A few takeaways from the Sixers 117-91 win over the Knicks on Wednesday night
1) The Knicks are not very good at basketball.
This one is obvious, but its relevance extends beyond the final score. Brett Brown has spent a lot of time over the past few days talking about his team's pick-and-roll defense, and for good reason. The Sixers have been shredded by ballhandlers all season, with much of the damage coming off the middle pick-and-roll. Heading into the night, no team in the league was allowing a higher rate of unassisted field goals than the Sixers, which offers some indication of the difficulty they've had guarding the dribble. As Sarah Todd noted in her analysis of the situation today, the Sixers had allowed 30+ points to an opposing guard in 12 of their 22 games this season. I'll add that no team in the league has allowed more opposing players to score 33+ points than the Sixers.
No doubt, this team has plenty of work to do on the defensive front. But there's also been a bit of random variance involved, particularly over the last handful of games, where teams like the Nets and Cavs have been knocking down midrange shot at a ridiculous rate. As Brown said before the game, at some point, a defense has to pick its poison, and Brown's philosophy of allowing the long two in order to guard the three-point line and the paint is one that is strongly supported by analytics.
Since Jimmy Butler joined the Sixers, opponents are shooting 48.4 percent on mid-range shots on 17.4 attempts per game. Both of those number rank among the five highest of any team in the NBA during that stretch. In their first 15 games of the season, opponents shot just 40.4 percent from mid-range. That's a difference of almost a make-and-a-half per game. Limit the sample to the last two games, and opponents have shot 53.6 percent from mid-range.
This is the type of thing that will normalize over a larger sample. Consider that, on the season, no team in the league has allowed opponents to convert on more than 47.2 percent of mid-range attempts, with 18 of 30 teams holding opponents under 42 percent and 26 of 30 holding them under 44 percent.
On Wednesday night, the Knicks missed 23 of their first 25 shots from outside the paint. Eight of those misses — and neither of the makes — came from mid-range, many of them off the pick-and-roll situations that have drawn so much attention in recent days.
2) Brett Brown's rotation will continue to evolve
Throughout Butler's first seven games with the Sixers, Brown has kept him paired with Ben Simmons on the court. Almost exclusively. Of the 245 minutes Butler had logged for the Sixers heading into Wednesday night, 235 had seen him on the court with Simmons. Before the game, Brown said that he anticipated getting to a point where he would stagger Simmons and Butler, and he actually took a step toward that against the Knicks, putting Butler on the court at the start of the second quarter while keeping Simmons on the bench for the first half of the period. By halftime, the 6:25 that Butler played without Simmons was already the most of any game this season. Butler was on the bench for the last 3:52 of the second quarter, which meant the two were on the court together for 10:17 of the first half's 24 minutes after averaging roughly 33:30 together per game over the previous seven games.
3) T.J. McConnell had an active night
The Sixers clearly give up a lot of length on the defensive end with McConnell backing up Simmons instead of Markelle Fultz, who was not in uniform on Wednesday and whose status remains uncertain (Brown said before the game that he had no update on the second-year guard, but that the Sixers might have one by the end of the week). Against the Knicks, though, McConnell provided his usual ball pressure and was on the court for the entirety of a 39-17 run that gave the Sixers a 57-33 lead midway through the second quarter. McConnell finished at +25 in 25 minutes, his most extensive action since rejoining the rotation.
In the end, this was a much-needed gimme against an awful team playing the second game of a back-to-back. It was their first win by more than six points since Butler joined the Sixers, and just their third victory of 12 or more on the season.