Say what you will about the Sixers’ season after 54 games. Just don’t call it uneventful.
With a roster that is both youthful and seemingly in flux, the Sixers have kept their fans guessing during the first half of the season. There also has been no shortage of exciting games, wild stats and epic blowouts.
Through it all, the Sixers are just what we expected they’d be: a team going working through the hard growing pains of a rebuilding season. At 15-39, the Sixers are all but assured of a second straight losing season. They also are 8½ games out of the last playoff spot in the East and five games ahead of Milwaukee for the worst record in the NBA.
If the season were to end today, the Sixers would get the second-most number of ping-pong balls for the draft lottery. In other words, the Sixers are performing just about where we expected.
But what about that three-game winning streak to start the season where the Sixers knocked off the Miami Heat, Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls? Is there a chance we’ll see something like that again this season?
That depends on a lot of factors. Will the team remain intact after the Feb. 20 trade deadline? And if so, will the on-court approach change?
Ah yes, how did the Sixers open the season 3-0, only to go 12-39 enhanced by the current eight-game losing streak? Easy, the Sixers were smart. See, not only did the Sixers hit the opposition with a relentless pace that often wore down teams not ready for it, but also they were smart and efficient.
For instance, Evan Turner scored 49 points in the first two games of the season, making just two shots outside of the paint and attempting just three shots longer than 14-feet. Thad Young scored 29 points in a game against the Wizards and only took two shots outside of the paint and only one shot longer than 14 feet.
“We want to attack and attack. We want to get to the rim,” coach Brett Brown said after the second game of the season.
Since then, Turner and Young are the Sixers’ most-prolific mid-range (and deeper) shooters. That’s especially the case with Turner, who leads the team in shot attempts, but not shots made. The Sixers average 16.5 midrange jump shots per game and Turner takes a little more than 12 of them per game.
The idea is for teams to shoot in the paint or beyond the three-point arc and rarely in the area in between. Problem is, the Sixers have the shooters, but not the makers.
The Sixers attempt 21.8 three-pointers per game and Turner, a 28.5 percent three-point shooter, along with James Anderson (31 percent from three) take nearly 30 percent of them.
Additionally, the Sixers get more shots in the paint and more possessions per game than any team in the NBA. The problem is the Sixers lead the league in turnovers and having their shots blocked and are next-to-last in three-point shooting.
So when they get to the paint for a shot they want, it gets blocked. Or, when looking for a three-pointer, the Sixers don’t have the shooters to make them. That makes winning hard.
In 53 games, Turner has had 85 shots blocked while rookie Michael Carter-Williams has had 75 shots blocked in 42 games. It seems as if teams are waiting for Turner and Carter-Williams to attack the rim so they can go for the block, or they just allow them to chuck it up from the outside. That’s where a big man’s presence is beneficial, but center Spencer Hawes, a seven-footer, is the Sixers’ best three-point shooter.
It’s a conundrum, for sure. But what can the Sixers do to get better during the second half?
Does Hawes spend more time in the paint giving the team the inside presence it’s lacking? And if so, how much does that hurt the team’s outside threat? Can Turner find the efficiency he seems to have lost by attacking the basket and drawing fouls? Is rookie center Nerlens Noel the missing piece because he would give the Sixers that much-needed frontcourt threat?
We’ll see after Feb. 20 when the Sixers’ roster is set for the rest of the year. In the meantime, those ping-pong balls are building up … that’s one way to reshape the flawed roster.