The Philadelphia 76ers have been playing with a fast-paced strategy throughout this early season, and although they are pressing each possession, they are also having fun.
Going into Sunday, the Sixers were ranked 3rd in the league in possessions with 99.3 per game, according to basketballreference.com. By definition, this means the team averages over 99 possessions per 48 minute game, which is a lot since last year’s averaged just 91 per game, 20th in the league.
Fans are trying to figure out the reasoning behind the speedy tactics that rookie coach Brett Brown and his players have employed. Not just because it’s different than this team has shown, but also because the team has smart leaders who do think about these things extensively. Also, this team was supposed to fail and hasn’t yet, which is freaking people out.
When a team tries to use as many possessions as they can during a game, they are operating in a low-variance strategy. Meaning, if a team believes they are better than their opponent then they want to increase their number of opportunities to lower or eliminate the chances of a faulty finish.
Here’s where it gets interesting. If we’re assuming the Sixers don’t really want to win this season—and, compelling arguments support this assumption – then using this kind of low-variance strategy is one of the surest ways to make this happen. By fielding a bad team, and increasing the amount of chances (or possessions) the team gets to demonstrate its badness, Brown and the Sixers are ensuring more losses pile up.
But there’s a few complicating factors in this process. One idea is that executing this strategy with a well-conditioned team could make it so the Sixers excel over their opponents due to their exhaustion. The statistical effect has predictably dwindled with the more games they play, but the idea still holds water.
The second complicating factor I can think of is the way the Sixers have been defending all season. The Sixers have been using an aggressive press defense, which causes a lot of open looks from behind the ark, but also forces turnovers and steals.
Philadelphia’s defense is specifically designed to force transition opportunities. Most teams play soft zones when defending pick and rolls, but the Sixers gamble in order to force steals. When teams run side pick and rolls, the Sixers doubles the ball-handler and has a third defender rotate over quickly to try to force a steal.
The 76ers are basically ignoring the shooters on the opposite side here, which makes them vulnerable to great ball movement. But if they get a steal or at least force wild passes 40 percent of the time, it’s worth it to maintain their style.
For the Sixers to be successful in this strategy all depends of the conversion rate from the opponents. It may be an unsustainable strategy, but I believe Brown is just trying to maximize the talent of his young team. Tonight Philadelphia hosts his old team, the San Antonio Spurs (6-1) at 7:00 PM (EST).
Read more 76ers rumors, news and opinion on our Philadelphia 76ers page