Philadelphia 76ers must improve for NBA playoffs, but where?

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The Philadelphia 76ers can score, pass, rebound, and run a fast pace. But the team struggles with ball control, three-point shooting and defense. To get to the NBA Playoffs, the team must fix things quickly. But which stat is the top priority?

The Philadelphia 76ers head coach is Brett Brown. Prior to his accepting the head coach position for the Philadelphia 76ers, he served as San Antonio Spurs’ assistant head coach under their head coach, Gregg Popovich. Over the years, “Pop” has managed to find consistent success with the Spurs, never winning fewer than 55 games in any one season over the past five years.  And the common thread for the Spurs over that span of time is solid defense.

Now, when you look at the Philadelphia 76ers, you don’t see a similar story.  There is a team fighting to improve, and so far at 19-19, are finding modest success.  And as you examine the team’s production, you find a team scoring 108.6 points per game – good enough for sixth in the NBA. Conversely, this team is allowing 107.9 points per game, which comes in at an abysmal 23rd in the league.

Defending 76ers defense

So the average fan looks at that statistic and concludes the team needs to focus on improving team defense.  But is that accurate?  We examined the duality of the Philadelphia 76ers defense recently.  In that article, we revealed why there is such a dichotomy of opinions about the Sixers D.  While the team is surrendering points, that largest factor comes from a team running such a fast-paced cadence on the basketball court.  At 103.2, the Philadelphia 76ers generate 103.2 posssesions per game.  Compare that to defensive standout teams like the San Antonio Spurs (96.51) or the Boston Celtics (97.72).

In short, comparing NBA team effectiveness simply normalizes points surrendered into 100 possessions per game. For the Spurs and the Celtics, that raises their points per game. For the 76ers, that reduces their points per game. The opposite is true on offense.  The 76ers offense gets reduced due to normalization. And likewise, the Spurs and Celtics offensive output is increased. Ultimately, when normalized to 100 possessions per game, the 76ers defense is good for seventh in the NBA while the team offense is marginally good for 15th in the league.