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The Alternative Isn't Pretty

http://www.depressedfan.com/assets_c/2009/11/brandonthefloor112009-thumb-276x256-11402.gif
Outside of a handful of games this season, Elton Brand has not been the player we were expecting when he signed his $80M contract to join the 76ers two summers ago. He has not lived up to his contract, he has not been an impact player on either end of the floor, for the most part. He has been a disappointment on any scale. All of that is true. It's also true that they have almost no chance to win games when he isn't playing.

So far this season, Brand has played in 54 games. In those 54 games (35 starts) the Sixers have a 22-32 record. In the five games he's missed, they're 0-5. Neither record is particularly good, but if we take a closer look (first statistically, then anecdotally) you'll see the trend is jarring.

Let's take a look at the stats first. Here's a look at Brand's on/off court splits from 82games.com.

http://www.depressedfan.com/img/brandonoff030210.jpg
As you can see, the team is better in almost ever facet of the game when he's on the floor, but the on/off numbers don't even tell the whole story. Let's take a look at the cumulative stats from games he's played in, vs. games he's sat (I pulled these numbers from basketball-reference.com, then ran them through several formulas).

http://www.depressedfan.com/img/withwithoutbrand030210.jpg
The difference column is color coded, green means the team performed better, red means they performed worse in games which Brand did not play. So a slight bump in eFG, a bigger bump in offensive efficiency, virtually no change at all in pace (guess he doesn't slow them down after all), and some drastic, horrible drops in most defensive areas.

I don't want to dwell on these numbers too much, because it's a small sample size of games EB did not play in (only 5), and the Sixers were playing strong opponents (SAS, TOR, ORL, ATL, BOS), but I did want to point out what happened, statistically, before we get into the anecdotal.

Take a step back and think about what happens when Brand is missing. For the most part, minutes at the four are split between Speights and Thad. A man child who has absolutely no feel for defense and questionable desire to play it, and a passive tweener who gives up a ton of size, doesn't crash the boards, doesn't block shots, doesn't rotate properly whose biggest contribution on the defensive end is fleeing that end of the floor as quickly as possible in the hope that his teammates can secure the defensive rebound and hit him with a long outlet pass for an easy conversion on the other end.

Brand is far from the fierce defender he once was. He doesn't have the lift anymore, he doesn't have the foot speed to close out on shooters, his technique on the high pick and roll is honestly pitiful, he usually doesn't show, or sags off his man way too far. Even with all those warts, having him on the floor is a night-and-day difference from the alternatives at the position. If Brand is available, Jordan is basically forced to play common sense lineups for at least a portion of the game. When Brand is out, all bets are off. Jordan can do what he does best, set his rotations based on offense alone, size disadvantages be damned, interior defense be damned, rebounding be damned.

I realize Brand is taking a ton of heat from a certain faction of fans, and if you want to blame a guy for injuries and diminished skills, that's your prerogative. But this team isn't where they are because of Brand's contributions, or lack thereof. If anything, they'd much, much worse if he wasn't here at all. Brand's presence in the rotation is almost enough to make this laughingstock of a defensive system work. It's at least enough to make it somewhat presentable. Without him, it's a complete joke. Without him, the team honestly doesn't have a prayer.

It's funny that Jordan has gone out of his way to slam Elton at every opportunity this season, because if not for Brand's contributions, Jordan probably would've been fired a long time ago. Depending on which camp you fall in, maybe Brand's biggest sin is actually playing and not letting the team fully slide down into the abyss, guaranteeing a high draft pick. Again, I'm not sure how you can blame a player for playing, but whatever.

The point here isn't that Brand is good. The point isn't that the team is even good with him on the floor, they're basically average. The point is that without Brand, the only way to win games is to shoot an ungodly percentage from the field, and hope that a team who has trouble scoring the ball can somehow magically become and efficient offensive machine. Efficient on the level of the best offensive teams in the league. Otherwise, no number of Kapono threes is going to be enough to overcome the atrocious defensive efficiency.