What do you get when you take Robert Covington, T.J. McConnell, Nik Stauskas, and Ersan Ilyasova and put them together on a basketball court? A rather ordinary foursome of NBA players. What do you get when you add Joel Embiid? A lineup that only 11 other teams in the NBA could match last season. From a certain vantage point, anyway.
It doesn’t take a mathematician to understand that Embiid is one of those rare players who impacts all facets of the game simply through his presence on the court. The guy is 7-foot-2 and 275 pounds. He sticks out.
Nevertheless, the numbers can help us understand just how significant a variable he was for the Sixers during his abbreviated rookie season. And a good place to start is with that aforementioned five-man lineup. Over the course of the season, McConnell, Stauskas, Covington, Ilyasova and Embiid were on the court together for a total of 114 minutes and 30 seconds in 2016-17, according to the play database over at Basketball-Reference.com. During that time, the Sixers outscored their opponents by an average of 107.5-92.4 per 100 possessions, a point differential that only 11 other teams in the NBA could match. Take each team’s best lineup, match them up against each other, and the Sixers ranked 12th, outscoring opponents by an average of 15.1 points.
Best five-man lineup by team, sorted by point differential, minimum 100 minutes played together (per Basketball-Reference)
Now, let’s take a look at what happens when we remove Embiid from the equation and sub in another big man. In the table below, you’ll find three different five-man lineups, and the Sixers production when each was on the court together. The only difference between the three is the player in the post.
Pretty remarkable, isn’t it? When Embiid was on the court with McConnell, Stauskas, Covington and Ilyasova, the Sixers averaged 107.5 points scored and 92.4 points allowed, to outscore their opponents by 15.1 points (per 100 possessions). When Okafor played with the same foursome, the Sixers were outscored by an average of 13.2 points (per 100 possessions). That’s a swing of 28.3 points. With Noel, they were a little better, all of it coming on the defensive end. Nevertheless, the Embiid-led fivesome allowed 17.6 fewer points (per 100 possessions) than the Noel-led fivesome.
The table below offers a bit of a deeper look inside the defensive numbers:
|1||2||3||4||5||Opp Pts||Opp 3P%||Opp FG%||Opp eFG%|
Obviously, Embiid isn’t going to play 48 minutes a night, nor is he going to play all 82 games this season. But when he is on the court, he immediately transforms the Sixers into a playoff contender. Look back at that first table and start subbing in names — Ben Simmons for Ilyasova, J.J. Redick for Stauskas, Markelle Fultz for McConnell — and the ceiling for this team starts to look mighty high. Take Embiid away, and who knows?