7.6 Takeaways | Crunching Numbers

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

Prepared for you each week, highlighting headlines, observations, and other anecdotes surrounding the 76ers.

1. Sorting out the numbers…

The number '82' doesn't divide evenly into four, so you could have officially declared the 76ers reached the quarter point of their season at halftime of Monday's 103-94 victory over the Utah Jazz. 

During the first six weeks of the season, the Sixers' success kind of tracked like an inverted bell curve. The team got off to a terrific start, racing out to a 5-0 record, but then endured a 2-5 stretch that was complicated by minor injuries, a suspension to an elite player, and a multitude of road games.

From there, however, the Sixers rebounded - resoundingly. They now prepare to embark on the second quarter of the season with solid momentum, having won eight of their last nine outings. 

As we begin to conduct a statistical audit from the Sixers' first 21 games, let's start with a basic thumbnail sketch. They've won 15 games, tied for fourth-most in the league, and rank second in home wins, with 10. The Sixers' per game scoring differential of 4.9 points is tied for 10th-best in the league.

Dive a little deeper into the numbers, and you'll find the Sixers' 4.7 net rating (calculated on a per-100 possession basis) was 11th in the league as of December 3rd. Their 102.6 defensive rating ranked fourth, their 107.3 offensive rating 17th. 

For a club that, under Brett Brown, has always prioritized defense, the Sixers have so far posted encouraging returns. Not only do the Sixers boast a stellar defensive rating, they allow a paltry 103.7 points per game, good for third-fewest in the NBA. 

On top of that, the Sixers (again, as of Dec. 3) ranked first in each of the following defensive statistical categories:

• No. 1 9.7 opponent 2nd-chance points / 100 possessions

• No. 1 9.2 opponent 3-point field goals / 100 possessions

• No. 1 71.7 opponent FT% (cheers, Frosty Freeze-Out!)

• No. 1 39.0 opponent rebounds / 100 possessions

• No. 1 19.9 opponent assists / 100 possessions

Also worth highlighting, the Sixers are second in the NBA in steals, both per game (8.9) and per 100 possessions (8.8).

Given the Sixers' size, especially among their starters, rebounding has been another plus. The team's 53.6 rebounding percentage is tops the league, as is its 78.8 defensive rebounding percentage. 

Where the Sixers feel they have the most room to tinker, explore, and grow is on offense. The roster contains nearly a dozen guys who are capable post-up threats, so the squad has operated accordingly.

The Sixers post up more than any team (19.8 times per game), and average the most post-up points in the league (13.4).

While this approach may represent a departure from previous years, when personnel was different, the Sixers are still an efficient passing team. That much hasn't changed, as the club's assist percentage (64.6) is no. 2 in the NBA.

The Sixers' passing prowess shows up in their perimeter shooting as well. Better than 93.0 percent of their 3-point makes have come on assists. 

So, in conclusion, what picture do these numbers paint?

Put simply, with 25% of the schedule in the box, the Sixers are projected to finish as one of the best teams in the league. Their defense, rebounding, and passing are all elite, while the identity of the offense remains a work in progress. 

2. Also worth noting...

On an individual level, the 76ers' two young All-Stars, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, rank among the NBA's best through the first quarter of the season. 

Following Monday's game against the Utah Jazz, Ben Simmons was third in the league in assists per game (8.4) and second in steals per game (2.4). He's collected 46 swipes on the year, good for the NBA's highest total. 

Joel Embiid, meanwhile, ranks seventh overall with 13 double-doubles, and eighth in rebounds per game (12.2).

3. Ending games with Ennis III 

In the absence of Josh Richardson, who has missed parts of the last four games with tightness in his right hamstring, Brett Brown has re-worked parts of the 76ers' rotation. 

Furkan Korkmaz and Matisse Thybulle have shared duties as the starting two guards, but to end games, Brown has turned a lot to James Ennis III to play alongside regular first-stringers Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, Al Horford, and Joel Embiid. 

Ennis III is currently averaging 7.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in just 17.2 minutes per game. His 15.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per-36 minutes are career-high marks, as are his 50.5 field goal percentage and 42.6 3-point shooting percentage. 

Brown thinks Ennis III is having "a hell of a year."

"I bring him off the bench because I want stability and more of a veteran presence coming off the bench," Brown said the other night. 

Brown compared using Ennis III to how the San Antonio Spurs deployed All-Star Manu Ginobili back in the day. 

"To say [Ennis III] is Manu I am not, but there's a little bit of the same reasoning, where you bring somebody off the bench then you judge the game."

Based on the experience and skill set Ennis III brings to the table, Brown considers him a logical option in crunch time. 

"When you talk about who can make a shot, he's a sneaky offensive rebounder. He's a physical defensive player, a prideful defensive player who has qualities that give you confidence [late in games] he should be on the court."

