76ers must clean up sloppy play as turnovers could prove to be their fatal flaw this season
For a team pegged by many to win the East, the Sixers have been turning the ball over entirely too much to start the season
The Philadelphia 76ers' start to the 2019-20 NBA season hasn't been bad -- they're 8-5 through 13 games, and sit in fifth place in the East. However, considering their lofty preseason expectations, it has been a bit underwhelming. This relatively slow start could be attributed to a number of factors, including injury issues, new pieces getting accustomed to playing with one another, an untimely suspension for Joel Embiid and a very road-heavy schedule early on.
All of these situations have played a part, but while the team can't control injuries -- or the schedule -- there is one issue that they can control that has also been plaguing them early on: turnovers. The Sixers have been turning the ball over entirely too much for a team with legitimate championship aspirations. Through the first month of the season, the Sixers are 27th in the NBA with 17.5 turnovers per game, and are 29th with a turnover percentage of 17.5. These consistent turnovers have been extremely costly as they have helped keep opponents in games, and even cost the Sixers a couple wins early on.
Against the Magic last week, the Sixers had seven fourth-quarter turnovers, which allowed Orlando to thoroughly outscore Philadelphia in the final period and walk away with a win. Several of the turnovers committed by Philly in that quarter were unforced, too, like this traveling violation from Tobias Harris:
The week before that, the Sixers committed six fourth-quarter turnovers in Denver in a game that they ultimately lost by three points to the Nuggets. Though it's impossible to say for certain, it sure seems likely that had the 76ers been able to trim a couple of those late miscues, they would have been able to secure a road victory. The same could be said about their game against the Suns in Phoenix at the beginning of the month when they had five fourth-quarter turnovers in a game that they lost by five points.
For those that have been paying attention to the Sixers over recent seasons, this will all seem familiar, as the turnover issue isn't a new one. Since Brett Brown took over as head coach at the start of the 2013-14 season, the Sixers have been dead-last in the league in turnovers per game and turnover percentage a whopping four times, and they have never finished better than the mid-20s in either category. This is a lingering issue, and it could ultimately prove to be Philadelphia's fatal flaw this season if the issue isn't addressed, and corrected.
The consistent turnovers were somewhat understandable during Brown's first few years with the team when he was dealing almost exclusively with young players with little or no NBA experience, many of whom were ultimately unable to last in the league. However, those days are in the rear-view mirror, and Brown now has a talented team with experienced players that should know to take better care of the ball. This is a team pegged in the offseason to win the East. Plays like this just aren't unacceptable:
While that play was simply carelessness on the part of Joel Embiid, some of Philadelphia's turnovers are born out of its preferred pace of play. Under Brown, the Sixers are encouraged to play fast and to move the ball. They have finished in the top 10 in team assists per game each of the past three seasons, and are on pace to do so again this season. They are also passing the ball more than almost every other team in the league, and it stands to reason that more passes lead to more turnover opportunities, especially when you're trying to push the pace. Obviously no turnover is a good turnover, but one where a player is trying to make a play for a teammate in transition is easier for Brown to swallow than a careless, or selfish, one.
Brown likely didn't mind Ben Simmons' aggression in the first play below, but he may have had something to say to his young point guard after the second clip.
Ultimately, Brown has to take some responsibility for the apparent culture of on-court carelessness that has developed in Philadelphia, and he has.
"This is what I tell the team: Until we can fix this, this is a house built on sand," Brown said after the Sixers' victory over the Hornets earlier this month. "It is fool's gold. And we have to find a discipline and a better way to control that. Because the turnovers in the first half, some of them were live-ball, a lot of them were just getting things batted out of our hands. We can't fool ourselves -- this is a problem. This is a problem. And we need to own it.
"I'm the head coach, I've gotta find a way to fix it. There needs to be a level of accountability with the players. And that's that. It's not anything that we take lightly -- we don't dismiss it. The times are over when you're looking at some of the young guys and you can justify it. You can't do that anymore. It's time that we get better at that. And the players know it. They understand it. But we better fix it."
While some of the blame certainly falls on Brown's shoulders, the burden of fixing the problem is both his and his players, as he implied in the above quote. As a team, the Sixers have four players that average two or more turnovers per game, and nine that average at least one. Embiid and Simmons, the team's two young stars, are the worst offenders. Simmons leads the team with 3.6 turnovers per game, while Embiid gives the ball away 2.9 times per performance. Both players need to cut back, and Embiid could do so by simply not trying to force the action so much and instead take what the defense gives him.
In the play below, Embiid should just take the foul line jumper, but he instead dribbles into traffic and tries to force a pass that results in a turnover.
It's plays like that that Embiid -- and the Sixers as a whole -- need to eliminate, or at least drastically cut back on in order to reach their full potential as a team. My old high school coach used to tell us that he'd rather we launched a shot from half court with one hand than turn the ball over, because with the heave there's at least a chance that the ball will go in, or provide an opportunity for an offensive rebound. With the turnover, there's no chance for point production. This is a lesson that the Sixers clearly still need to learn.
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