By now, many Sixers fans have accepted the fact that as soon as the playoffs start, what can go wrong, will go wrong.
Meanwhile, the Kings have a postseason drought that’s old enough to drive.
However, both teams could make a deep run this year — assuming this article doesn’t jinx them, of course.
So, it’s time to discuss these two cursed franchises, and what better place to start than those pesky beam lighters?
Sactown: cute story or legitimate threats?
LIGHT THE FREAKING BEAM, BABY!! THE KINGS HAVE CLINCHED THEIR FIRST WINNING SEASON SINCE 2005-06!
No longer the Kangz, Sacramento is currently third in the West and only two games behind Memphis for the 2-seed. They’ve got the 8th-best net rating in the league at +2.2 thanks to the best offensive rating ever (119.6), although the defense (117.4, 25th) remains an issue.
However, there is some reason for optimism when it comes to the Kings’ play in their own zone. Opposing teams are shooting a whopping 56.8% in terms of their effective field goal percentage, which is the third-highest mark league-wide.
(Remember, having a high percentage is bad, so Sacramento’s ranked 28th in that category).
Going by their location eFG%, though, opponents are expected to shoot 55.1%, which would be the 10th lowest number. This suggests that the Kings are getting unlucky, but only to an extent — given that they don’t have any standout defenders outside of perhaps Davion Mitchell (who’s averaging less than 18 minutes per game), it’s reasonable to expect teams to shoot above what’s expected against Sacramento.
This issue will only get exacerbated in the playoffs since their two best players (Fox and Sabonis) are weak defensively, but both need to be playing in order for their offense to hum. When they are simultaneously off the court, the Kings have an abysmal 111.5 offensive rating, which would rank 27th.
More worrying is the fact that Sacramento has actually been outscored in the minutes that Fox has logged without Sabonis: they’ve maintained an elite offense (118.0) but are basically giving away free layups in their own end (119.6 defensive rating). Sabonis himself isn’t a stopper, either, as opposing teams are making 69.5% of their shots within 4 feet of the rim with him playing, which ranks in the 21st percentile.
On the bright side, the Kings’ offense is legit. They’re 4th in frequency of plays that come in transition (17.2%) and 7th in points per play (129.3), but Sacramento can also score when games slow down as they’re first in halfcourt offense (104.6 points per play).
Ranking 4th in passes per game (298.3), the Kings’ motion offense is extremely unpredictable and difficult to shut down, especially with their plethora of long-range shooters.
The Sacramento Kings lead the NBA in offensive efficiency. Here is a breakdown on their 5 out offense pic.twitter.com/Zc1O0QUOmi— Bryce Gerlach (@gerlachbryce3) January 29, 2023
Even if their attack becomes less varied, Sacramento can credibly rely on Fox to bail them out: his stats in isolation (1.13 points per possession) and as the pick-and-roll ballhandler (1.01) rank in the 85th and 84th percentile, respectively, even if they don’t come in high volume.
With this in mind, I don’t buy the narrative that the Kings’ offense will struggle in the playoffs. Sacramento can outscore anyone, but it will be their defense that determines how far they make it. I still wouldn’t pick them against the Suns or Warriors (although it would be close), but a Clippers matchup could be interesting given their lackluster offense and PG’s injury.
Ultimately, no one should be jockeying for the sixth seed to play the Kings. They can absolutely win a playoff round, and although I’d be shocked if they made the West finals, this team has already wildly exceeded expectations and given their fans something to cheer for.
Is this the year for Philly?
After temporarily passing Boston for the second seed in the East, the Sixers are once again a half-game back of the Celtics for that spot.
That shouldn’t take away from their recent dominance, though.
Since January 1st, the Sixers’ 28-9 record is second only to Milwaukee (29-8), and they have the 3rd best net rating (+6.7) and 2nd best offense (122.5) over that span. Their defense, though, is only 15th (115.8), which is a noticeable decline from their early season numbers when Philly was top 5.
The biggest culprit for this dropoff is opponent three-point percentage. From the beginning of the year until the end of 2022, Philly’s opposition was only making 33.7% (lowest) of their attempts from deep, which has increased to 36.1% since (11th lowest). Given their lack of reliable perimeter defenders outside of DeAnthony Melton, I’m inclined to believe that the latter figure is more indicative of the Sixers’ true talent, meaning that they only have an average to above-average defense.
The good news, though, is that Philly isn’t getting caved in when Harden and Tyrese Maxey share the floor. In fact, the Sixers’ 113.3 defensive rating with the two guards actually ranks in the 68th percentile, and it’s not surprising that they’re scoring an absurd 121.1 points per 100 possessions during those minutes.
I do think that Philly can outscore any potential defensive issues they might encounter, especially considering Embiid’s two-way effort will increase during the playoffs. Even so, that doesn’t quell my concerns about his durability and Harden’s propensity for postseason flameouts, which is why Maxey is the X-factor for the Sixers.
Although he hasn’t taken the leap that some fans might’ve expected this season, Maxey has still managed to increase his scoring with similar efficiency to last year. The young guard provides Philly with a downhill presence that goes against the team’s slow and methodical attack, which could be crucial when refs swallow their whistles and Embiid/Harden have an off-game.
Impressively, Maxey is running a high volume of pick and rolls (5.8 per game) while averaging a respectable 0.98 points on such possessions (77th percentile), which should alleviate some of Harden’s workload. Something I’d like to see more of, though, is for him to isolate more. Maxey only averages 1.3 isos per game and scores 0.88 points on those possessions (44th percentile), and he should absolutely get more opportunities to go one on one so that Philly has another self-creator on the perimeter in case Harden goes cold.
Even if that doesn’t happen, Maxey’s still developed great chemistry with the Sixers’ stars and will provide crucial secondary scoring for the team.
Tyrese Maxey's March -— Brock Landes (@LandesBrock) March 19, 2023
• 22 PPG
• 57% FG
• 55% 3P
Early rhythm, damage control, scoring in bunches ...
James and Joel got an assassin out there with them pic.twitter.com/9t8fOm0P0Z
Considering everything, Philly definitely has the talent to not only come out of the East, but win the whole thing — if Embiid stays healthy and Harden doesn’t disappear. As we all know, that’s a huge “if” due to their history, but given that this is the best Sixers team in the Embiid era, perhaps things will break right for once.
This week, please check out Bruno’s article on how we should measure a good defensive quarter for the Spurs! It’s an interesting read and well-written as always.
Thanks for reading!
All stats courtesy of Cleaning the Glass and NBA Stats.