Is Brett Brown still the man for the job? Photo by Wayne Terry, TPL.

It seems preposterous that a head-coach posting consecutive 50-win seasons, good for deep playoff runs, is not best suited for the Philadelphia 76ers. Nonetheless, Brett Brown, this organization’s head coach for six straight seasons, is largely responsible for the Sixers’ woes.

The Philadelphia 76ers lack offensive identity, thanks to Brett Brown’s turnover dependant philopshy and inability to form the right combination of players on the floor.

Regardless of the stature of Brown’s lineup this season, multiple players frequently cut in the lane and meet at the same spot. Players penetrate and pass until there is only enough time on the shot clock to hurl up a low percentgae shot on the floor. Brown’s offense is littered with lazy passes, little to no off-ball movement, and incoherence.

And no, the incoherence is not due to new personnel unfamiliar with how to play with one another. The same excuse was used a season prior when Philadelphia acquired Jimmy Butler, yet that combination of players never seemed to develop offensive cohesion. The Boston Celtics, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Miami Heat, and a handful of other teams are playing great basketball with almost entirely new lineups this season.

Their coaches do not prolong the chemistry process nor make excuses, rather, they hold their players accountable and form efficient combinations of players.

Whether it be due to preference or Brown’s philosophy, Joel Embiid is seemingly allergic to the paint this season.

There is no excuse as to why one of the game’s most dominant Centers should be hovering around the perimeter for a majority of games, waiting to launch three-point attempts. Not to mention, he owns the lowest usage percentage of his entire career this season.

Joel Embiid is scoring 9.3 Points in the Paint/Game, his lowest mark since 2016. Also, he is posting an offensive rating of 103.4 (his lowest total since 2016) and shooting 35% on Mid-Range Field-Goal attempts (career-low).

When Embiid touches the ball for less than 2 seconds, he is shooting 52.7% from the field (42.9% 3P%) this season. However, when he touches the ball from 2-6 seconds, his field-goal percentage drops to 37.5% (20.0% 3P%). This is likely due to where Brown deploys Embiid on the floor, forcing him to attempt to dribble his way through a crowded paint to find a good look. 

Embiid is Posting-Up opponents 8.6 times per game this season, slightly above his career average (8.2 Post-Ups/Game), but he is attempting a career-high 4.3 three-point shots per game. Otherwise, his free-throw attempt rate fell from 54.1% in 2018 to 48.5% in 2019 and his 6.3 paint-touches per game in 2019 ranks 18th among qualifying Centers (nearly ties a career-low).

A career 32.0% shooter from beyond the arc, Embiid’s current 41.2% three-point percentage seems unsustainable. Likewise, Embiid has turned the ball over more due to losing it, rather than making a bad pass, in all but one of his three seasons.

Having said that, Brown can not continue to allow Embiid to leisurely hover around the arch nor tolerate him setting high-post screens and rolling outside to the perimeter. A Center should not be consistently playing 18 feet from the basket and should never have to dribble the basketball at least five times before he can even position himself near the basket.

Al Horford is being utilized incorrectly by Brett Brown this season, best represented by early offensive struggles.

In his previous 5 games, Horford is scoring just 11.2 Points/Game, owns a 38.74% Field-Goal Percentage ( < 28.0% in 3 of 5), shot 20.72% from deep and sports a -10 +/-. Through 2019, Horford is shooting 33.0% on Mid-Range Field-Goal attempts (Career-Low) and 29.0% from deep (Career-Low).

Since 2015, Horford has been one of the most efficient Roll-Men in the Pick and Roll in the league:
‘15: 24.7% FREQ. (4.1 PPG-5th)
‘16: 24.4% FREQ. (3.6 PPG-8th)
‘17: 20.5% FREQ. (3.2 PPG-12th)
‘18: 31.6% FREQ. (4.6 PPG-4th)
W/ Philadelphia: ‘19: 18.9% FREQ. (2.7 PPG-21st)

This is just one of the many ways that Brown is incorrectly utilizing Horford, a supposed seamless fit that Philadelphia gave over $95 Million. Horford is being asked to do too much offensively for Philadelphia (highest usage percentgae since 2014) in an awkward fitting lineup. 

Horford’s prototype and style of play makes sense at the Forward position, but he is sandwhiched in between a point-guard that will not shoot the basketball and a small forward playing out of position. Because of the starting lineup’s awkwardness, the Pick and Roll is almost not even a viable option, which negatively effects Horford.  

Hunting mismatches is most likely causing Horford to shoot as poorly as ever this season, displacing him on offense and forcing him to create too much. 

Even Brown is to blame for Ben Simmons‘ early woes.

Some argue that Brown is advising Simmons to refrain from jump-shooting and just hunting high-percentage shots. Although that can neither be confirmed nor denied, a head coach cannot be content with his point-guard dribbling down the court, handing offensive responsibilities over to other players, and camping on the low block for an entire possession.

This offensive set-up is a regular occurrence for Philadelphia, and even if it is Simmons’ doing, a coach cannot recognize that and continue to allow that.

