The Sixers have had the most or second-most turnovers in the NBA every season during Brett Brown’s five-year tenure. They led the league with 16.5 turnovers per game last season. Chances are, you’re familiar with those stats.

This preseason, the Sixers averaged 20.5 turnovers per game. Not an encouraging sign.

How important is it for those numbers to start moving in a different direction? 

The answer may seem obvious — the fewer turnovers the better. But for the Sixers, it’s not so simple.

Brown has said on several occasions that the Sixers’ turnovers are, in part, a product of playing at a fast pace. 

And he’s correct that teams who push the ball as the Sixers do aren’t going to be near the bottom of the league in turnovers — the Sixers had the fourth-fastest pace in the NBA last season. But they also had the highest turnover percentage (16.3). Their style of play isn’t a valid excuse for turning the ball over more than any team in basketball.

To his credit, Brown understands that. He knows the team has plenty of preventable turnovers — poor decisions from Joel Embiid out of double-teams; Ben Simmons looking for miracle passes that just aren’t available.

“The turnovers are a result of young players trying to, at times, do too much,” Brown told reporters after the Sixers’ third preseason game in Shanghai. “Joel and Ben are our two best players and they get a lot of attention defensively.”


Embiid has noted that cutting down on turnovers was one of his priorities this offseason. But he wasn’t great in that area during preseason play, averaging four turnovers per game. Simmons had 18 turnovers, including seven in the preseason finale.

New lead assistant coach Monty Williams has a unique perspective on the Sixers’ turnover woes. At Brown’s clinic for local coaches on Sep. 17, Williams explained how he views the balance between playing with freedom and taking care of the ball:

You look at turnovers from a whole league perspective, Golden State won the title last year and they averaged 15.4 turnovers, [26th] in the league. So being in the top five in the turnovers category does not guarantee you a championship. There are a couple of teams, if you study those turnovers, they’ve been in the top five for the past four years and don’t win.

I think there’s a balance. The players today have more creativity than when I played. To allow that creativity to grow, there’s a give and take. Now, what’s the right balance? I’m not quite sure about that. But I do know that being in the top five or even the top 10 in turnovers does not guarantee you success.

It’s hard to argue with Williams’ stance. The Mavericks had the fewest turnovers in the league last season, and they finished 24-58. And Williams certainly has a fair point about not wanting to place excessive restrictions on a brilliant playmaker like Simmons. 

For the Sixers, though, the goal clearly shouldn’t be to turn the ball over less than anyone in the league — that’s just never going to happen, and if they tried, the result would be a slow, risk-averse, ineffective offense.

But giving the opposition free possessions does matter, at least when you do it as much as the Sixers have in recent times. 

Since the NBA started tracking team turnovers in 1973-74, only one team has led the league in turnovers and made the NBA Finals — the 2011-12 Thunder. No team has topped the NBA in turnovers and won the championship during that period.

The Sixers’ goal this season is to win the Eastern Conference (see story). That’s a tough task on its face. And if they can’t make at least a modest reduction in their turnovers, it’s going to be an even bigger challenge. 

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