Last night’s loss to the Orlando Magic brought a merciful end to a miserable February for the Philadelphia 76ers. During the month, the team not only went winless, but there were only three games in which they even lost by single digits.
On top of that, despite their already thin frontcourt, the team traded away both Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes in an attempt clear cap space at the trade deadline. Although neither player has had a great season, losing Turner and Hawes, who were top five on the team in both scoring and minutes per game, is a huge loss for an already struggling franchise.
Today, the Sixers’ roster is rich with hopes, dreams and raw talent. But it's seriously lacking in polish and experience.
After recently buying out Danny Granger’s contract, the only player on the Sixers’ roster who has played in the league for at least five years (other than Jason Richardson, who has yet to play a minute this season) is Thaddeus Young. With so many young players playing critical roles, the Sixers have been erratic and inconsistent on both sides of the ball, leading to a 15-45 record and last place in our numberFire Power Rankings.
As bad as they have been, the Sixers still have a bright future ahead of them. With seven draft picks in this year’s loaded draft and a ton of cap space, Philly can add a boat load of talent to a roster already full of young, high-upside players.
With that said, it's hard to ignore just how awful they have been this season, specifically in February. Here is a look at what has made the Sixers so horrible this season, but why they have to potential to turn things around faster than you may expect:
Much of the Sixers struggles this season can be attributed to their atrocious play on defense. They currently rank second worst in defensive efficiency at 109.6, and are giving up a massive 110.9 points per game. Not only is that the worst in the league, but it’s a whopping 4.5 points more than the Lakers, who allow the second-most points per game.
It isn’t just that the Sixers give up a lot of points, either - they have been sub-par at just about every aspect of playing team defense. Philly's in the bottom five of the league in opposing field goal percentage, three-point percentage, blocks, rebounding differential and free throw differential.
What's even more staggering about the Sixers defense is that when you look at the team as a group of individuals, the numbers are even more embarrassing. Today, there is not a single Sixers player averaging more than a block per game, averaging more than 6.5 boards per game or with a defensive rating better than 107. When you watch Philly play, the only two players who really even seem to be putting in any effort on defense are Thaddeus Young and Michael Carter-Williams. Young (107) and MCW (108) have the two best defensive ratings on the team, and lead the team in steals (2.2 and 2.0) and defensive win shares (1.6 and 1.3).
As bad as the Sixers’ defense has been this season, the team’s woes can't be completely attributed to their horrific defensive play. In fact, some of the team’s defensive issues are due to struggles on the offensive end of the floor. Philly leads the league in turnovers at 17 per game, which is 1.4 turnovers per game more than Houston at number two. Considering the fact that turning the ball over often allows your opponent to get out on the fast break, it makes perfect sense that the Sixers’ defense gives up more fast break points than any team in the league at 17.1 points per game.
The good news for the Sixers offense is that they do score the 16th-most points in the league at 100.2 points per game. With that said, the Sixers offense has been incredibly inefficient. With Philly giving up so many turnovers and fast break points, they end up playing a much higher number of possessions per game than most teams, giving them an inflated points per game. The number that really tells the story is the point differential though, as Philly currently has the league’s worst point differential at -10.7 per game. That’s nearly two points per game more than the Bucks, who are second worst.
Additionally, the Sixers can’t shoot. They’re currently in the bottom five in the league in both field goal percentage (43.4%) and free throw percentage (71.5%), and are dead last in three-point percentage (30.9%). When you take all of these factors into consideration, it's no wonder why the Sixers have a league worst 98.9 offensive efficiency.
A February to Forget
The Sixers have been bad all season long, but they took their struggles to new heights in the month of February. With 11 losses in the month, the Sixers now find themselves in the midst of a 12-game losing streak, with their last win, a one point squeaker in Boston, coming on January 29th. Additionally, in the month of February, the Sixers gave up a league-high 110.9 points per game and scored only 96.3 points per game. Their -14.6 point differential in February is the worst any team has had in any moth all season (not counting October in which there were only three days of NBA basketball).
The Sixers were terrible on both sides of the ball throughout the entire month. On offense, they shot a league worst 41.3% from the field and 28.3% from three-point range. They also committed a league leading 17.1 turnovers per game. On defense, the Sixers allowed the second highest opposing field goal percentage in the league at 46.7% and were in the bottom five in opposing three-point percentage at 37.3%.
These deficiencies on both sides of the ball led to devastating results on the court. As I mentioned earlier, Philly did not win a single game this month, including only three games that ended with the Sixers within ten points. This means that out of the Sixers’ 11 losses in February more than 72% of them were lost by double digits. Additionally, Philly lost four games by 20 points or more in February, including a horrific 130-110 loss to the team sporting the league’s worst record, the Milwaukee Bucks.
Why the Future is Bright
As bad as the team has been this season, there are still a few reasons for Sixers’ fans to be excited for the future. While the team’s youth has been a road block for the team’s success this season, so many young players contributing major minutes is a great way to build towards the future. The Sixers’ roster features 13 players who are 25 years old or younger, including their entire starting five. Additionally, five of these young players average at least 20 minutes per game. Although they rarely win and often get blown out, the in-game experience these guys are receiving is something they would not be able to get on almost any other team in the league.
Although everyone on the Sixers’ roster has struggled at times, there are a few players that have also shown flashes of brilliance, specifically Thad Young and Michael Carter-Williams. Young has been on an absolute tear lately, especially since the trade deadline. In the four games since the Sixers moved Turner and Hawes Thad the Impaler is averaging 23 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and a whopping 3.8 steals per game. Young has been Philly’s best player since the all-star break and it’s not even close.
Part of the reason why it’s not close is because MCW seems to have hit the rookie wall. The first-round pick out of Syracuse has the size and raw athleticism to be a star, and it showed early in the season. In his first seven games of the season, before injuring his shoulder and missing 11 out of his next 17 games, Carter-Williams averaged 17.1 points, 8.7 assists, 6.1 boards and a monstrous 3 steals per game. Despite struggling with turnovers all season long, currently third in the league with 3.6 turnovers per game, MCW has proven that he has the potential to be an all-star in this league.
With that said, Carter-Williams wasn’t the Sixers only first round pick last year. Although he is still on the shelf recovering from a torn ACL, Nerlens Noel is another player who has the potential to be a future all-star. Noel is the defensive stopper that Philly needs and has the ability to become one of the premier shot blockers in the league. If Noel is able to play to the level he did in college before getting injured, he can be a major difference maker for the Sixers.
In addition to the abundance of young talent already on the Sixers’ roster, the team is primed to make a splash in the offseason. After dumping Turner and Hawes’ contracts, the Sixers now find themselves with only six players who are under contract going into next season: Thad Young, Jason Richardson, Nerlens Noel, Michael Carter-Williams, Tony Wroten and Arnett Moultrie. These six players combine for just $23.9 million against the cap, giving the Sixers $34.7 million to work with in the offseason.
Even more importantly, as I mentioned earlier, Philly has an outrageous seven draft picks in this upcoming draft, including two-first round picks (although it's important to note that the first-round pick they received from the Pelicans is top-five protected) and four picks in the 2015 draft. This abundance of picks gives the Sixers’ the flexibility to move up or down in the draft to target the players that best fit their needs, which could be incredibly valuable considering how loaded this year’s draft class is.
Adding a player as high caliber as Joel Embid, Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins coupled with another potential top-10 pick can have a huge impact on the team’s future for the next decade. Yeah, I know, no fan really likes watching their team win less than 20 games in a season, but if you are a Sixers fan there is no need to panic because the future is truly bright.