Nichols and Dime: The In-Game Changes of the Philadelphia 76ers’ Shooting Style

I’m going to look at the shooting styles of the Philadelphia 76ers in the same way I examined the Lakers. I chose the Sixers because they are one of the teams at the extreme ends of the spectrum– they attempted the second fewest three-pointers of any team in the league last season and converted those shots at the lowest rate. With the Lakers, we saw that close attempts and three-pointers were much more efficient than midrange shots, despite the latter being attempted the most. Will we find the same results with a team that struggled from long range?

Thanks to the play-by-play data at BasketballValue, here are the Sixers’ shot attempt frequencies on average per game, at the per minute level:

phishotselectionperminute

I made one change from last time. “Close” shots now only include dunks and layups (tipped shots are not included). As we can see from the graph above, there are some substantial differences between the Lakers and the 76ers. Although the overall shot preference order is the same, the Lakers take a lot more three-pointers. In addition, the Sixers take almost as many close shots as they do midrange. However, like the Lakers, their three-point attempts tend to go up as the game progresses at the expense of midrange attempts. Let’s look at the efficiencies of each shot type:

phishotefficiencyperminute

Well, that’s just a mess. There’s a simple solution, though. Instead of doing it per minute, we can break down the data by quarter. Here are the two graphs from above with the data calculated per quarter:

phishotfrequencybyquarter

phishotefficiencyperquarter

Here the data is much clearer. Just like with the Lakers, the most efficient shot for the Sixers is the close attempt. Also, despite a third quarter blip, and even though it is an obvious weakness of theirs, the Sixers are still much more efficient when shooting three-pointers than when shooting from midrange. In fact, in the fourth quarter, the long ball is almost as valuable for them as is the easy bucket around the rim.

So what are the main differences between the Lakers and the 76ers? Basically, Los Angeles is more active and efficient from beyond the three-point line. This should not come as a surprise to many, as this is Philadelphia’s most obvious offensive weakness. However, what is surprising is that the two teams aren’t very different from midrange. Both favor that shot type the most despite it being their least efficient method. The Lakers are slightly more efficient from midrange, but that should come as no surprise considering they feature a dominant post player in Pau Gasol.

As we learned from my last study, there is a correlation between post attempts and three-point efficiency. Philly’s lack of a post presence last year and surrounding three-point marksmen may have been two of the biggest reasons their offense was not as great as the Lakers. With the return of Elton Brand and the arrival of Jason Kapono, things should improve slightly for the Sixers.

But can it really be as simple as just taking more three-pointers? The graphs above suggest this, but the answer remains uncertain for now.

Seth Carstens