On opening night, the 76ers went into the NBA with the second youngest team at an average age of about 24 years old and according to the many statistics out there, the 76ers have the hardest regular season schedule out of all 30 NBA teams. 15 games into the season, the 76ers are 8-7 in the eastern conference. Some people might be upset with this record because some of the close games the Sixers have lost should have actually ended with a win. Although that might be true, fans should not take this record for granted for many reason.
One reason is because the 76ers did not get their eighth win of last season until December 30, 2016 and the Sixers have an opportunity to double that by the time the end of December comes around. Another reason this 8-7 record should not be taken for granted is because of the team itself. The 76ers are being lead by Joel Embiid, a sophomore in the NBA who has only played 44 games in his whole career, and Ben Simmons, now entering his rookie year and has played all 15 games so far. The very inexperienced 2 headed monsters of the Sixers have bolstered this young team to an impressive 8 wins. Also it is mid November and the chemistry has not even fully gelled together yet. But how are they doing it exactly?
Well let’s start out by looking at individual stats of four key players through the first 15 games:
Joel Embiid: 22.8 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.8 bpg, 51.0 fg%
Ben Simmons: 18.1 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 8.0 apg, 1.9 spg, 52.1 fg% (leads all rookies in ppg, rpg, apg, double doubles with 10, tied for the most triple doubles of all rookies with 2, and is second of all rookies in fg% and spg)
Robert Covington: 16.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.5spg, 49,7 fg%, 49.1 3p%
J.J. Redick: 15.2 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.9 apg, 42.9 fg%, 35.7 3p%, 88.5 ft%
The four players of Embiid, Simmons, Covington, and Redick have had nice outings and contributions to the wins and games as a whole. But to get even deeper, how is the team winning games?
To put it into a very short sentence: The Sixers start out with a nice double digit lead somewhere in the first half, lose the lead, and win it in a close game.
*NOTE: this is a usual trend in a lot of games, not all games, for the 76ers in not only wins, but in loses too.
October 23, 2017 @ Detroit Pistons: the Sixers went up by as much as 21 points in the second quarter with 3:06 remaining in the second quarter. The Pistons were able to cut that lead down to 4 points with 3:12 remaining in the fourth quarter but the Sixers were able to close the game out winning 97-86 for their first win of the season.
October 28 @ Dallas Mavericks: the 76ers went up by as much as 13 points in the first quarter with 2:30 remaining but the Mavericks were able to take the lead a number of times through the game and the Sixers were able to only win 112-110. A win, nonetheless. Can’t complain.
October 30 @ Houston Rockets: Sixers went up by as much as 13 points in the second quarter with 11:31 remaining. The Rockets were able to overcome multiple double digit leads by the Sixers but they were unable to hit the clutch shots they needed and the Sixers won 115-107.
November 1 Vs. Atlanta Hawks: Sixers were able to go up by 17 points with 4:48 minutes left in the first quarter. The Hawks cut the lead down to 4 with 6:39 left in the fourth quarter until the 76ers erupted to end the game with 21 points in the final 6 minutes and won 119-110.
November 7 @ Utah Jazz: Sixers go up by 16 with 2:50 left in the first quarter. The Jazz were able to make it a very close game cutting the 76ers‘ lead down to 3 points with 10 ticks left but the Sixers were able to close it out winning the game 104-97.
November 13 @ L.A. Clippers: 76ers go up 14 with 7:01 remaining in the second quarter. The Clippers were able to make it a very close ending the the Sixers end up with the 109-105 win.
November 15 @ L.A. Lakers: 76ers go up by as much as 13 with 5:35 left in the first quarter. The Lakers were able to take the lead a couple of times during this game, even leading by 1 point with 4:19 left in the final quarter. But Embiid’s historic stat line of 46 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, and 7 blocks were too much for the Lakers as they lost 115-109.
It looks good that the 76ers are finally able to close out close games after years of enduring blowing huge leads and turning the ball over many times in the middle of a very tight game that they would eventually lose. Even though we are still quite a bit away from seeing the potential of the Sixers of having blowout wins on a regular basis, closing out close games with not as much stress as fans do now, it is nice to see we are learning to close out these games, especially against good teams such as the Pistons, Rockets, and Clippers.
Another questions is why can’t the 76ers maintain their big leads? I think there are 2 major Factors on why this happens so often:
Rotations: With the team is still trying to figure out at what times to put Embiid out on the floor, even though he is now consistently playing at least 30 minutes a game, it can mess up the flow of the game. A usual thing coach Brett Brown does is have Embiid in until about the 7 minute mark of the first quarter and not put him back out there until there are about 2 or 3 minutes left in the quarter. Players like Embiid, players that possess so much talent, need more than just 4-5 minutes of game action to start his game and the team in a nice solid rhythm. Brown also takes out Dario usually at the same time Embiid comes out and puts in T.J. McConnell. This can mess up the rotation often but a line I like to use often is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
Injuries: With Markelle Fultz out with a right shoulder injury, Jerryd Bayless out with a wrist injury, and Nik Stauskas out with an ankle injury, the 76ers‘ bench is not deep at all leaving Brown to do what he did against the home game against the Warriors, which was only play 8 men deep. This will not work all season long as players will get tired night after night of doing this.
I don’t think these factors are not fixable though. Bayless is expected to return against the Jazz on November 20. Fultz is, hopefully, expected to only be sidelined for another 2-3 weeks. And although Stauskas does not get much playing time, it is nice to know that there is somebody else you can put on the court, even just for a few minutes, while players rest.
Expect the 76ers to make a huge surge in the win column after players come back from injuries and Brett Brown finds a better rotation for his players.