It's the beginning of March and the Sixers have won 34 games. Last year, they won 28. The year before that? 10. They won 19 the year before that. It's been a long, bumpy ride for the Process bus, but here we are in 2018 with our Philadelphia 76ers in the midst of a playoff chase in hopes of nabbing their first berth since the 2011-12 season. Over their last 12 games, they've won nine, they sit in the sixth spot in the East and have a very talented core of young...yes I'm saying it...young talent that is making noise across the NBA. So, what gives?
On Sunday night, the Sixers suffered a bad loss in Milwaukee, turning the ball over a season-high 26 times. They led by 20 in the first half, 19 in the third, but the Bucks scored nearly 40 points off of Sixers miscues in what was an immature, undisciplined loss. So, instead of being reasonable and chalking this one up to sloppy play or being fatigued after playing three games in four nights, it's only right that Sixers twitter took to their keyboards to criticize the team, suggest a coaching change and just assume they have not changed since their woeful month of December. How different of you, Sixers twitter. Also, please never compare Ben Simmons to MCW ever.
"Shocked Simmons' shot is still so ugly looking. Did this team not learn a thing from the MCW mess, and his bad shooting?" - Negative Facebook rando
The Turnover Issue
Let's put some things into perspective here. Last night's loss was bad. The "young team" excuse is getting old for some, but for a team that has won nine of their last 12, it's okay to not have an emotional breakdown and start being overly critical on a team that is still at least a year or two away from contending. Turnovers have been an issue for this team all season, but since the turn of the calendar year, they've been much better about taking care of the ball.
The Sixers are averaging 16.5 turnovers per game this season. In December, they averaged 18.5 per game but cut that down to 15.4 in January and 15.2 in February. In March, they are averaging 15.3. While that still may seem like a lot, little improvements have to be noticed rather than just looking at one game and assuming nothing has changed.
In December alone, the Sixers turned the ball over 20+ in four games. Since the start of 2018, they only have five games with 20+ turnovers, which spans over two months. They've actually turned the ball over less than 10 times in four games during the new year, something they didn't do at all in 2017. In 2018, the Sixers have 14 games with 15 turnovers or less and eight with 12 or less.
Again, those numbers still need to be cut down, but the narrative that the turnover issue has never been fixed is just silly, because it's been improving. Instead of looking at the big picture after a 26-turnover loss to Milwaukee, minds get focused on one game. You also have to realize that the Sixers play at one of the fastest paces in the league. Turnovers are going to happen. Heck, Golden State is 28th in the NBA in turnovers. Obviously the difference is the shooting with the Warriors, and you hope the Sixers eventually have that "problem" too, but if you think there will ever be a time where they will be averaging less than 12 turnovers a game with their pace of play, it's unlikely.
Let me end on this. Night's with 26 turnovers are unacceptable and it shows a lack of discipline on a young team with some impatient fans that would call for Brett Brown's job even if they made it to the second round and got swept, but it's equally on the players and the coaches for that.
Brett Brown does not make the passes, Brett Brown doesn't do the shooting and Brett Brown cannot go on the court and stop Robert Covington from taking three's. Ladies and gents, the players on the Sixers are professional athletes...paid to play the NBA game at a high level. If they aren't doing that, it is equally on them. Coaching can fix some things, but execution is on the players.
Firing Brett Brown would be a stupid, stupid move
There are three types of Sixers fans in this world. The first is a process soldier. This type of fan followed the team through the dark years of the process, filled with G-League lineups and center logjams. This type of fan believes in the future of this team and believes in the coach, despite growing pains. The second type of fan is the bipolar fan. If the Sixers are winning, all is well. They act like all is good and are behind their team. If they lose though, especially a game like Sunday against Milwaukee...it's like the good never happened. Fire the coach, make Ben Simmons shoot three's, etc etc. The third type of fan is just a negative Ned/Nancy (we are gender equal here at Sports Talk Philly). They've wanted Brett Brown gone all year, they criticize the team and players even after a win and just don't believe in what the team has moving forward.
The second two fan types (bipolar, negative Ned/Nancy) are the main offenders of the fire Brett Brown brigade. If you are reading this and you have wanted to fire him all year...well, congrats...props to you for sticking with your opinion. As for those who pick-and-choose when he should be fired, well...you are just causing a headache for you, your Twitter followers (likely under 150) and your friends (you probably don't have a ton) who enjoy watching this team no matter what.
