After last night's two-point win over the 26-8 Portland Trail Blazers, in Portland, the Sixers find themselves as close to home court in the first round of the playoffs as the worst record in the league. The seventh-worst record in the league would give them a 15% chance of moving up into the top three picks in the lottery. Here's the thing, though. When MCW plays, they aren't a .364 team, they're .500. Here's why...
You've probably heard hundreds of announcers and analysts say today's NBA is a point guard's league, and it's true. Look around the league and you're going to see no less than 18 teams who feature a PG as one of their best players. Of that group, only Ricky Rubio and Rajon Rondo are really traditional point guards, relied on mostly for distribution rather than scoring. Lawson, Curry, Westbrook, Rondo, Rose, Wall, Irving, Lillard. The list goes on and on, and grows every year. If you can stop or slow down your opponent at the point of attack, you've got a shot. That's where MCW comes in.
It's no secret I thought Jrue Holiday was one of the best defensive PGs in the league, in fact I think there was a legitimate argument to be made that he was the best over the last two years. MCW is better than Jrue on the defensive end, and it's not really all that close. MCW gets beat off the dribble sometimes. He gambles a little bit once in a while. He's out of position sometimes, but it doesn't matter. He uses his size to envelope his man. He's super slippery in avoiding screens out at the top of the floor, slithering over screens again and again to negate the pick-and-roll. He sneaks into passing lanes, he digs down on post players, he pokes balls away from behind, and blocks shots over the top when he's beaten off the bounce. Disruptive is the best way to describe his defense, and being disruptive at the point, well, it gives the Sixers a fighting chance to be a not terrible defensive team when he's out there, and not terrible is a monumental leap from what they are when he's on the bench.
Some numbers to illustrate the point (no pace adjustment on DFR, pure points/100 possessions):
22 games with MCW, team DFR: 103.9
11 games w/out MCW, team DFR: 111.8
22 games with MCW, opposing starting PG TS%: .517
11 games w/out MCW, opposing starting PG TS%: .645
22 games with MCW, opposing starting PG A:TO ratio: 2.73
11 games w/out MCW, opposing starting PG A:TO ratio: 3.50
22 games with MCW, point differential: -3.4 ppg
11 games without MCW, point differential: -15.3 ppg
I tried to poke some holes in these numbers. For example I checked the home/road splits for each sample. While the Sixers did play a higher percentage of road games when MCW was out (7 of 11 were away from the WFC w/out MCW; 11 home, 11 away with MCW), the team actually had a better DFR away from home with MCW (102.2) than at home (105.6). I also checked who the opposing PGs were, but there was parity in the list (CP3 was the only big name on the w/out side of the ledger). Here's a little perspective on the DFR splits. With MCW, they have the #19 defense. Without him, they're nearly four points worse than the second-worst team (Utah, at 107.8).
None of this is to say the Sixers are a good team with MCW. They're bad. They're nowhere near a .500 team, statistically, but they have a shot. MCW moves their floor way up. With him, a hot game from Turner or a sizzling streak from Thad leads to wins. Without him, those things don't matter. Defense also rarely takes a night off. Even on the second night of a back-to-back, it's there.
In the short term, this is bad news. Perhaps the elbow MCW took on the final play of last night's game will keep him out of a game or two, which would help. Short of something terrible happening (or Hinkie sending MCW to the D-league), the Sixers are going to find themselves in a lot of games like the past four over the rest of he season. The only way they're going to lose enough to land at the top of the lottery is to remove the player(s) who provide the sporadic offensive bumps to push them over the top once in a while. Of course, if MCW is the one providing the offense as well, you're still in trouble.
In the long term, this is obviously great news. One of the pieces is probably in place, no matter what his offensive game winds up being, provided he keeps his usage rate in line with his efficiency and doesn't settle in as a turnover machine. Unfortunately, the longer Hinkie sits idle this season, the less likely it becomes the Sixers will get that one key piece to the puzzle in this summer's draft.