Some of the parts may be different, but the yield of the 76ers’ starting line-up so far remains the same.
Keep up its current pace, and like last season, this year’s top unit will finish as the most statistically efficient in the NBA.
In 2017-18, the Sixers’ combo of Joel Embiid, JJ Redick, Ben Simmons, Robert Covington, and Dario Saric manufactured a net rating of 21.0 (113.6 offensive rating / 92.6 defensive rating). That mark was far and away the league’s highest among five-man groups that logged at least 600 minutes together.
As the 2018-19 campaign rounds the bend into its “second-third,” the Sixers’ starting five once again is grading out well in respect to this metric. With Jimmy Butler and Wilson Chandler in, and Covington and Saric out, the first-stringers are generating a 17.6 net rating (113.5 offensive rating / 95.9 defensive rating).
Right now, that’s good for no. 1 overall if you filter your stats.nba.com query to five-man line-ups that have played 190 minutes or more.
What, then, has been the secret to this first-in-class consistency?
How much of it has been personnel-based, especially in the context of the fit and effectiveness of Embiid, Redick, and Simmons, all carryovers from last year?
And how much of the success of the Sixers’ starting unit can be attributed to a pass-oriented pace and space scheme?
Ask Brett Brown, and he’ll tell you there’s a hybrid of both factors at work. He also believes this year’s starting contingent can be better.
“This is still so much a work in progress,” the sixth-year head coach said recently.
On the offensive end, Brown and his staff continue to scrutinize a couple different things, one of the most significant being who gets the ball when.
Following Thursday’s 114-97 win at Utah, for instance, Brown thought Butler should have been involved earlier.
“It’s part of the evolution of coming into a team,” Brown said Friday, after the Sixers practiced in Portland. “He’s very unselfish, and he’s not a ball-stopper [re: ball movement]. He cuts, he passes, he moves. He’s not just stationary. I need to do a better job of getting him going earlier, and tapping into his skill, and getting him involved.”
Since acquiring Butler in a November 12th trade, the Sixers have ranked fourth overall in the NBA in offense (112.9 offrtg). Their defense has been 12th (107.7 defrtg), and is the area where Brown expects the club’s starters to make even greater strides once Butler - a four-time All-League defender - gets fully settled.
“It’s not all vanilla,” Brown said of the Sixers’ defense, which incorporated new schematic wrinkles this summer to account for the increased use of 5-out offensive sets around the league.
While the Sixers’ defensive style of play might represent a slight change for Butler, Brown knows the 29-year old is a quick study.
“He’s smart, and he’s good. So [defense] is the area I see having the greatest growth.”
The Sixers, of course, are also focused on spreading around the talent of their starters, and finding them the right complements from the bench. Frequently on Brown’s brain are substitution patterns for key pairings, such as Butler x Simmons (4.9 netrtg) and Embiid x Redick (12.0 netrtg).
“We’re always mindful of how do we improve the second group, and what can I do better to help them.”
But in examining the performance of his squad in totality, Brown, to date, goes to one particular strength first.
“When I judge the team, you’re reminded of the positives of the starting group.”