The Philadelphia 76ers wrapped up the first half of their season with a loss to the Indiana Pacers. It seems as if the team is underperforming beyond belief. It’s the third season since “The Process” has officially ended, and the Sixers have not gotten any better under Brett Brown.
This season looks to be similar to seasons past, with the same issues dragging the Sixers down to the same record. Lacking shooting depth, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons not working together, and bad lineup rotations continue to haunt Philly.
With that in mind, it’s time to analyze how the first half of the 2019-2020 season compares with the first halves of the previous two seasons.
Defense continues to be a strong suit for Philadelphia. The tall starting lineup. Compared to years past, their defense has improved drastically, especially at home. Their 106.2 defensive rating is sitting just outside the top five in the entire NBA.
Their home play has also been a huge contributor to saving their season. Compared to the 2017-2018 season, the Sixers have been incredible at home for the past two years. After going 18-3 at home in 2018-2019, they followed it up by achieving a 18-2 record at Wells Fargo Center in the first half of this season. Their scoring in South Philadelphia has gone down nearly six points from last season, but their defense continues to hold opponents to under 100 points and get the job done.
As for the bench, James Ennis, Furkan Korkmaz, and Matisse Thybulle have been pleasant surprises. When used correctly by coach Brett Brown, these three have flourished. Ennis’ spark, Korkmaz’s shooting, and Thybulle’s defense have been crucial in the season so far. All three have definitely been great assets for the Sixers, with Novel Pelle holding his own ground in the paint as well. Surprisingly enough, the lineup of Horford-Harris-Ennis-Simmons-Korkmaz has the second-highest offensive rating in the NBA (lineups that have played at least 20 games).
The most gleaming light that has this season stand out more than the past two is that the team is finally limited turnovers. Two seasons ago, the Sixers were averaging over 18 turnovers per night through 41 games. The year after, it was cut to about 16 per night and is now down to under 15 per game. Their ability to control possession, as well as keep their personal fouls down (dropped from 23.5 to 22.8 to 21.4) has kept the ball out of their opponent’s hands.
Through 41 games of basketball, the Sixers proceed to drive fans crazy. Night in and night out, shooting woes throw a dagger into their scoring, and defense has to carry them to a victory. In fact, this can date back all the way to the 2017 season. Since then, Philadelphia has failed to move their three-point percentage, staying consistent from 35.6 to 35.4, and now to 35.5 percent.
Surprisingly enough, the Sixers sit at 16th in the league. The way it seems watching them, though, is that they are sitting in dead last. As their shooting woes seem to be much more drastic than they actually are, it’s still a continuing issue.
If this team wants to improve and get over the hump, another shooter is needed. JJ Redick has certainly been missed, yet Tobias Harris has picked up some of the slack since the shooting slump of his own. There are options out there, yet there has been no movement on any trades before the February 6th deadline.
Now whether that falls on Elton Brand or not, Brett Brown still needs to find a way to get the most out of his bench moving forward.
The unfortunate part of this entire article is that there is much more ugly than the good and bad combined.
The Sixers have been putrid away from Philadelphia, plain and simple. Back in 2017, they were able to scrounge together a 10-10 record on the road, and it’s been downhill since. The season following, Philadelphia dropped to a 9-11 record on the road, and now have dropped to 7-14 when traveling. They only average 106.4 points a game, the lowest since the Process era ended.
The lack of road wins is going to be the Achilles’ heel of this team. Their lack of consistency could keep them from having home-court advantage in the playoffs. It’s tough to see this team having to win two or three series being the road team for a game seven, and this must change heading into the second half of the season.
Philadelphia has struggled to close out games decided by five or fewer points. A couple of seasons ago, they went 5-7 in such games, and similarily have a 6-7 record in the same situation this season. Compare that to the 2018-2019 campaign, and it’s a drastic drop from their 8-3 record. The absence of Jimmy Butler is being felt in this aspect.
As mentioned above, the three-point shooting is both bad, and ugly. Their sitting at the lowest number of three-pointers made in the past three seasons through 41 games, with 10.1 per night. Their inability to make free throws is taking a toll on their record as well. Philadelphia’s free-three percentage is the lowest its been the past three seasons, with 75.2% and 74% on the home and road, respectively.
Going into this season, the Sixers had high expectations. After only being a crazy quadruple bounce away from the Eastern Conference Finals last season, they quickly jumped to favorites in the East.
Overall, Philadelphia has struggled to find chemistry. Due to a laundry list of injuries this season, their true starting five has only played 19 of the 41 games together. Compare this to the rest of the league, and it’s impressive they only sit 2.5 games out of the second seed of the East.
However, the Sixers are in 6th place of the conference and are only 2.5 games out of the second seed.
The East is a tight and competitive conference, just as expected. If the Sixers want to solidify at least one, hopefully, two, rounds of the playoffs with home-court advantage, they need to start winning on the road. By improving some of those ugly’s listed above, the Sixers will see their finals appearance odds shoot up to preseason form.
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports