The Philadelphia 76ers Are Winning With Defense

The 76ers are 10-3 in their last 13 games, and their defense has gotten them there. Just how good has it been?

When the Philadelphia 76ers were 11-25 and winners of four of their last five games, Joel Embiid proudly proclaimed that the Sixers were thinking about the playoffs.

We talked about this some a few weeks ago and how Embiid's efficient play, their recent switch to T.J. McConnell at point guard, and Nerlens Noel getting healthier could all lead them to the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.

That dream is starting to become a reality for Philadelphia. The Sixers have won 10 of their last 13 games, and they are only 4.5 games out of the playoff picture in the East after starting the year 7-24.

How have they done this, you ask? Quality wins can be a starting point. In their past six games, the Sixers have beaten the Milwaukee Bucks twice as well as the Portland Trail Blazers, Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Clippers.

However, it's their defense that is making waves, and it will be their defense that potentially carries them to the playoffs.

Getting the Job Done

In their recent 13-game surge, the Sixers are allowing just 94 points per game. Even more impressive is that, in that same stretch, they own a defensive rating of just 93.9 points allowed per 100 possessions.

This has improved their season-long rankings as well. Philadelphia ranks 11th in defensive rating at 107.0 points allowed per 100 possessions, and their opponent's effective field goal percentage is just 50.3 percent, which is 7th-best in the league right now.

These numbers easily represent huge improvements from last season.

Having Embiid patrolling the paint helps a lot, obviously, and if there were a most improved team award, the Sixers would absolutely be in the running.

76ers Defense Defensive Rating Opp eFG% Opp PPG
2015-16 109.2 (26th) 51.0% (18th) 107.6 (29th)
2016-17 107.0 (11th) 50.3% (7th) 105.0 (16th)

Their defensive metrics have improved nearly across the board, and in January, they have the best defensive rating in the NBA (99.9).

The Embiid Factor

Embiid's numbers on both ends have been one of Philly's best attributes this season. He owns a defensive rating of 100, which would rank fourth in the entire league if he played enough minutes to be qualified.

In just 30 games played, he already has 1.5 defensive win shares, and his defensive box plus/minus of 3.5 would rank him fifth among qualified players.

Embiid is also holding players he defends to 40.2% shooting from the floor and just 42.8% shooting within six feet of the basket.

McConnell and Embiid Pairing

Having Embiid on the floor is the primary cause of most of the team's improvements, but the Sixers have other strong defenders, too.

For instance, the Sixers are the only team in the league to have two players in the top 12 in steal percentage this season in Robert Covington (2.7%) and McConnell (3.0%).

Per NBA Wowy, with McConnell and Embiid on the court together, the Sixers have a defensive rating of 104.6 compared to 110.7 with Noel and McConnell on the floor.

Without McConnell on the court, the Sixers' opponents are scoring 2.4 more points per 100 possessions, and with Embiid on the court, the 76ers' opponents have a 101.3 offensive rating compared to 110.8 without Embiid.


With Covington also providing stiff defense and strong on/off numbers, the Sixers have the ability to ride Embiid on both ends and hang their hats on defense, all the way to the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Right now, our algorithm sees them making the playoffs just 1% of the time, but if their defense continues to play at this level, they can chip away at their 4.5-game deficit and slide into the 8 seed by season's end.