Game Preview | Approaching Break, Turnovers Trending in Right Direction

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

Scene Setter:

It was a small number, but it represented a big subplot from Sunday’s victory over the LA Clippers.

In closing out a game in convincing fashion for a 112-98 win, the 76ers committed just a single turnover in the fourth quarter.

“That’s excellent for us,” Brett Brown said afterwards.  

It also stood as an encouraging sign for a club that’s made a concerted effort all season long to tighten up its ball security.

While the Sixers are by no means out of the woods yet in respect to the turnover issues they’ve been working on this season, they have been trending in the right direction of late. Heading into Monday’s match-up with the New York Knicks (7:00 PM EST; NBC Sports Philadelphia, 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network), the Sixers were giving the ball away a respectable 14.3 times per 100 possessions over their past 10 games. 

Compare that rate to their 17.6 turnovers per 100 possessions in all games preceding this stretch, and you’ve got tangible evidence that some progress is being made. Furthermore, three of the Sixers’ lowest turnover games of the season have come in the last 10 games - the gave up a season-low 8 turns on Jan. 31 at Brooklyn, 9 on Jan. 26 at San Antonio, and 10 on Feb. 2 versus Miami.

As for factors that have contributed to the Sixers’ modest turnaround, we might as well zoom in on the recent efforts of the team’s most active ball-handler.

By a wide margin, Ben Simmons passes the ball more frequently than not just any other Sixer, but anyone else in the NBA (75.9 passes per game). Prior to a slight uptick in turnovers last week, he had gone six consecutive contests without giving the ball away more than three times, which included a pair of impressive zero-turnover games in a back-to-back set against Miami and Indiana.

Simmons’ strides weren’t lost on Brown, who’s found his first-year point man to be coachable and prideful in his attempts to reduce cough-ups.

“We don’t hide from anything, and he’s got the intellect and discipline to fix it,” Brown said last week. “That’s an endearing quality, and a necessary quality as a professional sports person, let alone a rookie.”

When cast in a certain light, and, quite frankly, a fair light, Simmons’ turnovers take on a different hue, of sorts. Given how often he has the ball in his hands, the freedom the Sixers have given him to run the offense, the uptempo pace of the offense, and the relative lack of professional experience he still has, that the Aussie errs every now and then is understandable.

There’s also the matter of Simmons’ approach. His mindset, first and foremost, is to play-make. Boasting prodigious anticipation, vision, and passing touch, regardless of his 6-10 size, Simmons considers it one of his greatest responsibilities to be aggressive, and get teammates involved.

“I think it just comes with the way I play,” Simmons said, when asked about turnovers, and the strides he’s made in that area. “I try to make tough passes, and get guys open from different positions.”

Simmons then went on to make a relevant, thoughtful point.

Check out the first four names on the league’s individual turnover chart, and you’ll find nothing but All-Stars and MVPs. The list, in descending order, goes as follows: DeMarcus Cousins, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, and James Harden.

Joel Embiid ranks fifth, followed by Simmons.

For Simmons, there’s a degree of comfort, reassurance, and confidence even, it seemed, that comes with keeping this type of company.

“When you do look at the guys top in the turnover rate, it’s some of the elite players,” he said. “It’s not a great thing, but at the same time, it means you’re doing something right in terms of trying to get guys open, and taking risky passes.”

Brown understands this, too, and thinks Simmons’ “fearless” mindset is a key element to what makes the 21-year old so dangerous.

Whether it’s managing late-game situations; operating in open court or half court; or handling other judgment call scenarios, like whether to dump the ball inside to his All-Star big man, or swing the ball outside to a shooter; Brown sees plenty of promise in his Australian protege.

“The turnovers, we all understand what we’re trying to do as an organization with our young team, trying to avoid as many as we can,” said Brown. “Ben’s determination to recognize that, admit it, and fix it has stood out.”

And ushered in individual and collective improvement.  

 Opponent Outlook:

The New York Knicks make their first regular season visit to South Philadelphia Monday amidst their rockiest stretch of the year, having lost six consecutive games, the latest of which came Sunday at the Indiana Pacers, 121-113. Amidst this rut, New York also lost its best player, first-time All-Star Kristaps Porzingis, who sustained a left knee ACL tear a week ago in a defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks. The Knicks were active at last week’s trade deadline, sending Doug McDermott to the Dallas Mavericks as part of a three-way deal that also involved the Denver Nuggets. In return, New York picked up Emmanuel Mudiay, the 21-year old point guard whom Denver chose seventh overall in the 2015 draft. 

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