Four key numbers behind 76ers’ strong start to 2023-24 NBA season
The Philadelphia 76ers are off to a strong start to the 2023-24 NBA season. After dropping the first game of the season to the Bucks in Milwaukee, the Sixers went on to win seven straight games. Through eight games, they're top six in both offensive and defensive net rating, and second league-wide in overall net rating, behind only the Boston Celtics -- a team Philadelphia already bested once. Obviously, this level of play needs to be maintained throughout the rest of the regular season and well into postseason play before fans in Philly will be doing any celebrating, but so far, so good for the Sixers under new head coach Nick Nurse.
Here's a look at four key numbers behind Philadelphia's early success.
8 - Total number of turnovers by Tyrese Maxey
For the first time in his professional career, Tyrese Maxey has been tasked with being the primary playmaker and ballhandler for Philadelphia. The first year of his career he spent playing behind Ben Simmons, and the past season and a half he spent alongside James Harden -- an extremely ball-dominant player.
So, heading into the current campaign there were some [legitimate] questions regarding Maxey's chops as a lead guard. His ability as a scorer and shooter was evident, but his playmaking -- and ability to run an offense -- was more of a question. Obviously it's only been eight games, but Maxey has done his best to put such doubt to bed. He's averaging 7.5 assists per game -- good for eighth in the entire NBA.
More impressive than the raw assist numbers, though, is how well Maxey has taken care of the ball. He's averaging just one turnover per performance so far. That's a total of just eight on the season. That's extremely impressive given how much he has the ball in his hands and the fact that it's his first time orchestrating an NBA offense on a full-time basis. Taking care of the ball gives Philadelphia extra possessions on the offensive end, and also limits transition opportunities for opponents.
100.94 - Philadelphia's pace this season
Speaking of extra possessions on the offensive end, the Sixers are getting a couple more of those by playing with a faster pace this season. For those unaware, pace measures the number of possessions a team gets per a regular 48 minute contest. Last season, the Sixers played with a pace of 97.75, which was the fourth-slowest in the NBA. They played at an even slower pace (96.71) the previous year.
So far this season, they're playing with a pace of 100.94 -- 11th league-wide. It may not seem significant, but that's over two more possessions that the team is getting on the offensive end this year, and that could ultimately make a major difference, especially in a close game.
5.5 - Joel Embiid's assist per game average
James Harden led the league in assists per game last season. So his departure meant that other guys on the Sixers roster were going to have pick up the playmaking production. Maxey has shouldered the largest load here -- increasing his per game assist average from 3.5 last season to 7.5 this season -- but Joel Embiid has also stepped it up in the playmaking department.
Through eight games, Embiid is averaging a career high 5.5 assists per game (his previous career high is 4.2). Part of the improvement can be credited to Embiid's development, as he has improved as a passer and defense-reader over the course of his career. Part of it is also likely due to Nurse's offensive system, which features more movement. There are more cutters and more movement by players not involved in the primary action, and that has resulted in increased open scoring opportunities.
58.9 - Tobias Harris' shooting percentage
While a bulk of the credit for Philadelphia's strong start to the season has gone to the likes of Embiid, Maxey, Nurse and even Kelly Oubre Jr. -- and deservedly so -- Tobias Harris has quietly had an excellent start to the season. Through eight games, he's averaging 19.9 points while shooting a scorching 58.9% from the floor and 40.7% from long range.
He's not forcing anything, but he's playing with confidence and decisiveness. We've seen him consistently put the ball on the floor, get to the rim and finish through contact once there. We've also seen him use his size to his advantage against smaller defenders in the post, and he's letting his catch-and shoot triples fly without hesitation. Harris is a multi-tooled offensive player, and he's living up to his full potential on that end this season.
Nick Nurse deserves a lot of credit for empowering Harris -- letting him bring the ball up after a defensive rebound, initiate offense, and run some plays through him, as opposed to largely relegating him to standing outside of the arc, as Doc Rivers often did. The shooting numbers will likely come back down to earth as the season wears on, but Harris certainly seems comfortable in Nurse's offense.
Follow Michael Kaskey-Blomain on X @therealmikekb.