4. James Ennis III Q&A

Caught up with James a bit before Monday's game against the Utah Jazz. Here's how our brief Q&A went…

BS: Coach Brown had a take during his press conference earlier today. He said you're having quote, 'A hell of a year.' Would you agree? Are you pleased with how you're playing?

JE: I appreciate him saying that. I'm pretty pleased with how I've been playing. I definitely can get better. It's one game at a time. I definitely want to focus on moving my feet a lot better and rebounding. 

BS: What are you most satisfied with about how you've been playing?

JE: Just knocking down shots, that's the biggest thing - being more consistent on my jump shot. 

BS: I feel like I have a hard time putting a finger on how I'd describe your impact on a game. When you come in, it just seem like energy things happen, good things happen. It could be a tip in at the basket, a corner three, active hands defensively. Do you pride yourself on having a spark?

JE: I definitely want to come off the bench and try to change the game a little bit with my energy, because that's what I am - an energy player. Do all the little things, try to get us extra possessions, get us the offensive board, things like that.

BS: What about ending games? Brett's used you in that way too with Josh [Richardson] out. What approach do you take?

JE: That goes back to Coach Brown trusting me as a veteran and making the right defensive plays at the end, just making the right plays overall. My biggest thing is not to make mistakes, because it's crunch time. One little mistake can change the whole game, so I just go out there and focus on details.

5. Growing together

Throughout training camp and the preseason, there was a steady line of questioning about Joel Embiid, Al Horford, and their potential fit together. 

A quarter of the way through the season, how's the All-Star duo faring?

Pretty well, statistically. Embiid and Horford share the floor for about 15 minutes per game, and as a two-man line-up, they've produced a 10.9 net rating (104.8 offrtg / 93.9 defrtg). 

Brett Brown believes the evolution of the Embiid-Horford pairing will ultimately go a long way towards shaping the 76ers' identity.

"That’s the area that we are trying to figure out and I think, to their credit, they communicate well and have mutual respect. From afar, watching these guys grow as teammates, I love it."

Horford wants the Sixers collectively - not just him and Embiid - to keep moving in the right direction. 

"We're making strides," Horford said, "but we're not where we need to be. We just have to continue to work. The good thing is it's only December. I do feel we're starting to understand how Coach wants us to play, and we're getting better each game."

6. An interesting young man

How precise is Matisse Thybulle's defense?

"He can get his fingernails on passes," Brett Brown said Monday, after the rookie delivered a fine performance against the Utah Jazz. 

Thybulle finished with three steals, his first the catalyst for this outrageous Ben Simmons dunk.

Also noteworthy from Monday's contest was that for the second time in four games, Thybulle went 3 for 3 from behind the 3-point arc. 

Brown liked Thybulle's game so much, he rewarded him with a second-half start. 

"I think that the shots he's taking are in his wellhouse, and he's becoming a responsible defensive player. There is an interesting young athlete to be grown."

And growing him is exactly what Brown and the Sixers are doing. 

7. A tip of the cap

Ben Simmons, Defensive Player of the Year candidate? Based on his impressive start to the season, we here at 7.6 don't think the conversation is premature in the least (Brett Brown apparently doesn't either).

The 23-year old has proven to be a terrific on-ball defender against some of the best scorers in the league. He also boasts rare versatility, ups his D late in games, and grades out as one of the NBA's highest-impact defensive players. 

Simmons, however, has attributed part of his success to a couple of his backcourt mates, Matisse Thybulle and Josh Richardson.

"They've helped me grow defensively," said Simmons. "Just watching Matisse, the way he's able to get his hands on deflections and things like that. Then with Josh, it's the energy he brings. These two guys...have been great."

7.1 In the Sixers' two recent wins over Indiana and Utah, Tobias Harris certainly proved clutch. The wingman posted 14 fourth-quarter points against the Pacers, before netting 10 points in the final frame against the Jazz. 

7.2 Speaking of Tobias, he had a nice shoutout for the South Philly faithful following Monday's game. 

7.3 Following the Toronto Raptors' loss to the Miami Heat Tuesday at Scotiabank Arena, the 76ers are now one of just three unbeaten home teams left in the league. The Heat are 8-0 at American Airlines Arena, while the Boston Celtics are 7-0 at TD Garden. The Raps are now 9-1 in the Six. 

7.4 Pigs on the beach? A splash with some sharks? It was all part of the itinerary for Ben Simmons' off-season trip to the Bahamas, which the Aussie recently shared new footage of on his YouTube channel.

7.5 Success on the court begets success on television. NBC Sports Philadelphia says this season's ratings for its 76ers broadcasts are on pace to be the network's highest ever. 

7.6 Few belt the Anthem better than Ron Brooks, featured here in our Photo of the Week.

 

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