Brett Brown knows that despite the Sixers’ recent success, the team hasn’t been perfect.
He spoke at his fifth annual “Coach the Coaches” clinic at the team’s practice in Camden, New Jersey, about the team’s new concepts and philosophies. He even demonstrated some of the fresh ideas the team has for the 2019-20 season.
He also introduced two of his newest assistants, Ime Udoka and Joseph Blair. Udoka, who will serve as the team’s defensive coordinator, has his own philosophies to implement.
The former NBA player and Gregg Popovich assistant went over how the team plans to handle middle pick-and-rolls, a sore spot for the Sixers last season. When a coach in the crowd asked about the idea of "blitzing" and whether it was something they’d do more of, Udoka took a friendly jab.
“Well, the Sixers gave up 60 to Kemba [Walker] last year.”
That elicited laughter from the crowd — and a bear hug from Brown.
Brown lost two prominent assistants. Billy Lange was with Brown from the beginning. Monty Williams seemed like he’d be a hot candidate for head jobs as soon as he joined Brown's staff.
Both are head coaches now — Lange at Saint Joseph’s and Williams with the Phoenix Suns.
Enter Udoka and Blair.
While Brown wasn’t eager to see Lange and Williams go, Udoka and Blair can breathe a little fresh air into the team. A little bit of that was on display Monday.
Assistant Kevin Young demonstrated a few of the offensive concepts. Two of them were new this season. The Sixers will now have their wings head straight to the corners instead of foul line extended while their four man will space out to the “four-point line” on the wing instead of being at the elbow.
Those are wrinkles that Blair pushed for.
In particular, we talked about it tonight, the spacing — I was a pretty [big] stickler for a lot of those things,” Blair said. “I'm a big on corner spacing, spacing out our four men as well. That's one of the things that I really was adamant about trying to implement here. So I'm happy to see that we're doing a little bit more with our spacing.
Blair comes to the Sixers from the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the G-League affiliate of the Houston Rockets. Blair actually won the G-League title and was the Coach of the Year last season but was looking for a new opportunity in the NBA. Blair played a ton overseas after leaving the University of Arizona and even spent time with the Harlem Globetrotters.
At 6-foot-10, he’s also another positive influence for Joel Embiid to relate to.
I would be lying if I didn't look at Joseph Blair with his physical gifts, it's something that's impressive,” Brown said at his annual luncheon Wednesday. “He'll help us here with Jo, and coach Jo and share similar stories from the vision line of 7-foot, right? And there is something in that. But he's a hell of a coach all by himself, and it's true, he won a championship in a creative program with the RGV G-League team.
Clearly the Rockets’ offense, which is reliant on James Harden creating and the other players on the floor hunting threes, is totally different from Brown’s. But Blair is on the same page as Brown. The Sixers’ head coach dwells on concepts and “organic” offense more than scripted plays.
That jives well with Blair, who spoke about his spirituality on Monday night and how that ties in with his offensive philosophies.
I believe in God has a plan,” Blair said. “It's all going to work out the way it's supposed to work out. So you talk about the basketball court, organic growth is one of the things that I'm a firm believer in. You give guys a skeleton and then you let them put on the muscles where they can flex the most.
Udoka is no stranger to playing overseas himself. He spent time in France and Spain in between his NBA stints. He had his most success under Popovich and Brown as a member of the Spurs. He was still playing professionally in Europe when “the offer I got honestly helped me retire.” He joined Popovich’s staff in 2012. He was with the future Hall of Fame coach through last season and was on Team USA’s staff this summer.
Like Blair, he was looking for a new challenge but also acknowledges that he’s set up with elite pieces defensively.
Look at the players. It's a Dream Team if you're a defensive coordinator,” Udoka said. “The guys we have, the versatility we have, the size and athleticism we have, like I said, rim protectors, size on the ball on the perimeter, versatility to switch and do so many different things. It's like being in a candy store.
Brown lost two trusted confidants in Lange and Williams, but he’s looking forward to what his two new assistants will add.
You go to Ime, it's rare you can get a former NBA player that was a defensive-minded player, and has really had that role with Pop and was with me from a familiarity standpoint — that's kind of a rare find, too,” Brown said. “And so, both of those things, from a physical perspective, a skills perspective, creativity, a little thought out-of-the-box perspective — I think we tick boxes. I think we tick boxes and I feel like my staff is right where I want it to be.
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