Let’s not do a deep dive here, just a surface-level skimming. This will be less like the Mariana Trench and more like the Dorney Park kiddie pool. Let’s just get our feet wet.
I like numbers, but I wouldn’t say I’m a “numbers guy.” I think data can be leveraged in a meaningful way, and if you disagree with that, you probably didn’t watch the World Series.
But, like most things in life, there’s a fine line between tangible usage and over-analysis. We can sit here for days talking about player efficiency rating and eFG%, but I think that’s niche territory that other people can do a better job of explaining. I’ve only been on the Sixers beat for like five weeks anyway, so nobody needs to hear that from me. Sometime down the road we can get into advanced data, which probably isn’t on the typical Philly sports fan’s radar.
What I can do is compile some face-level stats and do a layman’s parsing here, beginning with how this team stacks up against the rest of the league after 10 games.
Points per game: 107.3 (11th in the league)
Golden State leads the league with 118.5. The Kings bottom out at 93.6.
The Sixers finished 25th with 102.4 last season, so they’re 5.1 points better in this department already.
Win Percentage: .600 (8th)
They’re 6-4. They’re above .500 for the first time a long time.
More importantly, they’re 4-2 on the road and one of just 10 teams to win more than 50% of their away games.
Field goal percentage: 45.8 (13th)
They’re making 40.1 shots per 87.8 attempts on 106.1 average possessions per game.
The Warriors lead the league with a 51.2 field goal percentage. They’re making 43.7 shots per 85.5 attempts on 104.4 average possessions per game.
It’s efficiency, right? Fewer turnovers, more meaningful possessions. That’s the difference between a veteran team and a young team.
Three-point shooting percentage: 39.9 (3rd)
The Sixers really shine here.
They’re hitting 12.3 of their 30.8 attempts per game.
They only shot 34% last year, finishing 25th in the league, same as that PPG stat I started with. Obviously the addition of JJ Redick and growth of Robert Covington explains how a team can improve by 5.9% in three-point accuracy.
Free-throw attempts: 21.2 per game (20th)
Bottom half here.
They aren’t getting to the rim as often as other teams, which makes sense when you shoot as many three-pointers as the Sixers do. This number will go up as Ben Simmons learns to draw and sell contact near the basket. The return of Markelle Fultz should also pull this number into the 22-24 range, assuming he continues to dribble and drive.
The Sixers are drawing 21.4 fouls per game, which is 13th in the NBA, they just aren’t earning as many shooting fouls as you’d expect, hence the disparity. They’ll also start to get those cheap superstar whistles as time goes on.
Free-throw percentage: 69.8% (29th)
It’s one of their biggest weaknesses, for sure. They’re only making 14.8 of those 21.2 attempts per game.
The only team that shoots worse from the stripe is Charlotte, with a 69.1 percentage. Portland leads the league on the strength of Damian Lillard, who converts 93% of his 8.4 attempts per game.
Rebounds: 47.7 per game (4th)
This number is mostly useless. The ball can bounce anywhere. A crappy shooting team misses more attempts. Donovan Mitchell probably isn’t crashing the rim after chucking up another 26-footer. Ruby Gobert ain’t on the floor for 48 minutes.
But if you want to use this in some way, shape, or form, the Sixers are averaging 10.6 offensive boards per game (11th) and 31.7 defensive boards per game (4th). I’d say the Jazz game improved that latter number, since they couldn’t hit jack shit on Tuesday night.
Assists per game: 26.2 (2nd)
This number shines. They share the basketball and really play a team game. The only team better than the Sixers in this area is, you guessed it, Golden State.
Turnovers: 18.5 per game (30th)
They’re dead last here. They had 22 turnovers alone against Utah.
A lot of that can be attributed I think to mental fallout at the end of second and fourth quarters. To me, it just says that they’re a young team that needs to do a better job protecting the basketball. Memphis has the fewest turnovers in the NBA (13.1), which doesn’t surprise me considering that you’ve got a ton of veteran ball handling on that team between Mike Conley and Mario Chalmers.
Steals per game: 8.5 (7th)
They’re aggressive in this department, which is complemented by their 15.8 deflections per game, which is third best in the NBA. Sometimes they go a little too hard in this area, which results in…
Personal fouls per game: 25.9 (30th)
They foul more than any other team in the league.
So even though they have a nice total steal number, you can look through the game film and find a lot of instances where those attempts just don’t come off. It also doesn’t help this number when you have games like last night, where Embiid is unavailable, Richaun Holmes is rusty, and Amir Johnson and Jahlil Okafor are asked to share the load. Those three guys had 12 fouls in 40 combined minutes Tuesday night.
Blocks per game: 4.5 (16th)
Middle of the road.
Blocked field goal attempts: 6.1 (28th)
They’re getting stuffed and swatted at a rate that’s probably higher than it should be.
I want to go through the league-wide numbers here and see what we can find. These bullet points tell us more than what I started with above, because we’re getting into individual performances that provide better context.
points per game:
Joel Embiid: 20.5 (23rd), Ben Simmons: 17.8 (40th), JJ Redick: 15.6 (53rd), Robert Covington: 15.3 (59th)
The Sixers don’t have a scorer who lands in the NBA’s top-20.
