After the 76ers committed 14 turnovers in the first half and 22 overall in a slim win over the Cavaliers on Tuesday night, miscues became a very hot topic, and they have continued to be a hot topic surrounding the Sixers.
There are arguments to be made from every side of the conversation when it comes to turnovers, so now is as good a time as any to parse through those arguments, look at some numbers, and review the game tape.
First, it is true that the Sixers have the second-highest turnover average in the NBA at 15.6 (tied with the Lakers and Suns). But they also have the second-most passes and touches in the league, and the margin between the Sixers and the Spurs, who commit the fewest turnovers, is just 3.3 turnovers per game.
It’s not as if the Sixers are turning the ball over 22 times nightly, and the difference between worst and best is not that large. The Sixers could absolutely do better, and they will likely have to clean up a tad to make a deep playoff push.
“You can go to specific players and say who are the main culprits and where do they produce the most turnovers and study, and I can coach that,” Brett Brown said Wednesday.
The Sixers are the only team with two players in the top 20 in turnovers per game — not exactly the top-20 list you want to join. In fact, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are both in the top 10, committing 3.6 turnovers each per game.
Most of Simmons’ turnovers are the result of bad passes, and recently, many of those have been passes to players new to the team (Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, Jimmy Butler) or players who haven’t had much playing time (Jonah Bolden, James Ennis, Jonathon Simmons).
This is a turnover that was charged to Simmons, but it’s obviously hard to be mad about it when it’s clear that Bolden wasn’t ready for the pass and bobbled it. This type of turnover has happened often recently, especially with Embiid out of the lineup and Simmons passing to Marjanovic or Bolden.
The hope is that by the time the postseason rolls around, Embiid will be the one on the receiving end of these passes, and less likely to fumble them, and that Harris and Butler will have more time with Simmons so that they can learn each other’s speed and spots better. So, for the time being, the Sixers will live with stuff like this.
This, on the other hand, is the kind of turnover you hate to see: an entry pass on a post-up that is not only telegraphed but also poorly timed. This is where Simmons can clean up. While the intentions are good, Simmons often finds himself passing too early on a cutter or someone on a lob-run to the basket, or too late to a post-up.
It’s hard to imagine that this type of miscue could be coached better. The pass has to come with attention to detail, readiness, and sometimes, patience.
Embiid commits most of his turnovers because he handles the ball too much.
All too often, this is the situation with Embiid. After a pump-fake or a post-up, he will either lose the ball outright with his dribble or see it stolen away.
“There are unforced turnovers, turnovers, things that are on me, things that are on the players. Structurally, you can go to our structure and say these areas produce the most turnovers from a structure point,” Brown said.
By design and structure, Embiid is out on the perimeter. Of the the 249 driving plays Embiid has made this year, he has scored on only 69 (27.7 percent). About 10 percent of the Sixers turnovers come from Embiid drives. This is where he could probably be coached differently.
Embiid has not yet developed his handle enough to cut down on these turnovers, so in the post, that’s on him. Don’t expect him to become an elite ballhandler in the next month. It won’t happen.
There are, of course, other culprits and other turnovers that the Sixers could work to clean up and others that they’ll continue to live with. The turnovers from the JJ Redick-Embiid dribble handoffs are not likely to change much, and the Sixers will definitely live with them because of how often the handoffs generate open looks.
Stepping out of bounds, passing to absolutely nobody, three-second violations — these are all things that can, and should, be tightened up by the time the postseason comes. They aren’t the main culprits, though.
Simmons and Embiid are. But the offense flows through them nearly the entire game, so they are more likely to cough up the ball now and again.