Why Sixers' turnover problem is mind-boggling

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Why Sixers' turnover problem is mind-boggling

Brett Brown is very aware of the problem. And it eats away at him just like it does to you.

To say the Sixers have an issue with turnovers is a severe understatement. There are teams in your local rec league that have better ball security.

In Brown’s four full seasons as head coach of the Sixers, the team finished 30th, 30th, 29th and 30th in turnovers per game. The trend has continued so far this season, as the squad again ranks dead last with a staggering 18.2 turnovers a night.

For a coach that comes from the Spurs’ system under Gregg Popovich where taking care of the basketball is a premium, it’s mind-boggling Brown hasn’t been able to get a handle on the dilemma.

“We’ve got to clean up on it,” Brown said after the Sixers committed 23 turnovers in Thursday’s 114-109 loss to the Raptors (see observations). “You go back, and without getting into too much coach speak, we can identify who and where and when turnovers happen. There are actually breakdowns of what’s this team like in half-court. If the game were just a half-court sport, what do they do? What do they do when it’s an early offense, like the first six seconds of a shot clock? What do they do underneath? What do they do on the side?

“We feel clear we know where the problem lies, but in general, it lies with us and I’m the head coach, and we’ve got to fix it.”

As time has proven over the years, that’s easier said than done. Mainly because the Sixers don’t just commit the expected miscues.

A team is bound to have a player dribble the ball out of bounds off his foot or have an errant pass go off the fingertips into the crowd throughout the course of an NBA game. The trouble comes in with the dreaded live-ball turnovers that tend to lead to points the other way.

The Sixers are 28th in the league in opponents’ points off turnovers with an average of 19.5 per game. That number jumped up to 32 against the Raptors as the team blew a 22-point lead in another crushing defeat.

Dario Saric said of the struggles, “It’s on us as players to fix it.” However, Brown didn’t want to make any excuses and put the onus on himself to figure out a solution.

“Some of that is easy to blame — we play fast … some of our guys are young. Most of them aren’t anymore,” Brown said. “I think when we really critically assess the turnovers, let’s dig deep and understand who, why and when and the world becomes a little bit cleaner. 

“It is something we can talk about, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to fix it. I’m the head coach. It is on me, and it keeps us up late at night.”

Sixers add another twist in bizarre Markelle Fultz injury saga

Sixers add another twist in bizarre Markelle Fultz injury saga

If Markelle Fultz is going to return this season, the decision to do so starts with him, Brett Brown said Saturday.

“When Markelle Fultz feels like he can go, he really feels good about himself and his health, the shoulder, everything, and the medical people support that," Brown said before the Sixers' win over the Timberwolves. "He knows he’s got a coaching staff and a team that will welcome him in when he says go.”

Then asked if the decision-making process begins with Fultz telling the Sixers he wants to play, Brown replied, “Yes.” 

Fultz has been sidelined since Oct. 23 because of a right shoulder injury. His return has not been ruled out, even with 10 games remaining in the regular season. Brown has said a determination would need to be made “soon,” but a cutoff has not been set.

“We understand the closeness of the end of the season,” Brown said. “Every time we speak, it gets a little bit shrunk. But in relation to an exact date, that hasn’t happened.” 

Fultz has been trying to regain the shot that helped make him the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft. For those who don’t get to watch Fultz work behind closed doors, his progress has evaluated through videos from practices, shootarounds and pregame warmups. 

“I think he is quite close,” Brown said. “I think when we all watch the video, we’d all probably agree with that.”

If Fultz were to return, the Sixers would have to rework rotations they have been trying to establish for the playoffs. Fultz’s role as a guard is one that would put the ball in his hands, adding another layer to work through to get incorporated into the system. His return before the postseason would create a myriad of question marks on the court with a limited amount of time to answer them. 

Brown is not correlating a possible Fultz return with the Sixers clinching a spot in the playoffs. They would have locked in one of the top-eight seeds Saturday had the Pistons lost to the Bulls, but the Pistons did not.

“It’s not like the playoff berth will trigger a bunch of other things that will make it easier for him to come back," Brown said. "It isn’t that at all … they’re not interconnected.”

Sixers look like a playoff team in win over Timberwolves

Sixers look like a playoff team in win over Timberwolves


The Timberwolves were an anomaly in a recent stretch of sub-.500 opponents for the Sixers — a playoff contender holding their own without Jimmy Butler in the tough Western Conference.

The Sixers took care of business, 120-108, but it wasn’t without a hitch in the final quarter.

The Sixers had a 98-71 lead after three, a big enough gap for Brett Brown to comfortably sit his starters in the fourth. Well, it should have been a big enough lead. The Timberwolves cut that deficit to 10 points, and Brown turned back to Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Robert Covington, Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova to quiet the Timberwolves’ push.

“For us, we don’t want to go back in,” Simmons said after the game. “We want to see our guys play and finish out the game because we know they’re capable of that. But to see our guys not do that, it’s kind of annoying but we’ve got to get on top of that and everybody has to be ready to play.”

This was a less-than-ideal situation as the Sixers are looking for ways to rest their high-minutes players, particularly Embiid, who had only clocked 22 minutes through three quarters. In total, Embiid and Simmons played less than two minutes apiece in the fourth, but the reserves have to take better control of leads so the starters don’t have to return at all.

"I trust the guys that were on the floor," Embiid said. "We just wanted to make sure we had it locked and that nothing was going to happen. But it was nothing."

The Sixers improved to 42-30. They could have clinched a playoff spot with a Pistons loss to the Bulls, but Detroit won Saturday night, 117-95.

• Simmons needed less than three quarters to record his 10th triple-double of the season: 15 points, 12 rebounds, 13 assists.

• Joel Embiid was having a good time out there on his way to 19 points, six rebounds and three blocks.

• Led by those 13 assists from Simmons, the Sixers dished a total of 33 dimes. Their five-straight games of 30-plus assists are their longest such stretch since December 1981. With assists, turnovers can be just as significant. The Sixers committed 14, equal to the Timberwolves, but gave up only 13 points compared to the Timberwolves’ 22.

• The Eagles continue to show their support for the Sixers: