Brett Brown has been asked about turnovers many times during his six-plus years as head coach of the Sixers. They are a concern, he has acknowledged often.
“Our turnovers continue to haunt us and we can’t let it go,” he said in December of 2016.
“It is on me, and it keeps us up late at night,” he admitted a little over a year later.
On March 13, 2018, Brown said of the Sixers’ turnover woes, “As a team, we have to get better. Some of it I have to own.”
So, in one sense, what Brown had to say Sunday night about the Sixers’ turnovers shouldn’t be shocking. He hasn’t shirked away from this problem. And, for the most part, it’s been an issue that’s gnawed at the Sixers throughout his tenure. The team has finished either 29th or 30th in turnovers in the NBA every season under Brown besides last year, when they were 25th. After recording 20 turnovers Sunday in a 114-106 win over the Hornets, the 6-3 Sixers are last in the league with 18.8 turnovers per game. But Brown’s comments Sunday were perhaps as impassioned as we’ve heard him on the subject.
This is what I tell the team: Until we can fix this, this is a house built on sand. 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.
Like in years past, there are a variety of reasons the Sixers have committed this volume of turnovers. Joel Embiid inflated the number by coughing it up eight times in the Mile High City. There are two new starters in Josh Richardson and Tobias Harris, and some new players coming off the bench. As Brown said, though, youth is no longer a good excuse.
“That’s definitely our biggest flaw right now,” Richardson said. “I think sometimes we get careless. And I think sometimes we get too unselfish, too. On possessions where you get a decent look and pass it up and then we end up turning it over. It’s like, could we really have gotten a better look at it? But I think that’s a good problem to have. I think we’ve just gotta watch the film and figure out what we’re doing wrong outside of that.”
It’s possible to turn the ball over a lot and still go far as a team. Last year, Monty Williams — at the time an assistant with the Sixers, now the head coach of the Suns — noted that “being in the top five or even the top 10 in turnovers does not guarantee you success.”
The Sixers have mitigated some of their turnovers by being the best offensive rebounding team in the league. They’re also forcing 16.8 turnovers per game, over four more than they did in 2018-19. The turnovers hurt, but perhaps not as badly as they would for a team also losing possessions in those other categories.
“That’s been our biggest thing this year,” Tobias Harris said. “A lot of them have just come from — like myself today, I had two travels in the beginning. We’re going to find each other and our spots and how we want to play, things we can do to execute better. If we can just limit to half of those, protect the ball a little bit better, I think that will help us out a whole lot.”
Cutting their turnovers in half would lead the Sixers to be the best in the league at taking care of the ball, so that’s likely not a realistic goal. But Harris’ overall point is fair. It’s not this simple, but if the Sixers could, in each game, eliminate an unforced turnover, an excessively unselfish turnover, and a “new guys getting used to each other” turnover, that would go a long way.
The NBA started officially recording turnovers in the 1977-78 season. No team has both led the league in turnovers and won an NBA title since then.
“I think a lot of them were guys mean[ing] well and trying to make certain reads,” Horford said. “We’re just not necessarily clicking how we need to be. Maybe some plays are there … we’re just getting to know each other. Also, we have to be more conscious about taking care of the ball. I believe that as the season goes on, we’ll be fine.”
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