Nylon Calculus: Playing real or fake with early season NBA trends

Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images
Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images /
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Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports /

Through a quarter season of play, trends have begun to materialize across the league. We’re taking a look at whether these early season indicators are real or fake, and where we expect them to settle over the remainder of the season.

5. Philadelphia’s superb offense: Real or fake?

The 76ers experience is sure to be a rollercoaster through the remainder of the calendar year, if not the entire season. There are more questions than answers with this Philadelphia team. Will Ben Simmons play actual minutes in a Sixer uniform? Can Philadelphia make a legitimate run without either him or a 70-cents-on-the-dollar return? Can Joel Embiid stay healthy enough to play in 60 or more games?

So far, they’ve performed superbly as the league’s second-best offense. Even with Embiid sidelined for eight of their 17 games thus far, the Sixers have surpassed even the most bullish preseason projections.

The question is not whether Philadelphia will be able to sustain the second-best offensive rate — there’s a minute chance of this materializing over 82 games even with a completely healthy roster — but whether they can maintain their current 114-point offensive rating.

The Sixers are scoring almost 0.5 points per 100 possessions more than they did last year with both Simmons and a healthy Tobias Harris, who has already missed six contests due to COVID health and safety protocols.

Seth Curry has started the year as well as could be expected, shooting 48.5 percent from beyond the arc on 5.3 attempts per game. Among players at his position with at least 100 minutes, Curry’s efficiency is the best leaguewide.

Danny Green, Tyrese Maxey, and Furkan Korkmaz have each improved their scoring and efficiency through the first seven games, with Maxey shooting 74 percent at the rim and Green and Korkmaz surpassing 40 percent from outside.

As a team, Philadelphia is shooting 38.5 percent on 3-point attempts and 66.5 percent at the rim, the second-best and eighth-best rates in the league, respectively, per Cleaning the Glass. On a concerningly-heavy mid-range shot profile, they’ve made 42 percent of such attempts.

We should expect some regression to the mean, and for Philadelphia to substitute a subset of those mid-range shots for more attempts at the rim. With Embiid out of the lineup, we can expect Doc Rivers to have Maxey create for himself and teammates spaced along the arc.

The Sixers have utilized Embiid’s inside presence to propel their outside shooting. The shots they’re getting are the least contested of any team so far, defined as any player within two feet of the shooter, per NBA Stats. There is something to be said for Simmons’s absence and the spacing it has hypothetically created for Sixer shooters through the first month-plus.

For the remainder of the season, we can expect the Sixers’ efficiency to regress — particularly if Joel Embiid misses significant time.

Even in the unlikely event that Philly is able to maintain their current efficiency, we should expect other potent offenses like Chicago, Golden State, or Portland to compile a better efficiency than this incomplete Sixer roster.