Spotlight | At the Break, By the Numbers

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

Since players began making their way back to the 76ers training complex in September on the heels of summer break, sights have been firmly fixed on ending the franchise’s five-year playoff drought.

Now two-thirds of the way through the 2017-2018 campaign, the club has put itself on a realistic path towards towards achieving this goal.

Propelled by a season-high tying five-game winning streak, the Sixers surged into the All-Star break with a record of 30-25, their best mark this late in the season since 2001. They currently hold the seventh-place spot in the Eastern Conference standings, 1.5 games in front of eighth-place Miami, but just 2.0 games behind fourth-place Washington.

[Of note, the Sixers will face both the Heat and the Wizards in the coming days, on February 27th and 25th, respectively.]

For as much of a roll as the Sixers got on in the week leading up to All-Star Weekend, they’ve been trending upwards for much longer than that. Run the numbers from the past two months, and you’ll find Brett Brown’s youthful, balanced group has essentially been playing as well as any other team in the NBA.

Dating back to Christmas Day, with the start of what Brown traditionally designates as the season’s “second-third,” the Sixers have gone 16-7. During this period, there hasn’t been a team in the league that’s lost fewer games, and only four teams - the Rockets (19-7), Toronto (18-8), Golden State (18-7), LA Clippers (17-7) - have stockpiled more wins. 

A deeper look at the league through a post-Christmas lens paints an even more impressive picture. Over the course of this stretch, the Sixers have ranked first in defensive rating at 100.6 points allowed per 100 possessions, and second overall with a net rating of 7.8.

Only the defending champion Golden State Warriors generated a higher net rating than the Sixers during the “second-third” of the season (and not by much), at 8.0.

Furthermore, since Christmas, no team has been more efficient at cleaning the glass than the Sixers, with their 78.0 rebounding percentage. Their 25.0 offensive rebounding percentage between Christmas and the All-Star break, meanwhile, ranked third in the league.

With the Sixers set to reprise their playoff push Thursday in Chicago, here’s a status check  on their season-long statistical performance compared to the rest of the league. All data referenced in the sections below comes is sourced from stats.nba.com.

Offense

Perhaps no collective aspect of the Sixers has undergone a more considerable year-to-year transformation this season than the offense. At the end of each of Brett Brown’s first four seasons in Philadelphia, the Sixers finished 30th out of 30 in offensive rating. Now, with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons fully healthy; Dario Saric steadily navigating through his sophomore campaign; and JJ Redick added to a system that promotes tempo, movement, and perimeter shooting, the Sixers were tied for 14th in offensive rating (105.4 points scored per 100 possessions) at the break, while ranking ninth overall in field goal percentage (46.6).

Other noteworthy offensive rankings include:

• 5th 101.6 possessions / game

• 3rd 25.1 assists / 100 possessions

• 2nd 64.3 assist%

• 1st 352.7 passes / game

• Tied-17th 10.2 3fgm / 100 possessions

• Tied-14th 36.2 3fg%

• 9th 52.7 effective fg%

• 10th 56.3 true shooting%

• 3rd 10.8 offensive rebounds / 100 possessions

• 6th 13.4 2nd opportunity points  / 100 possessions

• 10th 45.8 points in the paint / 100 possessions

Defense

Representing one of the biggest focal points of Brett Brown’s coaching tenure, defense has been an area of gradual improvement for the Sixers in recent years. This season, boasting plenty of long, tall, athletic interchangeable parts, the unit has reached new heights. Since the 2017-2018 season got underway, the Sixers’ defense has held up among the NBA’s elite, and currently ranks third overall in defensive rating (102.6 points allowed per 100 possessions). The Sixers’ 43.5 opponent field goal percentage and 33.1 3-point field goal percentage were second and first in the league at the break, respectively.

Also not to be overlooked this year are the strides the Sixers have made on the backboards. Taking full advantage of having Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons at its disposal on a regular basis, the club sits atop the NBA’s rebounding chart (46.1 rebounds per 100 possessions).

Other noteworthy defensive rankings include:

• Tied 8th 8.1 steals / 100 possessions

• 1st 37.1 fgm / 100 possessions

• 5th 10.0 fastbreak points allowed / 100 possessions Great in transition

• 1st 40.6 points in the paint / 100 possessions

Miscellaneous

Perusing through the stats.nba.com portal, a handful of other numerical nuggets stand out in respect to the Sixers, and how their growth has, in many ways, fulfilled the original development blueprint Brett Brown mapped out nearly five years ago.

• Part of Brett Brown’s vision has always been to build a blue-collar, gritty club that reflects the personality of the city it represents. In the statistical sense, the Sixers have certainly done justice to Philadelphia’s spirit through their consistent hustle. They rank third in the league with 15.7 deflections per game, and fifth with 8.7 loose balls recovered per game.

• This season, and seemingly more so as of late, the Sixers have shown a clutch quality. They’re sixth in the NBA with 18 “clutch” wins (defined by stats.nba.com as games played within a 5-point margin in the final 5 minutes of regulation). The Sixers also rank third in the league with a 49.4 field goal percentage in “clutch” game situations.

• With JJ Redick, Robert Covington, and Dario Saric spearheading the Sixers’ perimeter attack, the team is fourth in the league with 31.5 catch-and-shoot points per game, and fifth with 9.2 catch-and-shoot 3-pointers per game. Don’t be surprised if these numbers rise even more in the home stretch of the season, with Marco Belinelli now in the mix.

• Playing through the elbows and the paint have been important components to the Sixers’ offense this season. Their 16.3 elbow touches per game rank fourth overall in the NBA, and their 10.4 elbow passes per game second. The Sixers rank first in the NBA with 27.7 paint touches per game, and third with 22.8 points scored on paint touches per game.

• Not unrelated, the Sixers have had a good deal of success in post-up opportunities, thanks primarily to work being done by Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The Sixers are second in the league with 10.8 post-up points per game.

• Evidence of the premium the Sixers place on tempo goes beyond just the number of possessions they average per game. It can also be found in how often they move the ball (see their passing numbers), and the role that cutting plays in the offense. At the moment, the Sixers rank fourth with 1.32 points per cut possession, and score at an 8.8 percent frequency on cut possessions, good for second-best in the league.

• At the All-Star break, in terms of special teams play, the Sixers were seventh in after-timeout efficiency (1.2 points per possession), eighth in side-out-of-bounds efficiency (1.1 points per possession), and ninth in underneath-out-of-bounds efficiency (1.1 points per possession).