By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
Optimism is the feeling of the day among Philadelphia 76ers fans. Despite finishing toward the bottom of the standings once again last season, fans are understandably pumped that the team has its young stable of talent in place, with some of those pieces possessing true superstar upside. The prospect of one, or possibly two, high lottery picks added to the fold this summer only increases the anticipation for next fall.
Therefore, it’s not ridiculous that the word playoffs are getting thrown around a lot in regard to next season. I mean, the team played one good month of ball back in January and everyone from Joel Embiid to your local street vendor was talking playoffs for the team last season. I was as caught up in the whirlwind of excitement as anyone. But, while the playoffs are certainly a worthy and attainable goal, especially in the (L)eastern conference, let me add a dash of cold reality for why it’s not the “certainty” many Sixers fans believe.
To succeed in the league, teams need to be able to take care of the basketball. It’s no coincidence that the bottom four teams in the NBA – the Nets, Suns, Lakers, and Sixers – all finished in the bottom 6 of the league in turnover percentage. The Process-era Sixers have been particularly horrific in this regard, finishing last in the NBA last season with a 16.4 TOV%, next-to-last with a 16.2 TOV% in 2015-16, last at 17.9 TOV% in 2014-15, and last at 16.4 TOV% in 2013-14.
Sure, a lot of that was due to an abundance of sub-replacement level talent on the roster over the years. As the young players continue to learn the game at the pro level, and the organization brings in more established veterans, those numbers are bound to improve. When you finish no better than 29th in the league in turnover rate, there’s nowhere to go but up after all.
However, it’s probably not going to be an overnight turnaround heading into next season, especially considering the two players around whom the offense will be centered. As incredible as Joel Embiid was in his rookie season, he did have a looks-like-a-typo-bad 39.9 TOV%. Despite his severe minutes restrictions, the big man still had 3.8 turnovers per game, the 5th-highest mark in the league. Learning to dominate the game without turning it over 2 out of every 5 plays he has the ball is the next stage in his evolution. I’ll remind you that evolution doesn’t usually happen rapidly.
Then there’s Ben Simmons, who had a 17.4 TOV% himself in his lone season at LSU, a year that featured two 8-turnover games and one 7-turnover line. Granted, Simmons had less help around him than your average blue-chip college prospect, but a 1.42:1 assist-to-turnover ratio doesn’t exactly scream prudence with the basketball. Small sample size of 6 games, but even in last year’s summer league, his A/T ratio was again only 1.44:1. The facts that Simmons is shifting full time to the “point guard” role and adapting to the NBA game after a year off the court should both make it difficult for him to clean up those turnover woes immediately.
Now, I’m not saying fans shouldn’t be optimistic about the future or excited about seeing these guys on the court together during the upcoming season, especially if the lottery gods are particularly kind next month. The team is absolutely heading in the right direction and these young guys appear fully capable of being franchise-altering talents. I’m just pointing out that maybe the playoffs-or-bust mentality should be curbed a bit. Simmons, Embiid, and whoever else is brought on board via the draft are all going to have their growing pains, and learning to take care of the basketball is a big part of that growth. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither was the Process.