PHILADELPHIA – We knew the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls would stand atop the Eastern Conference standings this season. But did anybody have the Philadelphia 76ers right behind them?
After Monday’s win against the Indiana Pacers, the first of a back-to-back-to-back set, the Sixers are 6-2, with the best point differential in the league. They rank third in offensive efficiency and have the No. 1 defense in the league.
One reason for the Sixers’ early success is continuity. They’re in their second season under coach Doug Collins and the top eight of their rotation is exactly the same as it was last season.
But the numbers show that the biggest key to the Sixers’ hot start is their depth.
The Sixers had a lot of success with their starting lineup last season. In fact, Philly’s starters outscored Miami’s 110-64 when the two were on the floor together in their five-game playoff series.
In 2011-12, the Sixers’ starters have been excellent defensively, allowing just 86 points per 100 possessions in their 103 minutes on the floor. But Philly has the No. 3 offense in the league despite their starters, who are scoring just 92 points per 100 possessions themselves.
“We keep getting off to these awful starts,” Collins said Monday after his starters scored just six points in the first 5:53 on Monday, “and fortunately our bench has bailed us out.”
Coming off the bench, Lou Williams leads the Sixers in scoring at 16.6 points per game. But through Monday’s games, no player has had as big of an offensive impact on his team than Thaddeus Young.
The Sixers are scoring a ridiculous 119 points per 100 possessions when Young is on the floor. That on-court efficiency number is the highest in the league among players who have logged at least 100 minutes.
Highest on-court offensive efficiency, through Monday
Minimum 100 minutes
OffRtg = Team’s points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Team’s points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Team’s point differential per 100 possessions
On Monday, after Williams, Young and rookie Nikola Vucevic entered the game, the Sixers scored on 11 of their next 16 possessions. Young shot 6-for-7 on the night and was a game-high plus-16. Vucevic was a plus-15 and Williams was a plus-13. With the Pacers playing shorthanded (Danny Granger and George Hill were out with injuries), it was clear that the Sixers’ bench was the difference.
Though the reserves have clearly made more of an offensive impact, Collins was praising Young’s defense after the game.
“People are going to have to start talking about him for All-Defensive Team,” Collins said. “He blows up every screen-and-roll. He absolutely gets out there, hedges, gets back. His speed and quickness is amazing.”
And really, the Sixers are at their best offensively when they’re first getting stops and turnovers on the other end, because few teams are more potent in the open floor.
“The games we’ve broken open,” Collins said, “we’ve done it with great energy, getting in the open court, steals, finishing.
“You can just look at our games. They all follow the same script.”