Aside from Philadelphia playing a near 4-on-5 in the half-court due to Simmons’ neglect for creating and shooting, he has concerningly regressed in this offense.

Simmons (2019 – 12 games):

107.4 OffRTG (Career-Low)

3.7 Turnovers/Game (Career-High)

16.4 Turnover Ratio (Career-High)

6.7 Assists/Game (Career-Low)

6.2 Reb./Game (Career-Low)

10.8 Field Goal Attempts/Game (Career-Low)

19.1% Usage (Career-Low)

Of course, playing a point-guard that will not create a shot off of the dribble, run the Pick and Roll, or even shoot for that matter, derails an offense. Regardless though, Brown needs to hold Simmons more accountable, he cannot grow content with his point-guard being absent on the floor in the half-court.

Brown needs to demand more on offense from his cornerstone point-guard or determine an offensive scheme that features Simmons in the half-court where can make a consistent impact.

Although there is no numerical evidence to suggest that Brown is negatively impacting Simmons’ game, I think it is plausible. I subscribe to the belief that Brown is limiting Simmons’ potential, rather than faulting Simmons for not improving. 

Philadelphia has always had a turnover problem under Brett Brown though, which limits the upside of this offense. These turnover problems have haunted the organization for six straight seasons and pose more of a threat than their spacing, or lack thereof.

In Brett Brown’s six seasons as a head coach, his teams average a turnover percentage (Amount of team’s possessions that end in a turnover) of 19.38%.

’13 – 16.8% (30th)
’14 – 18.3% (30th)
’15 – 16.5% (29th)
’16 – 16.7% (30th)
’17 – 16.3% (30th)
’18 – 14.4% (24th)
’19 – 17.3% (T-28th)

Interestingly enough, the Philadelphia 76ers exceeded a turnover percentage of at least 17.0% just once from 2003 to 2013.
In addition, the Philadelphia 76ers owned the league-best turnover percentage in 2010 and 2011 and turned the ball over the second least amount of times in 2012

With Brett Brown at the helm, Philadelphia turned the basketball over an average of 19.4 times per game for six seasons. This is by far the largest mark in the NBA.

’13 – 16.9/Game (30th)
’14 – 17.7/Game (30th)
’15 – 16.4/Game (29th)
’16 – 16.7/Game (30th)
’17 – 16.5/Game (30th)
’18 – 14.9/Game (25th)
’19 – 17.8/Game (29th)

Even the Houston Rockets, a turnover-prone team that spent four seasons (2013-2016) among the top six teams in turnovers per game (15.95 turnovers/game) decreased their total to 14.2 per game over the past three seasons.

Philadelphia’s offensive ball movement draws comparisons to Golden State’s because of the volume of passes made, but regardless, the 76ers still give away the basketball way too frequently.

Golden State Warriors Passes Made:

’14 – 306.6/Game (9th)
’15 – 323.5/Game (7th)
’16 – 317.7/Game (4th)
’17 – 322.7/Game (4th)
’18 – 320.1/Game (2nd)

Philadelphia 76ers Passes Made:

’14 – 326.4 (4th)
’15 – 329.3 (4th)
’16 – 352.4 (1st)
’17 – 343.9 (1st)
’18 – 316.9 (3rd)

Can you guess which team ended their possessions in a turnover more often? If you guessed Philadelphia, congratulations, they owned a turnover percentage of 16.44% throughout those five seasons. This is significantly greater than Golden State’s turnover percentage of 14.66% over those five years, despite making a similar number of passes per game.

Brown is often given the benefit of the doubt due to the hand that he was dealt by an organization undergoing a rebuild. Which would be okay if players’ ball security did not improve when they departed from Philadelphia.

But unfortunately for Brown’s sake, this is yet another trend that reflects poorly upon his offensive philosophy.
Almost every serviceable player that has departed from Philadelphia under Brett Brown turns the ball over significantly less in different threads.

This list comprised of former Philadelphia 76ers players represents their individual turnover percentage in Philadelphia and then with their new organizations.

T.J. McConnell:
PHI. Avg: 17.2% (18.5% Usage)
IND. Avg: 13.1%

Dario Saric:
PHI. Avg: 14.9% (20.3% Usage)
MIN./PHO. Avg: 12.8%

Robert Covington:
PHI Avg: 15.16% (17.1% Usage)
MIN. Avg: 12.5%

Jerami Grant:
PHI. Avg: 13.4% (18.7% Usage)
OKC Avg: 9.9%

Michael Carter-Williams:
PHI. Avg: 16.35% (29.65% Usage)
Other Avg: 14.5%

Jahlil Okafor:
PHI. Avg: 17.3% (25.7% Usage)
NOP Avg: 15.0%

With the exception of Carter-Williams, none of these players’ usage percentages with Philadelphia indicate that they were thrust into a role too large to handle.

The turnover percentage representation is useful enough, but the disparity is even greater when identifying total turnovers.
Philadelphia’s frontcourt has been riddled with turnovers under Brown, which seems to drastically decrease for players when they depart.

