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My Integration Plan

There's a deadline looming. Strike that. Instead, I'm going to look at this as a beginning. A fresh start to do this the right way. Of course, I'm talking about Elton Brand's return to the Sixers' lineup, which will probably happen either Friday or Saturday night. After the jump I'll give my plan for working him back into the rotation and back into the flow of the team.

First, the timing. I'd absolutely hold Brand for Saturday night's game, in New York, instead of playing him on Friday against the Spurs. It's not so much that I don't want him banging bodies with Tim Duncan in his first game back, it's just that playing against the Knicks' is kind of like a no-contact practice. Their Swiss cheese D offers little resistance (unless they're playing the Celtics or Hornets, apparently) and EB should have his way. Best to get the new beginning off on the right foot.

Now, the minutes. I used the game logs for Brand, Dalembert, Speights, Thad, Evans and Ratlifff to estimate the minute distribution among the bigs. There are 96 minutes/game and some combination of those two players has been on the floor as the bigs (PF&C) for a majority of the season (Donyell was mixed in a bit, and you also had a couple of super-small lineups with Iggy at the 4, but for our purposes, these numbers will do)

Before Brand's injury, this was the distribution:

  • Brand - 35 minutes
  • Dalembert - 25 minutes
  • Speights - 12 minutes
  • Thad - 10 minutes
  • Evans - 10 minutes
  • Ratliff - 4 minutes
Since Brand's injury, this has been the distribution:

  • Thad - 30 minutes
  • Dalembert - 22 minutes
  • Speights - 19 minutes
  • Evans - 15 minutes
  • Ratliff - 10 minutes
This won't be an issue when Brand first comes back. His minutes will be limited as he's worked back into game shape, but eventually, Coach DiLeo is going to have to find those 35 minutes for Brand.

Obviously, the bulk of Brand's minutes will come at Thad's expense. Thad's total minutes shouldn't drop, but his minutes at PF will. Let's say he goes back to the same level as before the injury, 10 minutes per game (we'll talk about how Thad will find the other 20 minutes in a moment). That's 20 minutes, we still need to find 15 more for Brand. I'd make this as simple and painless as possible. Shave 5 minutes off Evans' total and return Theo to the end of the bench. On any given night, you can steal minutes for Theo from Dalembert (if he gets into foul trouble) or against very good offensive centers, you can use him instead of Evans. Or any combination thereof. The plan is to cut Theo and Reggie's combined minutes from 25 to 10.

This is how I would distribute the minutes at the four and five:

  • Brand - 35 minutes
  • Dalembert - 22 minutes
  • Speights - 19 minutes
  • Evans/Theo - 10 minutes
  • Thad - 10 minutes
  • Total - 96 minutes
Now, how do we replace those 20 minutes for Thad? They're going to be played at the three, so the first thing I would do is cut back Iguodala's minutes a bit. Since Brand's injury, Iggy has been playing 41 minutes/game. He can handle it, but I think it's too many. The first move you make is to cut his minutes back to the 38 he was averaging before Brand's injury. That gives us 3 minutes for Thad at the three. Still 17 minutes short. That means Iggy is going to have to find minutes at the two, but we'll get to that in a second.

This is how I'd split the minutes at small forward:

  • Iguodala - 28 minutes
  • Thad - 20 minutes
  • Total - 48 minutes

Here's where I think it's time to make a tough decision that should've been made a long time ago. Willie Green has averaged 22 minutes/game pretty much the entire year at the two. He hasn't done a thing to stake his claim to those minutes, so it's time for most of them to go. I think Ivey is probably more valuable in the rotation than Willie, but you should go on a game-to-game basis, if you need instant offense, plug Willie in there. For defense, it would be Ivey.

Since Brand's injury, Lou has seen his minutes jump from 19 per game to 27. I would keep them at that level, and use him almost exclusively at the two. I'd also give Andre Miller some time at the two, with Ivey at the point.

