Through the first ten games of the season, the Sixers were an elite defensive basketball team. They were following in the footsteps of the team which finished one game away from the Eastern Conference Finals last season. It was a miracle, considering the roster changes, but it appeared as though their system would survive the personnel losses. Since then, things have changed...dramatically.
Here's the breakdown:
First 10 games:
- eFG allowed: .478
- Turnover rate against: .149
- Defensive rebounding rate: 75.4%
- Free throw rate against: .183
- Points allowed per-100-possessions: 99.57
Past 7 games:
- eFG allowed: .490
- Turnover rate against: .120
- Defensive rebounding rate: 69.1%
- Free throw rate against: .212
- Points allowed per-100-possessions: 109.97
As a point of reference, a DFR of 99.57 would be #2 in the league right now. 109.97 would be second worst.
Their record over each stretch? 6-4 through the first ten, 4-3 through the last seven. How were they mediocre with such a great defense to start the season, and how are they keeping pace with such horrible defense since? Great questions. The answer is their offense has almost exactly mirrored their defense. 98.25 OFR in the first 10 (would be dead last in the league right now), 109.65 OFR in the past seven (would be #4 in the league right now).
Here's the question, though. Which trend is more reliable? Do you think the Sixers offense will continue to perform at the blistering pace we've seen over the past seven, or will it fall back to the middle of the pack - or worse?
Ultimately, it doesn't matter. The only thing that matters over this indeterminate period from the beginning of the season until Bynum first steps on the court is the team's record. They can't dig a hole too deep. If they get the wins on the back of unbelievable, completely unreliable offensive efficiency, that's great. If they do it using a stifling defense, that works too. Honestly, neither is something this squad will be able to consistently replicate. Their defense has too many holes, especially up front. Their offense is wholly reliant on Jrue's creation and the shooters hitting their shots. It was probably only a matter of time for teams to figure out how to attack the Sixers, and I can't imagine the defensive adjustments will be far behind.
Here's what I'm hoping for. I'm hoping these trends even out and, statistically speaking, they wind up somewhere in the middle of the pack on both ends of the floor. That should equate to a .500 record. I'm hoping they wind up a couple games better than that on the back of late-game performances.
The short-term goal remains getting to 4 games over .500 by Sunday, December 23rd. The day they begin the Ice Capades trip. I think 2-6 is a likely outcome from that 8-game trip, and they need to be at or above .500 when they get back. Can they do it? It's not going to be easy. They have 10 games on their schedule over the next 19 days. Six at home, four on the road. Only four against teams at or above .500, but the sub-.500 teams include the Lakers, Mavs, Timberwolves and Pacers. All talented teams. The other two teams are the Pistons, who hammered the Sixers, and the Rockets, who are extremely unpredictable. 6-4 over that stretch? That might be a stretch.
Here's a cool new feature from B-R.com, an embedded live look at their numbers. This table is tailored to the first numbers I check for a baseline on how a player is performing. Check it out: