If you are an NBA fan…
If you play fantasy basketball…
If you are into NBA betting futures…
If you are into NBA analytics…
…The Philadelphia 76ers need to be on your radar. Heavily.
They are quickly approaching “Most Interesting Man in the World” status, as a team, but seem to be flying completely under the radar. As I look closer at this team, though, I can’t imagine that’s going to continue. The 76ers are a problem in the NBA, and the unique structure of their team makes them a goldmine for fantasy production. Let’s explore.
Better than the odds
The 76ers are much better than perception and futures odds reflect
According to Caesars Sportsbook, the 76ers are double-digit longshots to win the NBA Championship at +1400, with seven other teams with shorter odds. The 76ers are, in fact, massive underdogs to win their division at +650, behind the prohibitively favored Celtics (-900). To translate the betting odds into English, you’d have to bet $9 to win $1 dollar on the Celtics winning, while the 76ers are 1-to-6.5 underdogs (betting a buck would get you $6.50 if they win). For you math fans out there, those numbers would suggest that the Celtics are more than 50 times more likely to win the Atlantic Division than the 76ers.
But then you look at the standings and the 76ers are only two games in the loss-column behind the Celtics. In fact, the 76ers have the second-best record in the entire Eastern Conference. They’re also the hottest team in the East, winners of 10 of their last 12 games, including five in a row (both best current marks in the Eastern Conference).
Then, take it to the analytics. According to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI), the 76ers aren’t just the second best team in the Atlantic Division or the second best team in the Eastern Conference… the 76ers have the second highest BPI in the entire NBA at 6.7, trailing only the Celtics (8.0 BPI) and by a smaller margin than the 76ers’ gap on the third highest rated teams (Cavaliers and Clippers, tied at 4.5).
Interesting. But, let’s go further.
The 76ers have a balanced team across the board, top-10 in the NBA in both Offensive Rating (8th) and Defensive Rating (4th) despite having several major starters miss extended numbers of games. On offense in particular, the way that they attack their opponents is particularly balanced as well, making it very difficult to defend.
Philadelphia has four excellent 1-on-1 players, let by Joel Embiid. According to Second Spectrum, Embiid is fourth in the NBA with 15.1 Isolations per 100 possessions while James Harden is 11th with 12.2 isolations per 100, and each of Embiid (1.17 points per possession), Harden (1.23 points per possession) and Tobias Harris (1.28 points per possession) generate points at a well over league average clip per isolation.
Interestingly, if you look at the breakdown of how their ISO points are generated, Embiid is most efficient at drawing fouls (1.81 points per possession) or passing (1.67 points per possession). This illustrates how, when Embiid ISOs, he draws opposing defenses and is able to set up easy looks for his teammates.
A lineup of shooters
The 76ers have surrounded Embiid with shooters this season, able to take advantage of all the easy looks their MVP-candidate center is able to generate for them. All seven of the 76ers’ top rotations players outside of Embiid are knocking down at least 37.4% of their 3-pointers this season.
Harden, the second-most active ISO player on the team, is more efficient in the ISO when he shoots (1.24 PPP) or draws the foul (1.70 PPP). This is on brand for Harden, who is known for his excellent step-back 3-point shot and ability to draw fouls in the paint, and it gives the 76ers an elite release valve on offense when the set breaks down and they need a player to generate a bucket.
Taking advantage of pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop
Finally, the 76ers are one of the best pick-and-roll/pop teams in the NBA, creating much of their action out of that set. Per Second Spectrum, Embiid has set 1184 picks, the 11th-most in the NBA despite his 14 missed games thus far. Harden is using 65.1 picks per 100 possessions, third-most in the NBA behind only Chris Paul and Luka Doncic, and Maxey is 31st with 37.6 picks used per 100 possessions.
So, on offense, the 76ers have elite ISO players, a team full of shooters (even Embiid is knocking down more than 35% of his 3-pointers at solid volume), and they excel at running the most difficult team set to defend in the pick and roll. This makes them a dangerous regular season squad, but perhaps an even more dangerous playoffs team, as this multiplicity of ways to attack is very robust in the postseason when the game slows down to the halfcourt and more physicality is allowed.
In terms of fantasy
The 76ers’ circumstances make them a huge draw in fantasy hoops.
They are the only team in the NBA with two players currently in the top-15 of my Fantasy Basketball Points Rankings: Embiid (5th, this week) and Harden (6th).
The 76ers are the only team in the NBA with four players currently in the top-65 of my FBA Points Rankings (add Maxey and Harris).
And they have three players proven to be viable fantasy streamers (borderline must-adds) in a certain set of easily identifiable circumstances.
They are unique in the NBA, from a fantasy hoops perspective, because they’re a mini perfect storm of factors. The team is built around a core of stars that power the offense and role players that make life easier on them. Those four core players all start, but the minutes are distributed such that two or three are almost always on the court at the same time, so each have segments of the game to dominate the production.
And, due to extended injury absences for each of the top three scorers on the team, we’ve gotten to see that the 76ers have understudies for each of their main three players fully capable of stepping in and producing very strong box score numbers if called upon to player starter minutes.
Thus, in addition to having multiple players on the fantasy MVP tier and another two players in the fantasy every day starter category, you also have to keep an eye on Shake Milton (available in 97.0% of leagues), De’Anthony Melton (available in 66.6% of leagues) and Montrezl Harrell (available in 73.8% of leagues) anytime circumstances might call for any of them to start.
When Harden and/or Maxey were out, Milton averaged 20.9 PPG, 6.1 APG, 5.1 RPG, 1.9 3PG and .7 SPG in 38.0 MPG in nine starts, while Melton averaged 11.8 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 3.1 APG, 2.6 3PG, 2.1 SPG and 0.6 BPG in 31.8 MPG inn 34 starts. And Harrell, after a very slow start to the season, has now racked up seven starts in Embiid absences with averages of 13.7 PPG on 61.1 FG% and 85.7 FT%, with 7.0 RPG. All three are very viable streamers in starter minutes.
The bottom line
Overall, the 76ers are a very dangerous regular season team and perhaps a more dangerous playoffs squad. They are full of strong fantasy hoops contributors that for one reason or another are flying under the radar.
They measure out as one of the best teams in the NBA, and the scouting analytics back up that diagnosis entirely, yet they are considered extreme longshots compared to the Celtics to win the division, let alone contend for an NBA crown.
They are, in mind, excellent value for those interested in NBA futures that are looking for teams very capable of winning that are still getting quite a bit of juice. And that’s why, no matter what your interest in the NBA, you really need to be paying attention to what’s going on in Philly. They are shaping up to be a problem… in all the best ways.