Can the Philadelphia 76ers Really Make the Playoffs?

Joel Embiid said the 76ers are thinking about the playoffs after their recent hot streak. Is that crazy?

The Philadelphia 76ers have won four of their last five games and have improved their record to 11-25.

When asked about the streak, Joel Embiid responded optimistically.

With the Ben Simmons debut nearing, is Embiid as crazy as we may think?

The Streak

One could say the Sixers had good fortune during the run. The four victories came against the Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Brooklyn Nets, and New York Knicks.

These teams have a combined record of 54-101 and a 34.8% win percentage. Also, three of the wins were by a margin of three points or fewer. However, it is important to note the single loss came on the road to the Boston Celtics, the current 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Despite the favorable schedule, the Sixers have accomplished a considerable feat. Sixers coach Brett Brown made two key lineup adjustments during this stretch that has propelled the team: the insertion of T.J. McConnell into the starting lineup and the benching of Jahlil Okafor have led to favorable results.

Let's look at how these changes improve the team moving forward as the Sixers now sit just seven games out of the final playoff spot held by the Washington Wizards.

T.J. McConnell versus Sergio Rodriguez

The Sixers started the season with Sergio Rodriguez at point guard due to the injury of offseason signing, Jerryd Bayless. Bayless played just three games before undergoing season-ending wrist surgery.

Rodriguez became the full-time starter and held that role until he suffered a sprained ankle against the Utah Jazz on December 29th.

The injury forced McConnell into the starting lineup for the Sixers' next game against the Denver Nuggets. This game also marked the first of the five-game stretch in which the team went 4-1.

McConnell started all five games, despite Rodriguez returning from injury for the past two. Should the Sixers continue to start him over Rodriguez?

Here's a snapshot of how each has performed.

Statistical Category T.J. McConnell Sergio Rodriguez
Field Goal Percentage 43.1% 39.4%
3-Point Percentage 25.0% 36.6%
Assist to Turnover Ratio 3.18 2.46
Rebounds per 36 Minutes 4.49 3.91
Steals per 36 Minutes 2.27 1.26
Offensive Rating 101 97
Defensive Rating 107 110
nERD -1.2 -2.8

The numbers say yes, as McConnell has outperformed Rodriguez in almost every statistical category. McConnell also has a usage rate of just 13.7%, while Rodriguez is at 19.7%. This is another positive for McConnell as neither player is outstanding offensively.

When McConnell is on the court, the Sixers have a 102.4 Offensive Rating, compared to 100.8 when Rodriguez is on the floor. Also, the Sixers' opponents experience a 1.4-point drop to their offensive rating when McConnell is on the court and a 2.9-point increase when Rodriguez is on the court.

McConnell is clearly the better option at point guard for the Sixers moving forward.

Nerlens Noel versus Jahlil Okafor

During the Sixers' five-game hot streak, Okafor has played just 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, Nerlens Noel averaged 20 minutes, 10.2 points, and 4.6 rebounds per game in that span.

Noel has been the topic of trade talks this year but has been a key contributor to the Sixers as of late as the primary backup to Embiid. Should he continue to be the center off the bench for the Sixers?

Statistical Category Nerlens Noel Jahlil Okafor
Field Goal Percentage 60.0% 51.2%
Rebounds per 36 Minutes 8.44 7.74
Blocks per 36 Minutes 1.56 1.78
Steals per 36 Minutes 2.89 0.57
Turnovers per 36 Minutes 0.67 2.29
Offensive Rating 127 101
Defensive Rating 101 108
nERD 1.0 -1.1

The advanced statistics make these players seem miles apart. Noel provides so much more in terms of efficiency on both the offensive and defensive end. It is important to note that Noel has played just 162 minutes this season, and he is unlikely to sustain the same level of offensive efficiency.

Regardless, Noel is clearly the better complement to Embiid off the bench.

With Noel on the floor, the Sixers have an offensive rating of 102.8, as opposed to a rating of 97.7 with Okafor on the court. Opponents' offensive rating goes down 1.1 points with Noel on the floor but increases by 7.2 points with Okafor on the court.

Okafor has been dreadful this season, and his benching is contributing to the Sixers' recent success.


All right, so the Sixers have made two positive adjustments to their rotation, but do they really have a chance at the playoffs?

Well, they have had a considerably favorable schedule so far this season. They have played 36 games, and 21 of them have been at home. Of their total 11 wins, just two of them have come against teams with winning records, and the Sixers have only won four games on the road this season (4-11).

The recent hot streak the Sixers have experienced can be partly attributed to their positive lineup changes, as well as their fortunate schedule.

Our algorithms project Philadelphia to finish 28-54 with a 0.1% probability to make the playoffs. So yes, I'm telling you there's a chance.