Previewing the first-round series between the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets with shot charts, assist maps, offensive style charts and expected win probabilities.
While it’s well established that the post-deadline starting five for the Sixers has more talent than the rest of the league (non-Warriors division) with a +20.3 points per 100 possessions rating, how they get results is fairly interesting. Most notably, the 3-point shooting of the starters is pretty terrible. Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid combine for about 4-of-12 from 3 per game and Ben Simmons is pretty solidly at 0-of-0 per game. Aside from J.J. Redick, who has been lighting it up of late on high volume and high difficulty, they’re mostly helpless from beyond the arc. You can actually see the 45-55 percent range on the left wing where Redick and Embiid run so much of their highly effective dribble-handoff game. The long-range shooting is additionally interesting as Tobias Harris is a career 40 percent shooter from 3 who is either slumping or taking shots in manner different enough from his Clippers years to cause his percentages to dip. However, these charts do not show free throws, where the Sixers rank 11th in fouls drawn per game since the deadline, even with Embiid missing a fair amount of time. Aside from Ben Simmons (62.5 percent), the worst starter at free throws is Embiid at 82 percent on the year.
It’s been quite a successful season for the Brooklyn Nets, clawing their way out the hole dug by previous front offices. Leading the charge for the Nets and their general youth movement has been their pair of lead guards, D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie. Russell in particular is noteworthy due to being traded from the Los Angeles Lakers for pennies on the dollar and now being an All-Star level player. Russell’s offensive game (21 points per game on a 53 true shooting percentage) is interesting due to his near complete lack of free throws, with only 9.5 percent of his points coming from the line. Dinwiddie in comparison gets 25.3 percent of his points from the line, the eighth-most in the league for players with more than 50 games played and averaging 20 or more minutes. You will note that the relative shot density charts and approximate area field goal percentage charts bear out this difference as well.
— Andrew Patton (@anpatt7)
Offensive style chart
These charts are not meant to evaluate whether an offense is good or bad. They are designed to help illustrate how teams go about the goal of trying to put the ball in the basket. Each team’s offense is evaluated on four stylistic spectrums.
Ball movement is measured with the average touch time for each team, from the NBA’s player tracking statistics. A lower average touch time means the ball is moving from player to player more quickly.
Player movement is measured with a combination of different NBA.com tracking statistics and works out to average distance traveled per 24 seconds of offensive possession.
Pace is measured with the average length of an offensive possession from Inpredictable, a more accurate representation for how quickly a team is working than traditional pace.
Shot selection is measured with MoreyBall percentage — in this case the percentage of a team’s true shooting opportunities that came at the rim, from the free throw line, or on a 3-pointer. It’s a generalized measure but captures something about how much each team hews to the shots that are, on average, the most efficient.
Shot selection is the most distinctive difference between these two offenses and it will likely play a large role in determining the outcome. If Spencer Dinwiddie can get to the rim and D’Angelo Russell and the supporting cast can hit 3s, Brooklyn should be able to keep things competitive. If the 76ers are hitting shots inside the arc, they’re going to be incredibly hard to stop.
— Ian Levy (@HickoryHigh)
Assist maps: Ben Simmons
At 6-foot-10 and 230 pounds, Ben Simmons is unusually large for a primary ball handler. Guys his size don’t usually lead their teams in assists (7.7) or time of possession (6.4 minutes) per game, the way he does for the 76ers. Having such a large point guard presents unique opportunities for Philadelphia and, by looking at Simmons’ passing-lane chart, we can see how the team takes advantage.
Simmons can initiate the 76ers offense just by dribbling into the paint and turning away from his defender. His large frame neutralizes his man, shields the ball from help defenders, and gives him an unobstructed view of the court. Simmons backs himself into the post more often than any other guard in the league (4.4 post-up touches per game). From this position, Simmons can kick the ball out to open teammates for 3-point opportunities.
Simmons can also throw his weight around on the perimeter by clearing space for his teammates in dribble-handoff actions. His passing-lane chart shows three distinct locations dotting the 3-point line where he handed the ball off to teammates who scored. The Sixers use dribble handoffs to create more scoring opportunities than any other team and they score more efficiently in these situations than anybody else does, too.
In the four games that the 76ers split with the Nets this season, Simmons was challenged by a pair of long, versatile defenders: 6-foot-7 Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and 6-foot-9 Rodion Kurucs. With either of these two matched up on Simmons, the Nets held the Sixers below their average offensive rating. It will be interesting to see who the Nets send at Simmons during their first-round series and how well those defenders will be able to withstand Simmons’ physicality.
— Todd Whitehead (@CrumpledJumper)
To project the series, I am using my in-season game projection model. The model is trained off historical game data and accounts for rest, travel, team strength, and matchup. Since I began using the model to predict outcomes, I have been able to correctly identify the winner in about 70 percent of games.
The 76ers come into the series as pretty heavy favorites, winning in 83 percent of the 10,000 simulations. The average length of the series was 5.5 games, with the 76ers given over an 18 percent chance to sweep the series. The Nets are a great young team, with a good coach and better GM. They will make many playoffs over the next decade and the experience this year should pay off down the road and their 17 percent chance to win the series is the second-highest chance among East teams without home-court. But in this year’s playoffs, the 76ers should be able to take advantage of their weaker opponent and cruise into the second round.
— Jacob Goldstein (@JacobEGoldstein)