Kate Fagan has a pair of articles today in the Inquirer that I'd like to take a look at and get your feelings on.
The nuts and bolts of the first is that the Sixers are a better team without Elton Brand
. She quotes unnamed NBA scouts as saying that Brand clogs up the lane and makes it harder for Iguodala, Miller and Williams to get to the hoop. Another says he's too darn slow for the team to run, while a third says Josh Smitth is the guy the Sixers should've signed this summer.
The second article says that Brand gives the Sixers a much better shot in the playoffs
. Again, unnamed NBA scouts were quoted and the overwhelming theme of their comments was that you can't sustain a running game in the playoffs when teams have more time to prepare for you. Basically, the only reason the Sixers win in the regular season is because teams are caught by surprise.
If these stories seem at odds to you, it's because they are. I think that's what Fagan was driving at here. After the jump, let's take a closer look at both topics.
Let's start with the first article, which was titled "His style just isn't a good fit, clogging the lanes." This article bothers me quite a bit, actually, for a couple of reasons. It puts the blame for the team's slow start on Brand's style of play, which may or may not be the case, we just don't know. Perhaps the problem was that the team was being coached by a guy who either could not, or did not integrate Brand into the team well enough.
There's more evidence backing up the notion that Cheeks was the problem, than Brand. The article is full of doomsday stats like, "In the last 18 games, the Sixers have scored 100-plus on 11 occasions. In the prior 13, they broke the century-mark only twice." A pretty stat. Of course, you could also say that in games that Tony DiLeo coached and Elton Brand played, the Sixers have averaged 104.3 points. Or instead of saying the Sixers are merely 11-13 with EB in the lineup, you could say they are 3-0 with EB in the lineup and DiLeo pulling the strings.
Obviously, I'm talking about a ridiculously small sample size, which is exactly my point. It's premature to say DiLeo has it all figured it, just like it's premature so say EB's game doesn't fit with the Sixers' style. I'll agree if you write an article with a thesis stating, "Mo Cheeks couldn't figure out how to mesh EB's style with the team." You can back that statement up with facts, not supposition. To make a blanket statement without that qualifier, though, is silly. Especially when the limited data we have points to Tony DiLeo absolutely being able to incorporate Brand into the running style.
As for the second article, I don't think these scouts are saying anything different from what we've heard/thought since Brand was signed, though I do take issue with the thought that the only reason the Sixers win is because teams are unprepared for them. You can run in the playoffs, the Sixers did it for the better part of three games and very nearly took a 3-1 lead over the big, bad Pistons. It would be more accurate to say you can't run exclusively in the playoffs, which is where EB comes in.
Before we go any further, I think we need to make a distinction. These Sixers are not the D'Antoni Suns. They aren't anything like the D'Antoni Suns. This team runs off of great defense. They don't run to avoid playing defense, which seems to be D'Antoni's philosophy. I'm not sure why these NBA scouts see aggressive, pressure defense as a gimmick, but I think that probably says more about them than the Sixers' style.
Brand's addition was designed to make the half-court offense more efficient, which will be more important in the playoffs. Not because teams won't be surprised by the Sixers, but because they'll be facing better teams. As a rule, better teams generally don't turn the ball over as much, and they shoot a higher percentage from the floor. Thus, less opportunities to run and more half-court sets on the offensive end.
The logic goes off the rails when scouts say Brand is important for the playoffs, but he won't fit the team in the regular season. Adding him to the lineup should, if he's properly used, make the Sixers more efficient in the half court no matter what the calendar says. The fact of the matter is, they're going to be in the half-court more often than they're out on the break. They need to get more points out of those sets and Brand will help in that regard. Now, if they're saying the Sixers won't get out and run as much with Brand on the court, that's another argument entirely, and it gets back to the difference between this Sixers' team and the D'Antoni Suns.
The Sixers run off defensive stops, turnovers, blocked shots and defensive rebounds. They don't generally get their transition points with quick inbounds off made shots and sprinting down the floor. Elton Brand is a better defender at the PF position than Thaddeus Young. He's a better shot blocker than Thaddeus Young. He's a much, much better rebounder than Thaddeus Young. Having him on the floor will create more opportunities for this team to run.
The only way the running game should change with Brand is that instead of having four guys out in front on the break, there will be three with a guy trailing who can hit the 15-foot jumpers trailers often get.
Articles like these really make me hate unnamed sources. I'd love to know what these scouts had to say about the Brand acquisition in the summer. More importantly, I'd like to see what they have to say after Coach DiLeo has about 20 games to worth with his full complement of players.