By Bill Gorman, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer
(note – all statistics are from basketball-reference.com unless otherwise noted)
2019-20 was supposed to bring a new brand of basketball to Philadelphia. With the additions of Al Horford and Josh Richardson, the team’s size would overwhelm opponents on both the defensive and offensive ends of the floor. The defense, for the most part, has held up its end of the bargain, allowing just 102.6 points per 100 possessions, good for third in the league.
Offensively, things have been a bit more disjointed. The 76ers are just 17th in the NBA in offensive rating, at 107.3 points per 100 possessions. They are 14th in 3-point percentage (with a slight decrease in attempts from last year) and seventh in overall field goal percentage. Where they really have lagged behind, both against the league this season and against their past performance, is at the free-throw line. They are 17th in the NBA at getting to the line (23.1 attempts per night) and 22nd in free-throw percentage (74.8%).
In the past two seasons, the 76ers have been good at a few things. They have run a relatively solid defense, been efficient from beyond the 3-point line and have also drawn a lot of fouls. With Joel Embiid leading the way, the 2018-19 Sixers were second in the league in free throw attempts to the Los Angeles Clippers, while the 2017-18 team was 10th. In those seasons, Embiid was second to James Harden with 10.1 attempts per game in 2018-19 and was fourth (behind Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis) in 2017-18 with seven attempts per game.
What is particularly alarming about the 16% decrease in free throw attempts is that Embiid is still getting to the line 8.4 times per game. Teams that abuse their opponents with size on the offensive end should expect to see an increase in free throw attempts, not a distinct drop. An increase in shots at the rim should result in an increase in free throw attempts as the season goes along.
Another issue is the 76ers' wild inconsistency at converting their attempts from the line. In their six losses, they have shot just 67.6% from the line, and in their 15 wins they have shot 77.1% from the line. A consistent performance from the charity stripe might have made the difference in close losses against the Utah Jazz and Toronto Raptors. Ben Simmons has been one of the larger culprits, shooting just 61.5% from the line (on only 3.6 attempts, down 33% from last season), but a few other players are also struggling from the line. Horford is hitting just 66.7%, and he is a career 75.3% shooter from the line.
The final issue as it relates to fouls and the 76ers is their propensity to foul on the defensive end of the floor. Philadelphia is eighth worst in the league in terms of fouling the opponents, allowing 25.6 free throw attempts per game. Obviously, a team cannot control how well (or poorly) their opponents shoot from the line, but they can do a better job at preventing them from getting there.