What they do have is balanced output, with a pair of guys in the top 40 and two more in the top 60. For comparison, James Harden and Eric Gordon are both in the top-15, but you’d have go to way down to 91st to find the next Rocket on the list, Clint Capela. Similar deal for the Knicks, with Kristaps Porzingis at #2 (30 PPG), Tim Hardaway at #46, and Enes Kanter at #77.
Philly is less reliant on one person to carry the load.
minutes per game:
Ben Simmons: 35.3 (13th), JJ Redick: 32.8 (43rd), Jerryd Bayless: 31.1 (73rd), Robert Covington: 30.5 (81st)
Jerryd Bayless is playing 31.1 minutes per game? Doesn’t feel like it.
Again, look at the spread here. Joel Embiid isn’t even fully contributing (27.6 MPG), but the Sixers are getting it done with a group effort.
Robert Covington: .500 (9th), JJ Redick: .434 (37th), Jerryd Bayless: .422 (42nd), Dario Saric: .409 (51st)
Covington’s numbers are ridiculous. He’s 35-70 this year from three-point range and leads the top-20 in most attempts. Only Kevin Durant has come close to replicating Covington’s output relative to total attempts, shooting .464 on a 32-69 number.
So while league leader Nemanja Bjelica might be shooting .625 from the arc this season, he’s only trying 2 per game. Covington is the only player shooting 50% or higher on 7 or more three-point attempts per game.
Ben Simmons: 80 total, 8 per game, 2.16 A/TO ratio / T.J. McConnell: 52 total, 5.2 per game, 2.89 A/TO ratio
Ben’s overall assist numbers are top-10, but his assist to turnover ratio is 39th among qualified players.
McConnell, for comparison, has the 13th best A/TO ratio in the league. I think Sixers fans will appreciate that he’s in front of Lonzo Ball in this category:
See that AP48M column? That’s “assists per 48 minutes,” which is an extrapolation to compare players who don’t log the same amount of minutes.
We’ll get more into that the next time I do one of these stories.
Of course, not every turnover is the result of a failed pass. Ball-handlers can lose the rock on the dribble as well, so you really do need further context here. Don’t think of AST/TO as a micro-measure of how well a guy can pass, think of it as macro statistic for how high-volume players exhibit overall ball security and intelligence.
Ben Simmons: 1.7 SPG (14th), Robert Covington: 1.5 SPG (22nd), T.J. McConnell: 1.4 SPG (29th), Joel Embiid: 1.38 SPG (32nd)
Four guys in the top 35 here.
One area the Sixers could improve on is their ST/PF ratio, which is steals per personal fouls. Simmons is 35th with a 0.68 number. Basically it means they’re forcing turnovers but also slapping and hacking at a higher rate. Again, like AST/TO, not every foul here is during a steal attempt, but there’s a strong correlation in most cases.
Terry Rozier, for example, has 15 steals and 14 fouls this season, which gives him a top-five ST/PF ratio of 1.07. Robert Covington is way down at #146 with 15 steals, 40 fouls, and a 0.38 ST/PF number. Look through the film and you’ll see that RoCo does do some chopping and grabbing when guys get by him and push to the rim. He also got called for a foul in last night’s game that looked like a clean steal to me.
Joel Embiid: 1.38 per game (17th), Amir Johnson: 0.60 (86th), Richaun Holmes: unqualified
Holmes hasn’t played enough games to log this stat.
Embiid has a good number here, but falls victim to the same ratio above. His BLK/PF rate is 0.39. That’s 11 blocks vs. 28 personal fouls and it drops him out of the top-40.
Marc Gasol, for instance, posts a 0.80 BLK/PF ratio with 20 swats and only 25 fouls. It’s a good way to determine discipline around the rim.
Robert Covington: 4 per game (3rd), Joel Embiid: 3.5 per game (13th)
This sheds more light on the last two topics. Cov fouls at a very high rate.
Only DeMarcus Cousins has committed more fouls this year (45) than Covington (40). But Cov also tries harder on defense and actually seems to care, which you can’t say for every NBA hot dogger. More intensity, more deflections, more steal attempts = probably more fouling, too.
Ben Simmons: 7 (tied for 4th), Joel Embiid: 3 (24th)
There are only three players in the NBA with more double-doubles than Ben Simmons: Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, and Kevin Love.
And there is only one player with more triple-doubles (4) than Ben Simmons (2): Russell Westbrook.
That’s good company.
The Sixers are dead last in turnovers and fouls committed and they really struggle at the free-throw line. But they’re 6-4 on the season, they win on the road, and they shoot the three-ball at a high clip. They suffer lengthy defensive lapses, yet they share the basketball on offense for a high assist mark and a balanced scoring output.
Keep in mind they’re doing this with a still-limited Joel Embiid and the total absence of Markelle Fultz. All of their weaknesses are things than can be coached up and improved on with experience. There’s certainly no lack of athleticism and talent.
I’ve said it after every win this season; I still don’t think they’ve played their best basketball.