Turnovers continue to plague Sixers
Though by and large they have been playing good - sometimes great - basketball since the calendar flipped over to 2018, the Philadelphia 76ers continue to struggle to take care of the ball.
On the season, the Sixers lead the entire NBA with 17.2 turnovers per game, and those turnovers – especially when committed down the stretch of games – contribute directly to the team consistently losing [large] leads, and in turn, games.
Look no further than the team’s 108-100 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday night as an example of the glaring turnover problem. In a contest with big-time Eastern Conference playoff implications, the Sixers committed a season-high 26(!) turnovers and those turnovers led directly to 36 points for the Bucks in what would have been an otherwise winnable game. Had the Sixers been able to cut those total turnovers in half – or even down by a third – they would have been able to walk away with a win.
And the loss to Milwaukee was far from an outlier. Instead, it was just the latest in a long line of games this season in which the Sixers’ inability to consistently take care of the ball has cost them in the win column.
As the team’s two offensive catalysts – and the guys that have the ball in their hands the most - Joel Embiid (3.9 turnovers per game) and Ben Simmons (3.6) are the biggest culprits, but it is a team-wide issue, as there are six Sixers – Embiid, Simmons, Saric, Covington, McConnell, and Redick - that average at least 1.6 turnovers per game.
There are a couple of easy explanations for the sheer volume of turnovers that the Sixers commit, the first simply being youth and inexperience. Young teams tend to turn the ball over a lot, and the Sixers are the second-youngest team in the entire NBA this season, and they have a rookie in Simmons as the primary ball-handler. The simple logic here is that young players turn the ball over, and it typically takes some time – via ample actual game experience – for players to learn to take better care of the ball.
(For what it’s worth, I have faith that both Simmons and Embiid will be able to trim down their TPG numbers as their careers continue).
Additionally, many of the players on the Sixers roster are playing with each other for the first time this season, and thus they don’t have previous on-court relationships built with each other. Chemistry takes time, and though the Sixers have been building it throughout the season, attaining chemistry to a level similar to that of teams whose cores have been together for years isn’t going to come without growing pains. It can be frustrating, especially considering how good the team can look at times, but it is important to remember just how inexperienced the Sixers are as a unit this year.
Lastly, the Sixers’ style and pace of play contributes directly to the number of team turnovers – a fact that Brett Brown has acknowledged, and accepted. The Sixers play at the fifth-fastest pace league-wide (101.35), and they also pass the ball more than any other team (349.4 passes per game). With more possessions, more opportunities to score and more open looks comes more turnovers.
But, just because some of the turnovers can be explained doesn’t mean that they should be accepted. The team has to do better, especially if they want to make any serious noise in the postseason this year. Embiid and Simmons specifically have to be smarter with the ball and learn not to force the action as much, and the entire team needs to start to valuing possessions a bit more.
My high school coach always used to tell us that he would rather that we shoot the ball backwards from halfcourt rather than turn it over, because with the halfcourt shot there was at least a chance that we would score – or get the rebound – whereas the turnover was a complete waste of a possession. This is a lesson that the Sixers should take to heart, because if - and when - they can cut back on their turnovers, they will become an even more dangerous team.
Follow Michael Kaskey-Blomain on Twitter @therealmikekb.