The Philadelphia 76ers, fueled by Ben Simmons’s sixth triple-double of the season, overcame a 24-point second-half deficit to beat the Miami Heat on Wednesday night. Per Elias, they join the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors as the only teams this season to come back after trailing by 24 points or more in the second half of a game.
There was a time, not too long ago, that the 76ers exemplified futility. When the City of Brotherly Love was home to a team that intentionally sought out losses, setting the record for consecutive defeats among North America’s four major professional sports leagues. In each of the past four seasons, the listless franchise won no more than 28 games.
Monday night, the team won its 29th game this season, with more than one-third of its regular season slate remaining. Coach Brett Brown’s club is performing far better than its 30-25 record suggests, outscoring opponents by 2.8 points per 100 possessions, the seventh-best mark in the league and on pace to be the first time since the 2011-12 campaign that the team produced a positive net rating. Moreover, all of this is coming against the toughest schedule in the league thus far.
According to the Simple Rating System — a schedule-adjusted margin of victory metric, denominated in points above or below average, where average is zero — what Brown’s resurgent 76ers have accomplished this season is no less than the NBA’s biggest two-year turnaround this century and the second-biggest since the league’s current weighted lottery system was put in place in 1990.
During Philadelphia’s 10-72 campaign in 2015-16, the 76ers produced an SRS of minus-9.9, meaning they were 10 points per game worse than the average team that season. This season’s SRS of 2.6, then, represents a spike of 12.5 points per game, which, if we exclude the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, is the largest two-season SRS jump since the San Antonio Spurs jumped 15.1 points from 1996-97 to 1998-99. Of the 10 most-improved teams since 1990, three reached the NBA Finals and two won championships.
|San Antonio Spurs||1996-97 to 1998-99||+15.1|
|Philadelphia 76ers||2015-16 to 2017-18||+12.5|
|Detroit Pistons||1994-95 to 1996-97||+12.5|
All but one of the teams that reached the conference finals the past five seasons posted an SRS exceeding plus-2.6. Philadelphia’s SRS score of plus-2.6 this season ranks third in the Eastern Conference and eighth overall, indicating this team is far more competitive than the No. 7 seed it currently occupies. It’s also worth noting that last season, the Toronto Raptors were seeded third, but ranked first in the East in SRS and went on to reach the conference semifinals. In 2012, when the 76ers were the No. 8 seed but ranked third in the conference in SRS, they knocked off top-seeded Chicago in the opening round. In 2010, seventh-seeded San Antonio ranked second in the West in SRS and knocked off second-seeded Dallas in the opening round. Nine out of the 10 teams that reached the conference finals the past five seasons posted an SRS lower than 2.6.
After Wednesday night’s comeback win over the Heat, Philadelphia is barreling toward a 47-win season and its first playoff berth since 2012 — Basketball Reference’s projections give the 76ers a 98 percent playoff probability and a 7.6 percent chance of winning the Eastern Conference finals.
|2017-18 76ers||Chance at …|
|Making the playoffs||98%|
|Winning the Eastern conference finals||9%|
|Winning the 2018 NBA championship||2%|
What’s more, the 76ers are the seventh-youngest team in the league in 2017-18, a rarity given the degree of rapid improvement — often more related to adding veteran talent than youth development. When the Tim Duncan-led Spurs made the leap, the roster was the fifth oldest. When the Isiah Thomas-led Pistons made the leap, the team was one of the 11 oldest in the NBA. Three of Brown’s four leading scorers are under 24, meaning this rapid rise will likely continue on into the coming seasons rather than taper off.
Former 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie’s frustrating approach to team building rubbed enough the wrong way that he was axed before he could see “The Process” evolve into what it is today. From hapless to redoubtable, the 76ers no longer epitomize the worst of the league; Philadelphia is ready to contend.
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