The Sixers League-Leading Offense: Is This Sustainable
Five stats that tell the story of the Sixers offense and whether this can keep up.
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After an offseason full of turmoil and drama, the Sixers are 8-2, in first place in the Eastern Conference, and are playing incredibly fun basketball. Given all of the frustration from the Ben Simmons saga, it’s been refreshing to sit back and watch some enjoyable games with a team full of players that like playing with one another.
The question, of course, is whether their early season success is at all sustainable. After all, no one expected this team to be near the top of the league in offense -- can they keep that up? Here in this piece, I’ll pinpoint a handful of stats that have led to their early season success and whether or not they can be sustained.
No. 1: League-leading pick and roll efficiency
Over the past several years, the main critique that fans and observers have lofted towards the Sixers is that they lack an elite, high volume pick and roll shot creator. That remains true with this year’s roster, and yet, the Sixers rank No. 1 in the league in pick and roll ball handler efficiency, per Synergy.
They are led by personnel that you’d expect -- Seth Curry, Tobias Harris, Shake Milton, and Tyrese Maxey all rank in the top 25 in the league in pick and roll efficiency (min. 10 possessions). It is unlikely that all of those will sustain (none of them cracked the top 50 last season), but it at least is a good sign that the proper personnel is leading the charge -- it’s not like they’re being bolstered by a fluky Danny Green run.
The Sixers ranked 13th in the league in this department last season, so it’s unlikely that they’d be able to make this type of jump with minimal change in personnel. Still, I’m buying that they could make a real uptick with their internal improvement. Curry seems to have taken another step forward, Milton and Maxey (as expected) have both improved, and Harris could be benefitting from the increase in spacing this season compared to last season. The Sixers won’t remain No. 1 forever, but I think that a real step forward in this stat isn’t fluky.
No. 2: Transition efficiency
In addition to leading the pack in pick and roll efficiency, the Sixers also rank No. 1 in transition efficiency, per Synergy.
I won’t lie to you, folks: I’m not buying this one. They will most definitely take a step back in this area. They ranked 17th in transition efficiency last season, and they have one of the most impactful transition players alive (Simmons) away from the floor right now. It would be truly shocking if removing Ben Simmons means that the Sixers suddenly became the league’s best transition team.
If and when this stat does normalize, the impact of it will be felt on their overall offensive performance. Currently, 14.1 percent of the Sixers’ offense is coming in transition, and when their efficiency falls back down to earth in those situations, it will come as a blow to their overall offensive efficiency.
No. 3: League-leading efficiency at the rim
Another league-leading area for the Sixers: they are shooting the highest percentage at the rim (72.2%) of any team in the league, per Cleaning the Glass. That is a massive jump from last season, when they ranked 17th in the league in this area, but is consistent with years prior -- they were top-7 in each of the 3 years before that.
They are being bolstered by a few players making shots at an unsustainable rates (Seth Curry has not missed a shot at the rim yet this year), but they also are suffering from their two most prolific shooters from this range (Embiid and Andre Drummond) shooting below their career averages from this area.
While shooting in general can be quite fluky in nature, one wonders if that holds true for shots at the rim; sure, a player can find or lose their rhythm from 3 for 10 games at a time, but are their percentages on layups similarly cyclical?
I tend to think that this stat will generally hold true throughout the season. Eye test says that the Sixers are creating very good looks at the rim on a nightly basis, and while they don’t have a ton of dynamic finishers at the rim, they do have an incredible amount of spacing, which inevitably makes finishing easier. Not having Simmons lurking in the dunker spot 24/7 intuitively leads to less help on at-rim attempts. This stat isn’t one I would’ve predicted before the season, but watching them on a nightly basis, I don’t believe that their success at the rim is the result of temporary lucky shot making.
No. 4: League-leading 3-point percentage
In addition to leading the league in field goal percentage at the rim, the Sixers also lead the league in 3-point shooting percentage.
As I touched on above, 3-point shooting does tend to be misleading in small sample sizes, but I’m not at all ready to say that this stat is a complete fluke. Sure, the Sixers could be shooting a bit unrealistically well, but they also are loaded with good shooters. One could reasonably expect that they’d be among the league leaders in 3-point percentage.
Outside of Seth Curry clocking in at 50 percent, no one on the team is shooting an ungodly percentage from deep -- look up and down the roster, and you’ll see a handful of guys shooting slightly above their career track records, but a few guys shooting slightly below. The Sixers are bound to go through a 3-point shooting slump at some point, but I do believe that they’ll be among the league leaders in percentage at the end of the season.
No. 5: League-average turnover percentage
In three of the past four seasons, the Sixers have been in the bottom-10 in the league in turnover percentage. A combination of factors has contributed to them being an extremely turnover-prone team, even despite all of the personnel changes during that stretch. This year, though, the Sixers have shot up to league average in the turnover department.
In my mind, the improvement here is legitimate, for a few reasons: 1) Simmons is a major cause, directly and indirectly, for their turnover woes 2) they have slowed their pace down tremendously, and 3) Embiid, the other leading cause of turnovers, has shown improvement in this department.
Part of the reason for their improvement in turnover percentage is that they are simply having an easier time generating shots in the half court. The more possessions that end in a shot attempt, the fewer that end in a turnover. Adding willing shooters and getting some improvement from shot creators has made for a less turnover-prone team.
Final verdict: The Sixers are playing exceptional baseketball at the moment, and I do not expect them to lead the league in several major categories throughout the entire season. However, while all of these areas are significant improvements over last season, I don’t find most of them to be especially fluky. Some minor tweaks to the structure of the team have allowed them to run a cleaner, sleeker half court offense. They should be able to sustain an elite clip in the 3-point shooting department, their pick and roll offense should remain stout, and their success at the rim should continue, as well. The transition success should fade, and improvement in the turnover department isn’t as convincing, but their offense looks to be a force to be reckoned with nonetheless.