Philadelphia 76ers Offense Still Has Plenty of Room to Grow
The statistics are nearly impossible to ignore.
Through seven games, the Philadelphia 76ers—who currently lead the Atlantic Division with a 5-2 record—are holding opponents to a league-low 85.6 points per game.
Opposing teams are shooting 39.5 percent from the field against the 76ers—a key reason why four of Philadelphia's five victories have come by 20 points or more.
And because the 76ers are only averaging 12.4 turnovers per game (best in the NBA), they also boast one of the more impressive assist-to-turnover ratios in the entire league (1.79-to-1).
Yet all of those quantitative measures obscure the one qualitative fact that the 76ers themselves are all too aware of.
They haven't even played their best basketball yet.
Despite their early season success, Philadelphia has plenty of room for improvement. For a team that scores over 100 points per game, the 76ers struggle mightily from the charity stripe. Andre Iguodala (68.8 percent from the free-throw line) and Elton Brand (60.0 percent) are the most high-profile offenders, but a total of five players in Philadelphia's rotation have free-throw percentages below 70 percent.
Brand and Iguodala's struggles go far beyond the foul line, however. After finishing 1-2 respectively on the team in scoring last season, both players' shooting percentages are at career lows this year (Brand: 42.4 percent, Iguodala: 41.2 percent).
Truth be told, those numbers look fantastic when compared to those of fellow starter Jodie Meeks. Aside from a 21-point outburst against the Detroit Pistons on Jan. 6, Meeks—the team's lone long-distance threat—hasn't been all that threatening so far this season. Two weeks into the campaign, Meeks is shooting 35.3 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from beyond the arc.
Just to recap: Three of the five 76ers starters are shooting below 43 percent on the season, yet the team still has one of the best records in the league. An amazing feat, especially so for a team that didn't even play a home game until Jan. 6.
One way to get the ball rolling offensively is to be more aggressive in attacking the basket. And the onus on doing that lies largely on the shoulders of point guard Jrue Holiday.
The 6'4" Holiday has all of the tools to be a top-five point guard, but needs to learn how to do a better job of drawing contact from defenders. For example, Holiday and backup combo guard Lou Williams average about the same number of shots, but Williams goes to the free-throw line more than twice as much as Holiday despite playing eight less minutes per night.
Williams is a savvy veteran who is skilled at getting defenders to bite on pump fakes—a trait that Holiday desperately needs to add to his arsenal. The trickle-down effect of Holiday becoming a more efficient weapon on offense is that it will create opportunities for everyone else on the floor.
Philadelphia's lack of offensive assertiveness doesn't begin and end with its young point guard, however. Iguodala and reserve forward Thaddeus Young were two of the best players in the NBA last season around the rim, both scoring on more than 72 percent of their attempts near the basket. This year, both players have taken fewer shots from in close, and both have had a noticeable drop in their shooting percentages.
Philosophy and aggressiveness aside, part of the Philadelphia's offensive woes undoubtedly came from the fact that the team opened the season on a five-game, 10-day road trip. Fortunately, the 76ers are the beneficiaries of an extremely favorable January schedule that includes 11 more home games before the month is out.
The 76ers are undoubtedly hoping that a return home is accompanied by a return of the explosive transition attack that propelled them into the playoffs last season. So while it's clear that defense has ruled the day until now, once the Sixers' offense gets going, they will be a team primed to make serious noise in the Eastern Conference.
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