Is the Philadelphia 76ers’ offense good enough to contend?

Doc Rivers | Philadelphia 76ers Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
Doc Rivers | Philadelphia 76ers Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports /

The Philadelphia 76ers are in first place in the Eastern Conference led by a stifling defense, but will the offense hold them back in the playoffs?

The Philadelphia 76ers are first in the Eastern Conference with an 18-7 record and a top-four defense in the NBA. Joel Embiid is playing like an MVP, Tobias Harris has played like a legit third option, and Doc Rivers has the team firing away. Things are amazing, right?

Well, with increased performance comes increased expectations. Failing to reach the conference finals would be viewed as a huge disappointment, particularly if the Sixers get the one-seed and avoid the Bucks and Nets until the conference finals. Making the Finals will be tough but the Sixers should be aiming that high.

As mentioned, the Sixers have an elite defense led by Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Matisse Thybulle. Unfortunately, the offense has been mediocre to this point. The Sixers rank 14th in offensive rating, just slightly above the league average. Looking at the past five seasons, no team with an offense as average as these Sixers has made the Finals.

Before the loss to Portland, the Sixers offensive rating was only +0.6 above average, clearly the worst amongst past Finals teams. Teams have made the Finals with decent and even bad defenses, but reaching the Finals with an average offense is unlikely.

The silver lining is that, in games that all five Sixers’ starters have played, the team has an offensive rating of 115.6, which would rank sixth in the NBA this season. The offensive rating would be +4.3 above league average, right in line with the 2016 and 2018 Cavaliers, two elite regular-season offenses.

Having the full starting lineup optimizes spacing for Embiid and Simmons, effectively supercharging the offense and maximizing their talents. Also, the full starting lineup allows the bench players to fit into more natural roles and minutes played. However, when at least one of the starters is missing, limited role players are forced to step up, dropping the effectiveness of the offense.

Ultimately, the deciding factor for contention is whether the Sixers’ offense is closer to their season average or all starters available average. The actual offense is probably somewhere in between, but a top-ten offense combined with an elite defense is good enough to legitimately contend.

Embiid will need to dominate offensively in the playoffs as he has this regular season for the Sixers to have any chance. Even that might not be enough if Simmons doesn’t get more aggressive and Tobias Harris doesn’t keep up his hot shooting. Still, if those three can perform at a high level offensively and the team stays healthy, the Sixers’ offense is good enough to contend.

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