I'll admit it, Elton Brand's play against the Bobcats has me excited. Yes, it was one game, but he did things in that game that I worried he'd never be able to do again. Forget about the dunks, the guy is 6'8" with a standing reach of like 11 feet, he should be able to dunk when he's 60-years-old, the thing that most impressed me was that ability he showed to get off the floor quickly for blocked shots. That's explosiveness and timing, two vital pieces of the puzzle for a guy like Brand.
Tonight's game is crucial for EB in my mind. Wednesday could've been a blip. It could've been a hyper-motivated guy digging deeper than ever before to come up with a huge game after his coach essentially said he had no faith in him to the press. We need to see two things at this point:
(1) Elton to continue to trust his body. If he's hesitant out there, bad things happen. He doesn't get up for blocks, he doesn't push his man off the blocks, he doesn't clear out space for rebounds, he doesn't attack the rim. A hesitant Brand is an ineffective Brand, and we need much more than that.
(2) Elton desperately needs to get his touch back. Even if injuries are a concern, and they've lessened his ability to muscle guys when he has the ball in the low post, there's no reason to think his struggles when he's facing the basket, on short jumpers, stem from anything other than rust. Take a look at these two graphics from NBA.com's hot spots.
The first is EB's shot chart from the 2006-2007 season (his last full season):
Now take a look at the same chart for this season:
The vintage EB scored a ton of points on jumpers, and he hit them at a high rate. This season, that shot hasn't been falling. He doesn't seem to be putting enough arc on the shot, for the first five or six games he left nearly every attempt short and didn't seem to be shooting with any confidence at all. Over the past couple of games, the jumper has looked better, he's had a better rhythm, but still the shots haven't been falling. It's coming, you can see it's coming and one thing this offense will create is open looks for bigs from within 15 feet. Williams and Iguodala can get to the rack, and each will dish to a big (either Speights or Brand) for an easy look.
The impact of the apparent erosion of Elton's physical skills, which hopefully were overblown through the first handful of games, would've been much less alarming had he been hitting his jumper at his usual rate. The level of athleticism may or may not come all the way back. My feeling today is it will be back to a decent level, if it isn't already there. If that's the case, and you couple it with his typical shooting percentages on short jumpers, Elton is going to be more than fine.
Of course, this leads us to a bigger question, one John proposed to me via e-mail yesterday. If Brand is back, if he continues to knock the rust over the next 10-20 games and returns to a difference-maker on both sides of the ball, in what way does this help the Sixers the most? With Brand on the floor, contributing for this team, or as a trade chip? If he appears to be worth his contract, and the Sixers can get equal value for him in a trade, should they move him?
I'll leave that up to you guys to discuss in the comments, I'll chime in later.
By the by, Elton's competition tonight is Zach Randolph, so he'll have every opportunity to follow up Wednesday's performance with another solid showing, albeit against a sub-par, uninterested defender. Rodney Carney is a go for tonight's game, updated from the Sixers via Twitter.