Brett Brown is not a completely innocent man in the grand scheme of all of this. He has to shoulder blame for some things. But first, let's look at some of the good. The Sixers are in the top-10 in points per game and top-11 in field-goal percentage. Not bad for a team that only has a few pure shooters. Also, they rank first in rebounds and third in the league in assists. Philadelphia ranks 4th in the NBA in defensive rating (102.8), 7th in net rating (2.7), 7th in steals per game (8.3). Since the turn of the calendar year, the Sixers are tied with the Utah Jazz in first with a defensive rating of 102.0. For a guy that preaches defense, the young Sixers are living up to their reputation more often than not.
The bad? Well, turnovers are the glaring issue. They are last in the NBA with 16.5 per game. Opponents average 19.6 points off of Sixers turnovers per game, also last in the NBA. Brown's rotations have been questionable most of the year, but with the additions of Belinelli and Ilyasova, there is much more versatility off the bench. No longer does Brown have to rely on TLC or Jerryd Bayless to provide a scoring punch off the bench. For a team that has had a gigantic depth issue all season, you cannot ignore how he's led the group to be one of the best defensive squads in the league. Philadelphia also fouls more than most teams in the league, 22.4 personal fouls per game to be exact.
J.J. Redick said one of the primary reasons he came to Philadelphia was Brett Brown. Ersan Ilyasova opted to take the veteran minimum to come back to the Sixers and Brett Brown was one of the large deciding factors. Say what you want about Brown, but because of his effort and poise during the entire process, he's earned the respect of many players across the league, dating back to his time with the Spurs.
If you hope the Sixers part ways with Brown, you'll probably be extremely disappointed. There are no signs that he's on the hot seat and he not only has the respect of the locker room, but has also been with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz since day one and has played a huge part in their development and positive attitude through injury.
If you are on the fire Brett Brown train, that's okay...but can I ask who you'd choose to replace him? I'd opt against Jim O'Brien and Lloyd Pierce (even though I like him).
It's okay to be critical, but let's also be realistic
We all want the players on our favorite basketball team to become successful. In the perfect world, Ben Simmons would have a good looking jump shot and would be aggressive all game. Joel Embiid would take less three's and turn the ball over less. Markelle Fultz would regain his old shooting form and become the missing puzzle piece this team needs. That's all not going to happen...not at once.
Ben Simmons is a phenomenal talent. He's averaging 16.5 points per game (without a consistent jumper), 7.7 rebounds and 7.5 assists as a rookie. This is his first year in the league and his jump shot will come. Heck, he's been more comfortable with it recently. At this point, Simmons is most comfortable facilitating and finding open teammates and he's very good at doing so. There are times he disappears and becomes too passive and that is something that will need to be improved upon. Again, we're in year one. The guy is averaging nearly 17 points per game without a jump shot. Don't expect him to all of a sudden start coming out and shooting three's.
Joel Embiid is the heart of this team. Any one that argues otherwise should be punched. Simmons is great, Dario has been awesome this year, but the team goes as Embiid goes, whether you like it or not. Joel is a force in the post and can hit the three ball better than most guys his size. He just passed the 82 game mark, averaging 22.4 points, 9.9 boards and 2.0 blocks. Embiid has the 2nd most post attempts in the league behind just LaMarcus Aldridge and is the only guy on the Sixers who you can give the ball to in the post and he'll make something of it. At 23 years of age, turnovers are Embiid's biggest problem. Some days he tries to carry the weight of the entire team and it ends up in sloppy passes.
Lastly, it's time we stop using "bust" to describe Markelle Fultz. It's frustrating as hell that we have to witness another top pick sit out for such a long time. This one has been even more difficult, because the injury isn't a broken bone or a torn ligament. He practically has to relearn his shot, which sounds bonkers and I'm not even sure I believe it. The guy has played in four NBA games and I know Jayson Tatum could have been ours, but he isn't. Have we not seen the "Joel Embiid is Greg Oden 2.0" tweets age terribly? Ben Simmons was called a bust too, and he had a broken foot. Let's give the kid time to heal and more than four games to determine him a bust. If you get a rise out of thinking of what could have been with Jayson Tatum, well, that's fine...but we here at Sixerdelphia are holding out hopes for Markelle.
I'm now at 1800+ words, so if you've made it this far, thanks for reading. Our Sixers have 34 wins in 2018. They won 10 games two seasons ago. They are a young team figuring out life in the NBA. Everything will be okay, so it's unnecessary to freak out after every loss. Instead, let's believe in what they have going and push them to be the best versions of themselves on the court.