Joel Embiid:
2016-2019 w/ PHI: 601 TOV (3.6/Game)

Jahlil Okafor:
2015-2017 w/ PHI: 218 TOV (2.1/Game)
2017-2019: 85 TOV (0.85/Game)

Nerlens Noel:
2014-2016 w/ PHI: 333 TOV (1.9/Game)
2016-2019: 109 TOV (0.8/Game)

Richaun Holmes:
2015-2017 w/ PHI: 112 TOV
2018-2019: 62 TOV

In fact, only three players in NBA history averaged more turnovers per 100 possessions than Embiid. The argument can be made that Embiid is a turnover happy center that struggles to identify double-teams and does not have full control over his body yet.

I counter by proposing these trends, which indicate that a plethora of Brown’s players struggle with turnover problems in Philadelphia, but they seem to disappear under different coaches.

This is glaring with a lot of Philadelphia’s big men under Brown, which suggests that he is sending them to the wrong spots with out-of-position tasks or infusing them with the wrong combination of supporting talent.

Furthermore, the frontcourt is not the only area of concern for Philadelphia, as their backcourt has greatly struggled turning the basketball over under Brown.

Dario Saric:
’16 w/ PHI. – 183 TOV
’17 w/ PHI. – 148 TOV
’18 w/ MIN. – 72 TOV

Jerami Grant:
’14 w/ PHI. – 85 TOV
’15 w/ PHI. – 110 TOV
’16 w/ OKC – 41 TOV
’17 w/ OKC – 54 TOV
’18 w/ OKC – 67 TOV

J.J. Redick:
2006-2016: 72.5 TOV
’17 w/ PHI. – 103 TOV
’18 w/ PHI. – 101 TOV

For Saric, he played 28.1 Minutes/Game (22.3% Usage) for Philadelphia, 23.9 Minutes/Game (17.8% Usage) for Minnesota, and 27.9 Minutes/Game (16.6% Usage) for Phoenix. Saric played 68 games for Minnesota in 2018, turning the ball over 1.1 times per game (career-low). If he played 14 more games (82) turning the ball over 1.1 times per game, he would have amassed 87.4 Turnovers. That is nowhere near his 183 and 148 two seasons prior in Philadelphia.

With regard to Grant, he played 24.2 Minutes/Game (17.5% Usage) in Philadelphia where he averaged 1.4 Turnovers/Game. Ironically, in Oklahoma, Grant played the same number of minutes per game yet decreased his turnovers per game to just 0.7.

These trends overwhelmingly disprove the hypothesis that Brown’s players were turnover prone, and he was dealt a bad hand.

Sure, Brown was tasked with coaching and developing low-caliber players, but all of his teams turned the ball over at a rate greater than any other team in the NBA for six straight seasons, essentially. That is a painfully obvious reflection of the system he runs rather than the personnel he is working with.

Turnovers are incredibly problematic. They lead to defensive displacement, miscommunication, and waste possessions.

Did I mention, you are giving the other team the basketball at the expense of nothing? This all the more problematic given the Sixers’ defense against opponents when they turn the basketball over.

Opponent Points off of Turnovers under Brett Brown:

’13 – 19.2/Game (30th)
’14 – 20.6/Game (30th)
’15 – 20.0/Game (29th)
’16 – 18.5/Game (29th)
’17 – 18.5/Game (27th)
’18 – 17.3/Game (23rd)
’19 – 18.7/Game (23rd)

Over six seasons, Philadelphia is surrendering nearly 23 opponent points per game off of turnovers.

Brett Brown and the 76ers owned the worst offensive rating in basketball for four consecutive seasons (2013-2016). Giving him the benefit of the doubt due to Philadelphia’s personnel during those seasons, let’s examine his work with a constructed roster.

’17 – 108.5 (13th)
’18 – 111.6 (8th)
’19 – 105.3 (19th)

Brown has coached a team that owns a top-10 offensive rating just once in his career. Even funnier, Philadelphia is operating without Monty Williams this season, whose team owns the fourth-best offensive rating in basketball. Lloyd Pierce’s Atlanta Hawks own an offensive rating of 104.1 this season, just 2.0 below Philadelphia (106.1).

This is Brown’s first season with a truly pre-determined roster for the foreseeable future, and he made comments about their strategy before the season. However, Brown’s “bully-ball” philosophy does not seem to be working according to plan.

(2019) – Philadelphia 76ers’ Free-Throw Attempt Rate 0.249 (22nd)

Opponent Free-Throw Attempt Rate: 0.342 (30th – League Worst)

Brown is a fine-enough coach and an even better person, but this Sixers team will only go as far as he lets him. Brown, coming from a background of developmental coaching, can squeeze the most out of marginal players, but he may not be the man to finish the job that he started.

He worked to develop players such as McConnell, Covington, and Furkan Korkmaz into formidable role players but has not done much in the way of unlocking Simmons and Embiid.

There is seemingly no better coaching alternative at the moment, so Brown is forced to solve the Philadelphia 76ers’ early problems.