Not even the swarm of fans surrounding the Sixers at every stop in China is enough to cover the team’s flaws.
They’ve been there for quite a while and the first of two matchups in the NBA China Games — albeit a 120-114 win over the Dallas Mavericks — was just the latest example that those issues aren’t going away anytime soon.
Sure the Sixers were able to overcome a double-digit deficit for the victory. However, they still committed far too many turnovers and fouls.
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Turnovers have been the franchise’s Achilles heel since Brett Brown took over as head coach. The Sixers have finished 30th, 30th, 29th, 30th and 30th in the category during Brown’s five seasons as head coach.
That trend was evident yet again against the Mavs as the Sixers gave the ball away an alarming 22 times. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were the main culprits with 11 combined turnovers.
“The turnovers are a result of young players trying to, at times, do too much,” Brown told reporters in Shanghai. “Joel and Ben are our two best players and they get a lot of attention defensively.”
That heightened attention from defenses isn’t going to disappear when the regular season starts, especially when opponents know both budding stars are loose with the ball.
The problem is particularly concerning for Embiid, who now has 12 giveaways in three preseason games, since the All-Star highlighted ball security as an area he worked on in the offseason.
“It is maybe the most important area for Joel’s growth — how does he pass out of the post — because he’s that good he will be double-teamed a lot,” Brown said. “The turnovers with both Ben and Joel are areas we need to get better in.”
But those aren’t the only concerns for the Sixers, who have watched their habit of fouling drag into another season so far.
The Sixers ranked 29th in both personal fouls (22.1) and opponents’ free throw attempts (25.6) per game a season ago. And after committing just 19 fouls in their preseason opener, the Sixers have recorded 30 and 35 in the two contests that followed.
You can’t pin that high volume of fouls on simply learning some new defensive schemes. All of the Sixers’ length and activity on the defensive end of the floor doesn’t do any good if they’re just sending opposing players to the charity stripe.
“I thought our defense was really being challenged by Dallas. I give Dallas credit,” Brown said. “They forced us into some uncomfortable situations. I think the main thing that I take away from tonight’s game defensively is that we fouled too much. They shot 40 free throws and we have to do a better job of basically just moving our feet and showing our hands.”
The Sixers still have plenty of homework to do before the test of the regular season gets underway.