the team's three-point numbers have not taken an extreme dip. 

The Sixers are shooting 37.1 percent from three-point range, sixth in the NBA.

Redick had interesting insights on the Sixers’ post-heavy offense, Joel Embiid’s maturity and more after the Pelicans’ shootaround (see story).

The Zion-less Pelicans are struggling 

No. 1 pick Zion Williamson is with the Pelicans, but he’s sidelined as he recovers from surgery on his right knee.

Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry said Friday that Williamson is on schedule and the team doesn’t want to rush his return.

New Orleans comes into Philadelphia on a 10-game losing streak and has the third-worst defensive rating in the NBA. Former Sixers Redick, Jrue Holiday and Jahlil Okafor feature for the Pelicans, while Brandon Ingram is having a career year.

The 22-year-old Ingram, who was traded from the Lakers to New Orleans this summer along with Villanova product Josh Hart and Lonzo Ball, is averaging 24.9 points per game and shooting 40.8 percent from three-point range. 

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