This is how I'd split the minutes at shooting guard:

  • Williams - 22 minutes
  • Iguodala - 10 minutes
  • Green - 10 minutes
  • Miller - 6 minutes
  • Total - 48 minutes
The goal would be to keep Williams away from the point as much as possible. He's just a much better player when he's off the ball. By saying, keep him off the point, what I mean is you should limit the number of minutes he plays without either Ivey or Miller on the floor. Lou can play the point, but you should have one of those guys in the lineup so Lou isn't solely responsible for running the offense for too long. I'd definitely keep Miller and Ivey's minutes at the same level they've been since the Brand injury (Ivey jumped from 6 to 12, Miller from 36 to 37)

Which leaves us with the point guard minutes:

  • Miller - 31 minutes
  • Ivey - 12 minutes
  • Williams - 5 minutes
  • Total - 48 minutes
Obviously, the Sixers have a dynamic rotation, so the minutes at position numbers I threw out here are more of a rough estimate. The important thing to note is the total minutes. I'll include them in my final list, which is the starting lineup and rotation.

As you can see, Iggy would only be playing about 10 minutes at the shooting guard, but I think he should be starting there. Let him start the first and third quarters at the two, with Thad at the three, then when Lou comes in you shuffle things around, probably by going small with Lou at the two, Thad at the 4 and Brand at the 5. It doesn't matter how you do it, the only thing that matters is that you have your five best guys out there, and until further notice, those are your five best guys (Sammy isn't going to be replaced as a starter any time soon, and he shouldn't be).

So here we go. This is my starting lineup and regular rotation. Subs are in the order they come off the bench, minutes played are in parens after the player's name:

  • C: Dalembert (22 minutes)
  • PF: Brand (35 minutes)
  • SF: Thad (30 minutes)
  • SG: Iguodala (38 minutes)
  • PG: Miller (37 minutes)
  • 6th Man: Lou (27 minutes)
  • 7th Man: Speights (19 minutes)
  • 8th Man: Ivey (12 minutes)
  • 9th Man: Evans/Theo (10 minutes)
  • 10th Man: Willie Green ( 10 minutes)
Rush and Marshall would take turns wearing fancy suits to the game, or I'd try to work Rush into Willie's minutes, if at all possible.

These splits make the most sense to me for a couple of reasons. First, they give both Iguodala and Thad a chance to play the bulk of their minutes at the three. Second, they allow for Iguodala and Thad to be on the floor at the same time for upwards of 20 minutes per game. I think that's vital to the growth of Thad as a player, and team success in general.

I don't expect anything this regimented out of Coach DiLeo, nor would I want it. His greatest strength as a coach, from what I've seen so far, has been his willingness to alter his substitution patterns on a minute-to-minute basis, using the criteria of "What does this team need right now and who has the best chance to provide it." I love that about him and I hope he keeps it up. This is just my own simplistic way of solving the minutes problem when Brand gets back.

If you find it odd that I spent so much time talking about the minutes and so little time talking about the philosophical question of "How will Brand fit in?" There's a reason for it. The answer is in the question itself. This team has now shown Elton Brand, first hand, how they operate the best. He's been watching them tear up and down the court, humiliate teams with their athleticism. When he comes back, he's going to fit them, not vice versa. He'll help immediately shore up the defensive rebounding, which will only lead to more break opportunities.

He's going to benefit from the floor spacing they've developed over the past month as well. Over the past two games they've taken 38 threes and made 20 of them. I'd say at least 30 of them were wide open. Why were they wide open? Because they had the floor properly spaced and they swung the ball on the perimeter. Or they used the pick and pop to perfection without a third man (and his defender) looming too close. This team hasn't only run the ball better to increase its production, they've adapted to DiLeo's philosophies in the half court as well.

When Elton Brand comes back, he's going to be starting breaks with his rebounding and defense, finishing on breaks as the trailer with easy jumpers from the foul line, or cutting down the wide open lane after the defense collapses on the driver. If the break isn't there, then he'll go to work in the post or off the pick and pop.

It's one thing to tell a guy how you want to play, it's another to show him. Brand is a bright player whose skill set fits this team much better than the naysayers think. Once he gets back, give him a week or so to get his legs under him and then we're going to see exactly what this offense is capable of.

At least that's what I think. Let's hear what you guys have to say in the comments.
by Brian on Jan 15 2009
Tags: Basketball | Elton Brand | Injuries | Sixers |