Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, January 27, 2017 at 9:45 AM
The Philadelphia 76ers have been the butt of jokes in the NBA for several years now, as they’ve deliberately tanked seasons to get high draft picks. The 76ers have been below 20 wins per year each season since the strike-shortened year of 2012. They haven’t had a winning season in a full 82-game schedule since 2005. That latter streak likely won’t change this year, but at 17-27, the 76ers are moving back to respectability. And, from the standpoint of an NBA bettor they’ve turned into a profitable investment.
Philadelphia is 26-17-1 against the spread and have been particularly tough at home, where the ATS mark is 16-8-1. As you might expect, they’ve been in the underdog role in every game except three and all of their ATS covers have come as a dog.
The reason is defense. Head coach Brett Brown is out of the Greg Popovich school in San Antonio and Brown’s putting a team on the court that competes on the defensive end of the floor. They rank 11th in defensive efficiency. That sort of effort is the key to being a value investment at home.
Philadelphia’s slew of high draft picks haven’t been as important as a casual observer might think. Ben Simmons hasn’t seen the floor yet this season and won’t until after the All-Star break. Nerlens Noel has been a disaster and is playing (and talking) his way out of town. Jahlil Okafor has been respectable when he’s on the court, averaging 11 points/5 rebounds per game, but Okafor has only played in 31 games and averages a modest 23 minutes in those games.
The one high pick that has come through is Joel Embiid. The center out of Kansas has emerged, with an per-game average of 20 points/8 rebounds. His shotblocking skill supports the defensive effort. Here too though, there are health concerns.
Embiid’s back problems from college followed him to the NBA and this is the first year he’s been able to contribute effectively. Even at that, Embiid only averages 25 minutes per game. It speaks to his talent that he puts up those kinds of numbers in limited minutes, but those shorter minutes—as well the fact he’s currently day-to-day—speak to the larger concerns about durability.
What Brown has produced is a team with a lot of role players that play hard. On a team with all these college stars, it’s Robert Covington out of East Tennessee State that’s the only one to play more than 39 minutes per game. He averages 11 points/6 rebounds. Ersan Ilyasova averages 15/6 and is a castoff from Milwaukee. Sergio Rodriguez and T.J. McConnell have stepped up as playmakers after an early-season injury to Jerryd Bayless. Gerald Henderson and Dario Saric each chip in to support the offense.
Philadelphia still has significant needs. Their offensive efficiency is the worst in the league and they need a sniper from three-point range to open things up. Nik Stauskas has the skill set to do that and if he improves, so will the team.
What’s important to note now though is that the 76ers have done more than simply avoid being the league laughingstock. They’re an honest-to-goodness moneymaker at the betting window.