By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)For even the most ardent Sixers fans who’ve bought into the plan for a long rebuild, an 0-11 start to the season has been a huge disappointment. The team has combined some heart-breaking losses with some colossal blowouts, and some of the development we’d been hoping to see from the young guys hasn’t been there yet. As a result, the mainstream media has really begun piling on with the ‘disgrace to the game’ articles which have already been beaten into the ground. The ridiculous ‘would Kentucky beat the Sixers?’ hot take has only further inflamed the masses (quick answer: No). So to take our minds off all the negativity surrounding the organization, let’s instead focus on the things the Sixers have done well this season. It’s not a particularly long list, because, well, 0-11.
All stats are courtesy of the tremendous NBA.com Stats Database.
On the season, @NerlensNoel3 is 5th in the league in defense at the rim, allowing opponents to shoot just 41.7%.
— Max Rappaport (@MaxRappaport) November 20, 2014
- This tweet first gave me the idea to run with this theme today. It depends exactly on what qualifiers you use, but Noel is firmly in the top 10 in opposing field goal % at the rim. His offensive game might be as much of a project as a unionized highway construction endeavor, but his highly-hyped defensive prowess is already as good as advertised just one month into his professional career.
- Alexey Shved is 5th in the NBA among qualifying players in AST% at 37.3% (this measures the percentage of teammates’ field goals that a player assisted upon). The names ahead of him are a who’s who list of great point guards in Chris Paul (46.2%), Rajon Rondo, John Wall, and Ty Lawson. Maybe Shved was miscast in Minnesota as an off guard next to Ricky Rubio and his true calling is as a back-up point guard? Time will tell, but one thing for sure is that the Sixers have missed his play-making ability off the bench with his missing time recently.
- Henry Sims shooting a terrific 55.6% on catch and shoot opportunities (shots outside 10 feet where a player receives a pass and just rises and fires), among the best in the NBA across all positions. It was thought Sims would be a serviceable proxy for Joel Embiid’s game to help Nerlens Noel find his role within the offense. Sims has done this admirably and is the least of the Sixers problems on the offensive end. He continues to show he’s, at the very least, a legitimate back-up center in this league.
- The team leads the NBA in steals per game at 9.8, which isn’t a pace-driven stats as they also lead the league on a per 100 possession basis. Leading the Sixers is professional excitement generator Tony Wroten, as his 2.0 steals per game is tied for 8th in the league. As a result of all those thefts, Wroten sits 2nd in the league in points off turnovers behind only LeBron (you might have heard of him). Wroten, and the team as a whole, may gamble too much defensively, but for a team desperate to create offense, those easy points in transition are a welcome tonic.
- Finally, this isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing but the Sixers have embraced their inner Ricky Bobby and are the fastest team in the NBA. Unfortunately, the Sixers have also embraced his motto, ‘if you’re not first, you’re last.’ The Sixers are most definitely last.
Tonight, the Sixers will play host to the Phoenix Suns, an up-and-coming group that narrowly missed the playoffs in the ultra-competitive Western Conference last season. This season, Jeff Hornacek’s men sit at 7-5, and are currently in the midst of a 6-game road trip, on which they are already 2-1 following Wednesday night’s win in Detroit. The Suns made the unique decision this past offseason to form a three-headed point guard monster of Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, and Isaiah Thomas, even playing the trio together at times this year in what immediately becomes must-see TV. Additionally, Markieff Morris has assumed the Channing Frye role at power forward, taking more threes and maintaining efficiency while seeing increased usage on the offensive end. His twin brother Marcus has slid into the starting lineup at small forward and shot the ball well from deep, while PJ Tucker and Gerald Green provide additional threats from downtown off the bench.
If the Sixers are going to remain in this contest, they’ll do so by attacking the basket. The Suns foul a lot, ranking 4th in the NBA in opponent FTA rate, and none of the Markieff Morris, Miles Plumlee, Alex Len big man rotation are particularly effective shot blockers. The Sixers guard should also have a huge size advantage over the point guards Phoenix will throw out there. On the flip side, the Suns are the best free-throw shooting team in the league, with Green, Len, Thomas, and Dragic all shooting over 86% from the charity stripe. It will be critical the Sixers do a better job than Wednesday night getting back on defense, before the Suns guards can push through the disorganized chaos and finish at the rim or get to the line.
Ultimately, Phoenix will try to much of the same things Boston did on Wednesday, but with much more talent at their disposal. The Suns play at the 4th highest pace in the league (Boston is third), and have a plethora of offensive options that could catch fire from behind the arc at any moment. The Suns’ strengths seem to play right into the Sixers’ weaknesses (biggest weaknesses, I know there are plenty to choose from), making 0-12 seem like an inevitable conclusion.