Monday night is Game 41 for the Sixers, the official halfway point of the regular season. It's a perfect opportunity to see if the conventional wisdom about the team entering the season matches how it has performed on the court.
Predictably, replacing JJ Redick with Josh Richardson and the addition of Al Horford have helped make the Sixers a better defensive team. They rank sixth in the NBA in defensive rating, allowing 106.1 points per 100 possessions. That's a significant improvement from last season, when the Sixers ranked 15th in the NBA, allowing 110 points per 100 possessions.
That defensive upgrade has come at the cost of the offense, but probably not for the reason you're thinking. For all of the consternation about perimeter shooting, the Sixers' three-point numbers are almost identical to last season's statistics. Take a look at the numbers:
Just like last season, the Sixers are making 10.8 three-point field goals per game and shooting 35.9 percent as a team from beyond the arc. They've made up for Redick's 3.2 made threes per game with a collective effort. Seven different players average at least one three-point attempt per game, led by Richardson with 1.8 threes per game. So, while it feels like three-point shooting is this team's Achilles' heel, the numbers say otherwise.
Instead, the drop-off in offense is directly related to the reduced number of free throws the Sixers have made this season. The Sixers are getting five fewer points per game from the free throw line. That almost entirely makes up the 5.9-point difference in scoring from last season.
There are a few different culprits. Joel Embiid is making 1.4 fewer free throws per game this season. Ben Simmons is down from 3.3 made free throws per game to 2.6 per game. Jimmy Butler took his 4.8 made foul shots per game to Miami, which is the same number as Harris and Richardson have made combined.
Saturday's loss in Dallas is a perfect example of why the lack of free throw attempts matters. On a night when the Sixers shot 9 of 27 from the three-point line, they also made just 8 of 12 free throws. If you can't get easy points at the free throw line, it makes it that much tougher to halt opposing runs when the threes aren't falling.
Yes, the three-point line matters. But the free throw line matters, too. That's something to keep in mind as the Sixers enter the second half of the season.
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